Backup Lyle Negron will start at quarterback for Stony Brook in place of injured Kyle Essington in an FCS first-round playoff game against Villanova at 3 p.m. Saturday at LaValle Stadium. But Seawolves coach Chuck Priore said he's more worried about stopping the Wildcats' offense than he is about how his team will handle a quarterback change in its biggest game of the season.
Essington won't even suit up because of a right thigh contusion. Negron, who has thrown only five passes all season, will make his first start for Stony Brook (9-2) and will be backed up by junior Craig Geoghan and freshman Pat D'Amato. But the return of veteran wide receiver Jordan Gush from a shoulder injury should help.
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"I don't anticipate our productivity to change at all," Priore said of an offense built around the running of Miguel Maysonet and Marcus Coker. "The least of my problems is the quarterback position. On defense, we've got to control their quarterback running the ball, and offensively, we've got to block some of their schemes."
It's uncertain whether Negron can duplicate Essington's big-play ability in the play-action passing game, so the pressure falls to the Seawolves' defense to contain a Villanova rushing attack ranked eighth in FCS with 263.36 yards per game. Wildcats running back Kevin Monangai (108.2 average) is a 5-8, 200-pound power back and freshman quarterback John Robertson (85.1 rushing, 166.4 passing) is a dangerous run-pass threat.
Fortunately for Stony Brook, middle linebacker Jawara Dudley, who barely played in the regular-season finale at Liberty because of a groin injury, is back at full speed. He represents the heart of the defense.
"Absolutely," Priore said. "He's a playmaker and a leader. We need him out there, obviously."
Dudley said the Wildcats are "one of the best" offenses the Seawolves have faced. "[Monangai] finds holes that nobody finds," he said. He's low to the ground, but he squeaks through his gaps."
Robertson isn't a classic option quarterback. He runs designed sweeps but also is very good at improvising.
"You have to watch out for both, but to me, he's more of a runner than a passer," Dudley said. "He's a scrambling quarterback. If he doesn't see what he likes, he runs."
Priore compared the Wildcats to the Sam Houston State team that stopped Stony Brook in the second round of the playoffs last year with a similar attack. Monangai is looking forward to the matchup with Walter Payton Award candidate Maysonet.
"I've heard about this kid even before I knew we were going to play Stony Brook," Monangai said. "It definitely will serve as motivation for me to bring my 'A' game, as well as for my team."
In each of their eight wins, the Wildcats (8-3) outscored their opponents by at least 15 points. The challenge for Stony Brook's defense, which ranks fifth nationally in scoring (16.0 points) and seventh in total defense (296.82 yards) is to keep the score low to take pressure off Negron and the SBU offense.
"We can't worry about the offense," Dudley said. "We have to stop people, and that's what we plan to do . . . We need to make a couple stops to win this game. It's going to come down to it at the end of the game for us to make a big stop. I feel like we can do it."