Another week, another Top 25 showdown in the Colonial Athletic Association.
This week’s marquee matchup of teams checking into the polls features a newcomer for 2019, but hardly an unknown name in contention for the Colonial over recent years: the Stony Brook Seawolves.
Who: No. 2 James Madison (4-1, 1-0) at No. 24 Stony Brook (4-1, 1-0)
When: Saturday, Oct. 5, 6 p.m. ET
Where: Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium; Stony Brook, New York
Watch: LIVE on FloFootball
After winning a raucous CAA opener at Rhode Island in Week 5, Stony Brook made its first appearance in the FCS STATS Top 25. Despite reaching the FCS Playoffs in each of the previous two seasons, the Seawolves came into the season somewhat under the radar.
Thanks to a prolific and multifaceted rushing attack, as well as the program’s signature salty defense, Stony Brooks has the look of a contender in the CAA. It has the opportunity to prove its championship chops hosting preseason favorite and second-ranked James Madison.
The Dukes come into LaValle Stadium with a look very similar to that of Stony Brook. Their defense is overwhelming and talented. The run game works through a multitude of ball-carriers and can flatten opposing defenses.
James Madison is playing its second consecutive Top 25 opponent after routing then-No. 24 Elon in what Dukes running back Solomon Vanhorse referred to as “a statement game.”
One person who has heard James Madison’s message is Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore.
Joking about hosting the dominant Dukes, who have won their four games against FCS opponents by a combined 146 points, Priore said: “We’ll take‘em on a tour of the Long Island Expressway. Hopefully, they’ll hit some traffic.”
Short of James Madison’s bus getting stuck on the way to the stadium, a win on Saturday comes down to two mirroring styles and which is executed best.
On The Run
A variety of equally effective running backs, capable ball-carriers at quarterback, and almost identical statistics: The tale of the tape between James Madison and Stony Brook is almost indistinguishable from one side to the other.
Stony Brook through five games:
- 264.6 rushing yards per game, No. 8 in FCS
- 5.4 yards per carry
- 245 run plays
- RB Isaiah White: 87 carries, 460 yards, five touchdowns
- RB Seba Nekhet: 67 carries, 400 yards, two touchdowns
- QB Tyquell Fields: 43 carries, 248 yards, two touchdowns
- RB Ty Son Lawton: 28 carries, 147 yards, two touchdowns
James Madison through five games:
- 256 rushing yards per game, No. 12 in FCS
- 5.18 yards per carry
- 247 run plays
- RB Solomon Vanhorse: 54 carries, 287 yards, five touchdowns
- RB Percy Agyei-Obese: 56 carries, 278 yards, four touchdowns
- RB Jawon Hamilton: 44 carries, 216 yards, two touchdowns
- QB Ben DiNucci: 33 carries, 197 yards, one touchdown
- RB Latrele Palmer: 18 carries, 145 yards, two touchdowns
“If you make the commitment to run the football, and have some of the tools in the toolbox – and they do, with the backs and the offensive line – it’s a philosophy,” Priore said. “And we believe in the same philosophy. It should be an interesting dynamic when the game starts.”
A big part of each team’s multi-dimensional rushing attack comes from its dual-threat quarterback. At James Madison, Pitt transfer Ben DiNucci introduced himself to the CAA in 2018 with 2,275 yards passing and another 433 on the ground.
DiNucci – who was at one time committed to Penn and coach Ray Priore, brother of Stony Brook’s Chuck Priore – is in a new offense this year. His production as a two-way player hasn’t suffered with Mike Houston taking his option-based look to East Carolina; on the contrary, DiNucci is thriving in the passing game so far.
He’s completing almost 72 percent of his pass attempts and has seven touchdowns with just one interception. That number’s a biggie for the Dukes, as last year he was picked off 12 times.
For Stony Brook, the emergence of Fields has injected a new energy into the Seawolves’ already-run heavy philosophy. He’s been one of the pleasant surprises in the early half of Colonial play.
“Any time you play a dual-threat quarterback, you’ve really got to be on your game,” Dukes coach Curt Cignetti said. “They’re going to try to pound us, then he’s going to pull the ball.
“When he drops back to pass,” Cignetti continued, “it’s always a threat he may tuck it and go.”
That’s what happened on Stony Brook’s game-winning touchdown to beat Rhode Island in Week 5. Fields took a broken passing play on fourth down and ran 50 yards to the house.
But while that breakaway run is an apparent threat, Fields’ ability to pass – especially deep – could be a critical plot point. Both defenses will be prepared for the run, so the pass comes into greater focus. That’s tough against two of the most talented secondaries in the nation.
James Madison features D’Angelo Amos, Rashad Robinson, Que Reid, and Adam Smith on the backline. That’s just a sampling of the Dukes' playmakers. Stony Brook is similarly loaded up with Augie Contressa, who’s having a monster year, Gavin Heslop (five break-ups through five games), and Synceir Malone, who ran back a pick-six in Week 1.
Andrew Trent has been a big-play weapon for Stony Brook, averaging 27.8 yards per reception. He and James Madison’s reliable Brandon Polk could be difference-makers.
Here's a one-sentence summary that nicely explains James Madison’s great start to 2019, particularly on offense:
“When you’ve got a good offensive line, you’ve got a chance to have a good football team,” said Cignetti.
That’s certainly been the case for the Dukes. Much of their run-game success is the result of excellent play up front, with Liam Fornadel, Mac Patrick, and Zaire Bethea all entering the season with significant experience – and it shows.
“The whole line, they have a lot of starts under their belt. They’re starting to play well,” Cignetti said, pointing to the effort in Week 5 at Elon. “We had no sacks, no TFLs, no turnovers Saturday.”
Part of Stony Brook’s success in recent years in the CAA, and dating back to its emergence in the Big South Conference previously, is owed to a swarming defense. The 2019 Seawolves are strong up front with standout Sam Kamara, coming off a remarkable, three-sack game at Rhode Island. Makye Smith delivered two sacks by himself the week prior and also forced a fumble.
Those two lines squaring off is critical to Saturday’s game, and it’s just as true when possession switches.
Stony Brook’s offensive line has stepped up with preseason All-CAA selection Kyle Nunez and Joe Detorie all putting their experience into action. The unit lined up opposite them on Saturday may be the best they see all year, with Ron’Dell Carter and John Daka on the edges.