It took a while for Stony Brook's running game to hit its stride after losing Marcus Coker with a season-ending abdominal injury after two games, but former fourth-string running back James Kenner has helped the Seawolves regain their footing with three straight 100-yard performances.
Just as Kenner is becoming a force, he's headed for a collision with an immovable object Saturday afternoon against a James Madison defense that has allowed just 98.2 yards rushing per game, fifth-best in the nation at the FCS level. SBU coach Chuck Priore said the Dukes (6-4, 3-3 CAA) have the best defense Stony Brook has faced since playing FBS Buffalo, but it won't alter his game plan.
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"If we're not successful running the ball, we're not a good offensive team," Priore said. "So we will be successful running the football Saturday. We understand what we're doing when we run the ball, so we'll be OK."
That means the compact, 5-11, 210-pound Kenner, who had career highs in carries (32), yards (136) and touchdowns (three) in a 39-31 loss to Richmond last week, can expect to shoulder a heavy load for the Seawolves (3-6, 1-5). He has 580 yards rushing and five touchdowns for the season but has averaged 124.3 yards rushing and 28 carries the past three games.
As a transfer from ASA College in Brooklyn, where he played safety as a freshman and split time at running back as a sophomore, Kenner needed to learn how to read Priore's zone-blocking scheme. His reps increased with his production and injuries to backups Jameel Poteat and Tyler Fredericks.
"It comes with learning how to make yourself a better back," Kenner said. "Learn to read the defense before the play even happens. That's one thing Coach P tries to teach us all the time. Learning how to do that and actually doing it definitely helped me as a player."
One of the reasons for Kenner's success is his ability to run with power between the tackles. His experience as a defensive back delivering hits has helped. "When I'm in the open field, and I see a hit coming a certain way, I know how to take it on," Kenner said. "You kind of know how to control your body and make the moves you have to make."
As proud as he is of his production the past three games, Kenner said he reminds himself to stay humble, stay focused and stay patient, waiting for the big runs and big games to come. To that, Priore undoubtedly would cross his fingers and add, "Stay healthy."
Kenner hurt a hand because he wasn't wearing gloves in the Richmond game, but he's ready for host JMU. "I know being a football player, you won't always be 100 percent," Kenner said, "but I feel real good mentally and physically."