Strong-starting Stony Brook seeking staying power
By SCOTT GARBARINI
(STATS) - Stony Brook enters October in the most enviable of positions, but don't expect coach Chuck Priore and veterans of the program to feel too comfortable over the Seawolves' 3-0 start to their CAA Football schedule.
Priore's team needs only to look back to last season as a cautionary tale, when Stony Brook won its first four league tests before concluding a potential playoff campaign on a four-game losing streak. And that's not the first time the Seawolves have appeared on the cusp of joining the conference's upper crust before having their arrival proven premature. Five straight defeats midway through the 2015 season sabotaged the early momentum from an apparent breakthrough blowout win over perennial power New Hampshire
There's reason to believe this season could turn out differently than the 23rd-ranked Seawolves' first four as a CAA member, all five-win finishes and mid-pack placements in the standings. Stony Brook showed the talent is there by putting a scare into nationally-ranked South Florida in a 31-17 season-opening loss. Karma may be on its side as well, as evidenced by last week's 21-18 win at William & Mary that ended on an offensive penalty that stripped the Tribe of a chance at a game-tying field goal.
"This gives us a little dose of reality," Priore said after Stony Brook's first-ever victory over William & Mary. "It is great when you can learn from a win, and I think we will learn a lot from this win."
The Seawolves (4-1, 3-0 CAA), picked eighth in the CAA's preseason poll, also have the benefit of not having to face top-ranked and defending FCS national champion James Madison, though several prospective hurdles still await. Their credentials figure to be revealed during a daunting three-game sequence of opponents currently in the STATS FCS Top 25 (New Hampshire, Richmond, Albany), a stretch beginning after Saturday's home clash with improving Delaware.
"We closed out September correctly. We were able to get out with three conference wins," Priore said. "That obviously is important, two of them being on the road. But you know, the next game isn't any easier. We've got to just focus on preparing on this game and taking a day-by-day and week-to-week attitude."
The Blue Hens have split their first four games under new coach Danny Rocco, including a 20-10 loss to James Madison in last week's league opener in which they held one of the nation's most prolific offenses to 93 passing yards and 347 total. It's just the third time in Mike Houston's 20-game tenure that the Dukes gained under 400 yards.
"We did an outstanding job defensively," Rocco said. "That offense is difficult to defend both schematically and talent-wise. It's hard to match up. Our defense held them to one touchdown."
The unit also impressed in an early season meeting at Virginia Tech, yielding just 303 total yards and 81 on the ground. For comparison's sake, the Hokies had 90 rushing yards and 342 total last week against FBS title contender Clemson.
Delaware will be without two key starters on that side of the ball for an extended period, however. Preseason first-team All-CAA linebacker Charles Bell suffered a season-ending fractured vertebrae in his back against JMU, while end Cam Kitchen is out indefinitely with a sprained foot.
Stony Brook has annually fielded one of the conference's stronger defenses under Priore, a fact Rocco knows all too well from his previous stop at Richmond. The Seawolves limited the then-No. 2 Spiders to 32 rushing yards and recorded three interceptions in a 42-14 home win last season, and was equally as stifling in a 28-3 victory at Delaware a year ago.
"You always get a physical group, you always get a well-coached group, you always get a defense that is aggressive and runs well and is disruptive," said Rocco of the Seawolves. "Chuck has them playing hard and well, and obviously they've positioned themselves real good here as we head into the month of October."
Trips to LaVelle Stadium also haven't usually been pleasant for Rocco. His teams are 1-3 there, with two of the defeats coming during his time at Liberty when Stony Brook then resided in the Big South.
Updated October 6, 2017