Stony Brook quarterback Kyle Essington was the runaway national leader in FCS passing efficiency this season, but he likely will watch the Seawolves' first-round playoff game against Villanova from the sidelines Saturday afternoon at LaValle Stadium. Coach Chuck Priore said Essington is "questionable" with a right thigh contusion suffered in the regular-season finale at Liberty.
Backup Lyle Negron, who completed three of five passes, in limited time in six games this season, has taken all the first-team snaps in practice the past two weeks and expects to start. Priore said Essington "probably will throw" in practice Thursday.
"He could be suited up on Saturday and playing; he might not be," Priore said. "He's got to be 100 percent. If not, the other kid, who has practiced for two weeks and has been real sharp, will play, and we won't have any problems."
Negron is a redshirt junior who transferred last season from Bakersfield (Calif.) Junior College and spent a year learning the system before assuming the backup role this season. "He knows our offense, and he's been waiting for his opportunity," Priore said. "So, he's got it. He's a heck of a player. He's got as strong an arm as I've seen at this level."
Essington suffered the injury in the third quarter at Liberty and essentially finished the game on one leg, which helps explain the last two of four interceptions he threw in a 28-14 loss. His 175.8 pass efficiency rating was far ahead of the second-place mark of 161.51 posted by Harvard's Colton Chapple.
"During the game, I didn't know how bad it was," Negron said of Essington's injury. "The next day, coach told me to be ready. Anybody can go down. When you're the backup, you prepare like the starter. I got all the practice last week."
Running backs Miguel Maysonet and Marcus Coker are the strength of Stony Brook's offense, but Priore said the Seawolves (9-2) won't emphasize the run any more than usual. "If you go into a game and you try to hide your quarterback, you're going to lose the football game," Priore said. "The game plan was set for attacking Villanova, and we'll attack with whoever is playing."
Essington took over at midseason last year after a knee injury ended quarterback Michael Coulter's career and he threw four TD passes. But this is a much bigger spot against a Villanova (8-3) defense that is strong against the run and has totaled 14 interceptions.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself," Negron said. "I just don't want to let the seniors down. I know Kyle probably will be back next week if we get him through . Kyle deserves to keep playing."
Essington has been particularly effective throwing to wide receiver Kevin Norrell, who has 60 catches for 1,291 yards and 14 touchdowns, but Negron has chemistry with him, too. "Kevin is actually my roommate," Negron said. "We've thrown a lot together. It's just getting the first-team reps with the line in front of you. I think we'll be all right."