Forgive Army coach Rich Ellerson if he's fit to be tied. He has good reason to be.
The Black Knights' ground-chewing triple option tops the nation, averaging 399 yards rushing over their first three games. In the last two, Army has run for 915 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaged 5.6 yards per carry, held the ball for nearly 76 minutes, scored 77 points — and still hasn't tasted victory.
"We've been kicked in the gut coming out of the gate," Ellerson said. "And regardless of what has happened the last week or two, we have to put that behind us."
So, forget about that 41-40 loss two weeks ago to Northern Illinois in the normally friendly confines of Michie Stadium. And that 49-37 setback a week ago at Wake Forest, when the Army offense had 506 yards — 429 on the ground.
Focus on the challenge at hand — FCS power Stony Brook (3-1). The Seawolves, who played Syracuse tough in the Carrier Dome two weeks ago before falling 28-17, visit West Point for the first time as the Black Knights begin a three-game homestand on the banks of the Hudson River.
It's a critical game for Army. Lose and any chance at a winning season and playing in the postseason likely vanishes.
"Stony Brook is a real challenge," Ellerson said. "They have two things going for them. One is when we look at how we match up with them. In many, if not most, cases we'll be looking across the ball at somebody who is as good or better than anyone we've seen this year. The other thing is that they are used to winning.
"They came within a whisker of upsetting Syracuse a couple weeks ago and are absolutely licking their chops."
"The tradition of playing a school like Army and preparing for their offense is challenging," Seawolves coach Chuck Priore said. "It certainly will be a change for our defensive unit. They have a terrific offense."
The Seawolves might get sort of a break. Army quarterback Trent Steelman, who rushed for three touchdowns and threw for another against Wake Forest, is nursing sore ribs and starting center Ryan Powis is out with a groin injury.
Ellerson said earlier in the week that Steelman's status was "a wait-and-see game," but the senior is expected to start, with A.J. Schurr and Angel Santiago ready as backups.
"We think there is great upside in both," Ellerson said.
The Black Knights have been hurt mostly by a defense that's allowed 491.7 yards per game, more than negating the impressive performance of Army's triple option. Opponents are averaging nearly 11 yards per pass and 6.6 yards per rush, hardly a recipe for success.
Now comes a Stony Brook team that relishes running the ball behind Manuel Maysonet and Marcus Coker, who have thrived behind a hulking offensive line that averages 305 pounds. The Seawolves are averaging 43.8 points and 480 yards per game, 327.8 on the ground. Maysonet is averaging 145 yards rushing per game and a whopping 8.2 yards per carry and has 580 yards and a team-high six touchdowns on just 71 carries. Coker has 283 yards and five touchdowns.
"They are big, strong guys who know what they're doing," Ellerson said. "Our challenge is not so much what they do — it's more getting all of our guys on the same page and doing the same thing. We have to take advantage of our quickness. Right now, that's a double-edged sword.
"When you're doing it right and together, it can really help you. On the other hand, when you have some guys playing one defense and some guys playing a different one, it gets a little bit tough. That's where we've been."