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Chuck Priore must replace Marcus Coker

Stony Brook head football coach Chuck Priore looks

Stony Brook head football coach Chuck Priore looks on during an intersquad scrimmage. (April 28, 2013) (Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

If Stony Brook’s first game without powerful running back Marcus Coker is any indication, the Seawolves’ offense will change to feature a running back rotation as a complement to the pass-run threat posed by quarterback Lyle Negron. Coker is out for the season with an abdominal injury, and none of the potential replacements pose the same challenge to a defense.

Cincinnati transfer Jameel Poteat was the Seawolves’ most effective running back with nine carries for 40 yards in their 35-6 loss Saturday at Villanova. But he had four carries for 21 yards in Stony Brook’s late fourth-quarter TD drive when the Wildcats primarily were concerned with preventing a quick strike through the air.

Freshman Tyler Fredericks of Lawrence carried six times for eight yards, and Jamie Williams got only two carries for three yards. Late in the game, Priore gave James Kenner two carries for 10 yards.

Asked if he might be leaning toward Poteat as the starter based on his consistent use in the TD drive, Priore said, “Poteat was in with that personnel grouping. We’ll look at the film and see who played well in the situations they were involved in, watch their practice reps and make another decision next week.”

Even with Coker in the lineup in an opening win at Rhode Island and a five-overtime loss at FBS Buffalo, Priore moved away from his traditional emphasis on the running game in favor of allowing Negron to throw the ball to a solid corps of receivers led by Malcolm Eugene, who had 12 catches for 184 yards and a touchdown against the Wildcats.

But as Priore admitted, the Seawolves didn’t have the running power they needed on third and fourth down when they converted only five of 17 times. You’d have to look a long time to find the last time one of Priore’s teams was held to six first downs rushing.

Priore said he anticipated the Villanova might switch from its normal 3-5 defense to a 4-3 alignment. “Villanova came out and put four guys’ hands on the ground,” Priore said. “If they did that, we were going to throw the ball.

“I thought we were successful completion percentage-wise and moved the ball efficiently. Certainly, we want to have a balanced attack, and it wasn’t balanced enough. I think it comes down to some of those third-down situations in the first half where we did not convert.”

Both Priore and Negron discounted the notion of an emotional letdown by the Seawolves after losing Coker. Priore said injuries on the defensive side of the ball made more of a difference, and wide receiver Adrian Coxson missed the game with an injury and backup Devante Wheeler pulled a hamstring during the game.

“I think [Coker’s loss] affected the game less than not having two of our starting corners [Reuben Johnson, who is out for the season with a knee injury, and backup Ivan May, who played only a few snaps with a heel injury],” Priore said. “[Linebacker] Jawara Dudley didn’t practice all week. That hurt our defense.”

As if he didn’t have enough to worry about on offense and defense, the Seawolves’ problems in the kicking game continued. After placekicker Nick Ferrara missed three of six field goal attempts in the loss at Buffalo, Priore called upon Graham Ball, who proceeded to miss a 21-yard field goal attempt wide left and then got his extra point blocked.

“We have a new snapper, a new holder and guys that have kicked at the collegiate level and been very successful,” Priore said of Ferrara and Ball. “I mean, I don’t like missing those. But I think we have good parts, and I think we have to keep them working.”

Priore obviously has a long “to-do” list heading into practice this week to prepare for Saturday’s home opener against Towson, the No. 4 teams in the FCS polls.