After starting the season with back-to-back blowout losses, the Stony Brook football team will look to find itself before the season gets out of hand.
The Seawolves (0-2, 0-2 CAA) were beaten convincingly on Thursday by the No. 20/21 Rhode Island Rams (1-1, 1-0 CAA) 35-14. This Saturday, Stony Brook will head to Jonesboro, Ark. to take on a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) foe: the Arkansas State Red Wolves (0-2). The Red Wolves come into the game after losing their first two contests to Oklahoma and Memphis in nonconference play. Opening kickoff between the two teams is scheduled for 7 p.m.
With how much the Seawolves have struggled on offense, they will likely rely on their defense to keep them in this game. Through the first two games, their defense has allowed 36 points per game, which is the third-worst mark in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA). Their 486.5 total yards allowed per game is the worst in the CAA.
However, a lot of that has to do with a struggling secondary. On the back end of its defense, Stony Brook is allowing a league-worst 356.5 passing yards per game on a 63.4% completion rate and 10.0 yards per attempt. The unit is allowing 44 more yards per game than the second-worst pass defense in the CAA.
Although the secondary has struggled, the defensive front has thrived. The Seawolves’ front seven has totaled eight sacks thus far, which is the second-most in the CAA. Seven different defenders have gotten to opposing quarterbacks. Defensive end Andy Nwaoko leads the group with two sacks, both of which he recorded last week at Rhode Island. Defensive tackle Dyshier Clary has also contributed to a sack in each game, recording one versus Delaware and sharing one last week.
Given the success of the defensive front, head coach Chuck Priore thinks the team has a shot to win if the secondary can eliminate the big plays.
“We’ve gotten eight sacks in our two games, a ton of pressures, a ton of negative plays recorded,” Priore said in a press conference on Monday. “We’ve given up big plays those two weeks, also. I think if we [need to] nail that part of it. I think our defense is starting to get there.”
The defensive front has been in the upper-middle of the pack in the CAA against the run. Stony Brook is sixth out of 15 teams in rushing yards allowed per game. However, not including sack yards, the Seawolves are surrendering 5.2 yards per carry.
Stony Brook’s defense has a chance to tee off on Arkansas State’s offense, which is one of the worst in the nation. After being decimated by Oklahoma State 73-0 in week one and Memphis 37-3 in week two, the Red Wolves come into this game looking to score their first touchdown of the season. Their offense is third-worst in total yards per game (219) and tied for worst in points per game (1.5) in the FBS. They average just 3.6 yards per play and are converting on only 20% of their third and fourth down conversion attempts.
Arkansas State is led by quarterback J.T. Shrout, who is completing just 47.1% of his passes for 227 yards and two interceptions. Backup quarterback Jaxon Dailey may get some playing time, as he has completed 10 of his 16 passes (62.5%) for 75 yards in two games played off the bench.
In the backfield, running backs Ja’Quez Cross and Zak Wallace led the Red Wolves’ rushing attack. They have combined for 110 rushing yards on 33 carries. Out wide, Arkansas State wide receiver Courtney Jackson leads the team with 72 receiving yards while tight end Emmanual Stevenson has the most catches with six.
Similarly to their offense, the Red Wolves’ defense has also been one of the worst in the nation. They have allowed the most points per game in the nation (55) and are tied for fifth-worst in yards allowed per game (515.5). They are giving up an average of 6.8 yards per play and allowing a 57.8% conversion rate on third and fourth down.
Arkansas State has also made very few splash plays. The team has only totaled two sacks and is still in search of its first takeaway of the year.
Though the Red Wolves are an FBS team, Priore is not worried about the difference in roster talent.
“We’ve played in these games before,” Priore said. “There’s not a ton of difference between the talent levels outside of […] a little bit of the speed of the game. We’ll be ready.”
Arkansas State’s woeful defense presents an opportunity for Stony Brook’s struggling offense to get right. The Seawolves are fourth-worst in the CAA in yards per game (287.5), points per game (13.5) and third-down offense (24%).
Stony Brook’s offensive line has been the highlight of the unit. They have allowed just two sacks in 73 dropbacks while opening lanes for the running backs. Behind the Seawolves’ rebuilt offensive line, they are averaging 5.0 yards per carry (not including sack yards) and 136.5 yards per game.
Running back Johnny Martin leads Stony Brook with 102 yards and a touchdown rushing while averaging 4.6 yards per carry. He has been effective while filling in for the regular starting running back — Roland Dempster — who missed last week’s game with an ankle injury. Running back Ross Tallarico has been good as the team’s third down running back, totaling 85 yards while averaging 7.7 yards per carry. With Dempster inactive last week, running back Shakhi Carson saw some playing time and did well, rushing for 29 yards on five carries.
The running game should take some of the load off quarterback Casey Case, who improved last week but still struggled. Through his first two games of the season, Case has only completed 44.3% of his passes. However, he improved from his week one performance last week, completing 17 of his 30 pass attempts (56.7%) at Rhode Island. Case is still struggling with turnovers, as he has thrown just one touchdown pass to four interceptions this year, including one on the opening drive last week.
Priore believes Case’s struggles have to do with his lack of playing experience.
“He’s going to get better,” Priore said. “There were still some throws that were left on the field and maybe balls that weren’t as accurate as could be. They’re learning the offense, there’s been some growing pains which we anticipated.”
Wide receiver Anthony Johnson has been one of Case’s main targets, as he leads Stony Brook with 85 yards on seven catches. Wide receivers Jayce Freeman and Jayden Cook co-lead the team with eight receptions each. Cook caught Case’s first-career touchdown pass last week in the fourth quarter.
Though the Red Wolves are an FBS team, they may very well be the best matchup of the 2023 season for the Seawolves this year. Stony Brook has not beaten an FBS team since 2012 when it beat Army 23-3.