Seawolves coach Chuck Priore: 'A lot of things we need to fix' heading into more difficult schedule
Was Stony Brook's 24-0 victory over lowly Rhode Island an ominous sign of how much tougher life is going to be in the Colonial Athletic Association? Or was it just a sign of first-game jitters for the 13th-ranked FCS team in the nation as it makes the transition from the Big South to a much better league?
Seawolves coach Chuck Priore, who has guided the program for eight years into ever deeper water, moving from the Northeast Conference to the Big South to the CAA and moving up into the national rankings and FCS playoff picture, was his usual gruff, matter-of-fact self after the season opener Saturday afternoon at Meade Stadium.
"There's a lot of good football teams everywhere," Priore said. "The CAA has good football teams and the Big South has good football teams . . . Football is won on the field. It's never won because of a league."
Of course, Priore is nothing if not a realist, and he understands that Stony Brook has to get much better in concert with its rugged schedule if it hopes to make a third straight trip to the FCS playoffs.
The loss was the 15th straight for Rhody. Next, Stony Brook plays at Buffalo, its only FBS opponent and a team that scored 20 points in its opening loss at No. 2 Ohio State a week ago.
Then the Seawolves travel to Villanova to play the CAA favorite before playing their home opener Sept. 28 against Towson, which upset FBS Connecticut a week ago.
"I'm excited about the outcome but also understand there are a lot of things we have to fix to be a better football team next Saturday," Priore said.
He was thinking primarily of the Seawolves' first two drives into the red zone. They came away with only three points as Nick Ferrara connected on one of two field-goal attempts.
"That's 11 points," Priore said, meaning the ones that got away. "Add 11 points to the final score, and we'd be pretty happy, running around and saying, 'We scored as many points as last year.' "
In the Big South, the Seawolves were an offensive juggernaut, but their defense ruled the day at Rhode Island. That must be the consistent backbone this season. Priore credited new defensive coordinator Lyle Hemphill, whose unit allowed only 67 yards rushing, but URI quarterback Bob Bentsen completed 25 of 34 passes for 224 yards.
Priore said he wasn't concerned that the Rams held the Seawolves to 153 yards rushing, including only 78 on 23 carries for Marcus Coker. "They committed nine guys to the run," Priore said. "That's what they wanted to defend."
One thing that is dramatically different for the Seawolves is the run-pass threat of quarterback Lyle Negron. Predecessors Kyle Essington and Michael Coulter were pocket passers, but Negron isn't afraid to drop back and run or to absorb open-field hits.
Priore clearly appreciates his quarterback's toughness, saying, "Lyle is a gamer."
Referring to Negron's start in an FCS first-round playoff win over Villanova when Essington was injured last season, Priore added: "Last year against Villanova in his only start of his career, he broke his nose on the second series because he went downfield and blocked a person. He cut-blocked three people during the game.
"Lyle is Lyle. What you see is what you're going to get, an exciting player who has a rifle of an arm. He's got an NFL-caliber arm."
Asked if he worries about his quarterback getting hurt, Priore smiled and said: "Listen, Ohio State runs a read-option offense, and they let their quarterback get hit 12 times a game. So we'll be OK."
Uh, maybe no one should give Priore the unnerving news about the injury Ohio State's Braxton Miller suffered Saturday. Maintaining that pugnacious attitude might be the key to Stony Brook's season.