I reached out to the team at Stony Brook's "The Statesman" and their sports editor, Joe Galotti, was kind enough to answer a few questions for us as we approach our matchup this Saturday.
1) Stony Brook came close to beating both Buffalo and Towson last year but overall had their struggles on their way to a 9th place finish in the CAA. What was the fan perception of the team after last year's 5-6 season?
I think a lot of fans probably viewed last year as a disappointment, especially after all the success the team had during their previous five seasons playing in the Big South Conference. The CAA definitely proved to be a big step up in competition for Stony Brook, and it did not help that the team suffered a considerable amount of injuries along the way. The Seawolves were without top cornerback Davonte Anderson for the entire season, and saw star running back Marcus Coker play just two games before going down for the year with an abdominal injury. The team's starting quarterback Lyle Negron also struggled with an injured right throwing shoulder for most of 2013.
Despite all the big injuries the Seawolves suffered this team never appeared to be lacking in effort on the field. There were really only two games last season in which Stony Brook looked outclassed (Villanova and New Hampshire). The team found themselves with a chance to win just about every other game. Perhaps if the Seawolves hadn't been hit so hard by injuries and weren't forced to rely on so many inexperienced players in crunch time they would have been more effective at closing out games last year. But, that was not the case, so now the team looks ahead to year two in the CAA.
2) Was losing the season opener to Bryant a surprise?
The loss was somewhat of a surprise. Stony Brook was playing in their home opener with a large crowd behind them, and had beaten the Bulldogs 21-13 last season. But, that being said, I think a lot of SBU fans didn't know exactly what to expect from this team going into Thursday. This is particularly true on the offensive side of the ball where there are a lot of new pieces in place.
One of the biggest new pieces is quarterback John Kinder, who transferred to Stony Brook from Syracuse during the offseason. Kinder definitely brings plenty of potential talent to the Seawolves, but only had a short time to learn the team's system before the first game. His lack of experience running the team's offense definitely showed in the loss to Bryant, as he threw for just 7-of-18 for 101 yards and a touchdown. The offensive line, which also features some new faces, also struggled in the opener, as they allowed Kinder to be sacked four times for a loss of 37 yards. Overall the offense produced only 186 total yards and eight first downs on the night. I think the ineptitude of the team's offense against the Bulldogs had to be the most surprising takeaway from the opener.
3) What were the expectations going into the season and how have they changed?
Most people around Stony Brook seem to be expecting better things out of the team in their second CAA season. I think most fans believe that the team's rushing attack and defense will be strong enough to keep them in most games, and if they can find consistent quarterback play they might be able to secure a playoff spot.
The head coaches around the CAA do not seem to expect much out of Stony Brook, as they picked them to finish ninth in the preseason conference poll. But, part of that may be due to the fact that the Seawolves are still fairly new to the conference and are lacking in big name star players.
I don't think the expectations for this team have really changed too much after just one game. The loss to Bryant definitely raised some concern about the offense. But, Stony Brook was missing their top offensive player last week, in running back Marcus Coker (who was serving a one game suspension for a violation of team rules). Having him back in the lineup and giving Kinder some time to learn the team's offense should result in better offensive play as the season progresses.
4) Who are the stars of this team?
Coker is probably the team's biggest star. Back in 2012 he rushed for over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns as the team's No. 2 running back. The Seawolves are expecting big things from him in his final year of eligibility. Running back Stacey Bedell, who is in his first year with Stony Brook after transferring over from the University of Massachusetts, also is a player to watch on the offense. There is also senior wideout Adrian Coxson, whose speed makes him a very dangerous weapon in the Seawolves pass attack. Coxson was a part of Stony Brook's only scoring play against Bryant last Thursday, when he and Kinder connected for a 61-yard touchdown.
On the defensive side of the ball Christian Ricard is one player who seems to stand out every game. The senior, who plays at the rover position for SBU, led the team in tackles last season, and been one of the team's most consistent players over the past few years. Upfront junior defensive end Victor Ochi is also someone who can make a big impact. He led the team with 5.5 sacks in 2013.
5) What are the strengths and weaknesses of this year's team?
Head Coach Chuck Priore's teams have always been able to run the ball well, and this team should be no exception. The combination of Coker, Bedell, and third string halfback Tyler Fredericks should help Stony Brook pick up major yardage on the ground this season
The Seawolves secondary could also end up being a major strength for this team. Anderson, who had six interceptions back in 2012, is back in the lineup this season. Jaheem Woods, Max Martinez, and Naim Cheeseboro are also all talented players in team's secondary, and could help Stony Brook put together one of the best pass defenses in the CAA.
The major weakness for this team right now is definitely quarterback play. I don't think anyone expected Kinder to be lights out in what was just his first collegiate start last Thursday, but his performance against Bryant definitely has to have fans concerned. As of right now the team's quarterback situation is very much a work in progress. They should learn over the next few weeks if Kinder is capable of running the Seawolves offense, or if they need to turn to junior Conor Bednarski or sophomore Carlos Hernandez instead.
6) Your prediction?
If this game was later in the season I think Stony Brook would have a much better chance to pull off an upset here. But, right now the team's offense is still getting their act together, and I think they'll most likely struggle to put up points this Saturday. The Seawolves defense should be able to keep the game close for awhile, but I'll say UConn wins it, 27-13.