Still in search of win number one, the Stony Brook football team will look to right the ship at homecoming.
The Seawolves are currently sitting at the bottom of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) standings, having started 0-6 for the first time since their Division III days in 1990. Hopefully for them, homecoming will be a happier story, as they will take on the Maine Black Bears this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The Black Bears are 2-4 this season but have won two in a row. Both wins are against CAA opponents, with their most recent being a 38-28 victory against their CAA rival Monmouth.
There are several aspects of the game that Stony Brook needs to clean up in order to pull off a win this Saturday. An Achilles’ heel of the Stony Brook offense all season has been turnovers: the Seawolves have the second-most giveaways in the conference. They currently have the worst turnover margin in the conference at -5. Protecting the ball must be priority number one for Stony Brook, because when the Black Bears create turnovers, they win. During their two-game winning streak, the Black Bears have created six turnovers.
If Stony Brook can limit turnovers and control time of possession, their chances of winning will greatly improve, as Maine’s offense ranks in the bottom half of the CAA. The Black Bears rank third-worst in both scoring offense and total offense. If the Seawolves do not help them with short fields, they should have a chance to win. They may have to help themselves in that regard, too.
In last year’s homecoming game, Stony Brook racked up six total takeaways between the defense and special teams. The team recovered four fumbles and picked off two passes, both by free safety Randy Pringle. It will be hard to replicate that performance, but Stony Brook’s defense is going to need to give the offense some short fields to work with against Maine.
Though Maine’s defense is not very good — averaging 391.5 yards allowed per game — the Seawolves’ offense has been dreadful. They are averaging only 266 total yards and 10.3 points per game. They had an opportunity to break out last week, when they played the worst passing defense in the nation. The offense still could not get anything going and did not score until the game was essentially over. The unit is going to need some help from the defense and special teams, like it did last year, in order to put points up.
Something that has been missing from the Stony Brook offense all year is the running game. A prominent rushing attack has been a staple of the program since the hiring of head coach Chuck Priore. The Seawolves rank last in the CAA in rushing offense, averaging 98.8 yards per game. They are the only team in the conference that does not average over 100 yards rushing per game. It has scored only one touchdown this year, which was from running back Ty Son Lawton on opening night. Lawton and running back Jayden Cook are now healthy and back on the field after missing several games, giving them a chance to turn the corner on the ground this weekend.
The ground game will have an opportunity to break out against a Maine defense that has struggled against the run all season. The Black Bears rank ninth in the CAA in run defense, as opponents average 170 rushing yards per game against them.
The return of Lawton bodes well for the Stony Brook offense. In limited action last week, the star back rushed for 34 yards on seven attempts. Lawton could be in for a bigger role this weekend against Maine and return to being the workhorse back he was last year. With Lawton as their bellcow, the Seawolves boasted the second-best running game in the CAA last year. Lawton led the CAA in rushing yards with 1,088.
In order for Lawton and the Seawolves to have success against a weak Maine run defense, the offensive line is going to need to open some holes. The lack of push up front has led to the worst team average yards per carry in the CAA this year at 3.0. The pass blocking has not been much better, as it has surrendered a conference-worst 18 sacks this year. If the unit can keep quarterback Charlie McKee upright and create space for the running backs, the Seawolves will officially be playing their brand of football again.
The line will look to captain Kyle Nunez to continue his strong play. The All-Conference and All-American guard will be an x-factor in whether or not the Stony Brook offense can execute against a porous Maine defense.
“Kyle is a once-in-a-lifetime person you get to coach,” Priore said during the weekly CAA coaches press conferences. “Being a good football player is one thing. Having the skills to lead is another, and he certainly has them.”
Stony Brook will have to go up against one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the nation in Joe Fagnano of Maine. Fagnano has battled some injuries over the years but has proved himself to rank in the top echelon of signal-callers in the CAA when healthy. He has thrived in the red zone this season, as six of his eight passing touchdown passes have come inside the 20. The Black Bears currently have the best red zone offense in the CAA.
“We all know that quarterback was one of the best ones a couple of years ago before his injury,” Priore said. “He’s now starting to return to form.”
Stony Brook has to limit the impact that defensive back Kahzir Brown will leave on the game. The sophomore has been a playmaker for the Black Bears the past two seasons, tallying five interceptions. Two of them have come this season. Brown has good ball skills, currently ranking seventh in the CAA in pass breakups with five.
This game will present the Seawolves with one of their best opportunities to win a game this season, as both teams do match up well. However, Maine is riding high with a two-game win streak and are 2-1 against CAA opponents. Despite the 2-4 overall record, the Black Bears should not be taken lightly, as they have lost two games by less than double digits. Stony Brook has lost every game by a margin of 23.3 points.
If the Seawolves are unable to get the win on homecoming, the program may very well be amidst its worst season ever.