There was one moment when Stony Brook's play-action passing game worked against Bryant the way coach Chuck Priore drew it up, and it was beautiful. Quarterback John Kinder faked the handoff to Stacey Bedell on first down from the Stony Brook 39, stepped back and uncorked a rainbow to wide-open receiver Adrian Coxson, who caught the ball at about the 5-yard line and completed the 61-yard touchdown play.
That one play accounted for about a third of the Seawolves' offensive yardage in their season-opening 13-7 loss to the Bulldogs Thursday night at LaValle Stadium. The rest of the game was an exercise in boredom for an audience of 10,252, third-largest in school history.
Priore credited Bryant's coaching staff for changing its defensive scheme to add to the confusion for Kinder, who was playing his first game at quarterback since his days at Lawrence High. Kinder spent the previous four years at Syracuse in a backup quarterback role and actually switched to wide receiver last season.
Despite that long period of inactivity, Priore chose to start Kinder over backups Conor Bednarski and Carlos Hernandez, who at least had plenty of practice reps in Stony Brook's offense. Even though Priore's offense is predicated on a strong running game, it works best with a quarterback who can hit the deep ball in the play-action game and roll out of the pocket to pressure the defense with a run-pass threat.
Kinder's mobility made him great in high school, but Bryant took that away. "They forced up the field and high blitzes took away a lot of our movement-of-pocket stuff," Priore said. "They knew we had a first-time starting quarterback and they made that decision. It took away the things we were hoping to do with him."
In the second half, Kinder's two best passes were deep balls to Coxson, but Bryant defensive back Michael Johnson was more alert and broke up both near the goal line. The intermediate stuff was more hit-or-miss for Kinder, who threw two interceptions and nearly had a couple more ill-advised throws picked off.
"The downfield throws were more clear-cut," Kinder said. "When you're throwing intermediate throws, sometimes it gets a little foggy because there are more bodies in there. But I'm comfortable throwing the ball all across the field."
Stony Brook had only four first downs at the point when Priore inserted Bednarski with 3:57 left in the third quarter. The redshirt junior threw a near-interception on his first play and a third-down incompletion before Priore put Kinder back in.
Explaining the change, Priore said, 'That was just to let John look for a few plays to see what the defense was doing. Sometimes you can't see it from the field."
Former William Floyd running back Bedell enjoyed a successful debut after transferring from Massachusetts, carrying 27 times for 116 yards. But with Kinder completing only 7 of 18 passes, the running game became a little more predictable. The Seawolves converted only two of 16 third downs.
Maybe it would have been different if star running back Marcus Coker had been available, but he was sidelined by a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules back in February. He's expected to return Sept. 6 at Connecticut.
Asked how Coker's absence impacted the game, Priore said, "I really don't have a comment on that."
Maybe Coker will make a difference. Maybe Kinder will regain his touch with more playing time and with help from whatever adjustments Priore and his staff make.
Until that happens, the Seawolves must rely on a veteran defense that showed its toughness and athleticism against Bryant. Asked how frustrating it was to see the offense struggle while the defense tried to protect a 7-6 halftime lead, rover Christian Ricard stressed the importance of maintaining a positive attitude.
Recalling last season's 1-3 start, Ricard said, "We can't split as a team like we did last year when we had those early losses. We have to keep moving forward."