It couldn't have been fun for Villanova to first try tackling 230-pound battering ram Marcus Coker and then the shifty Miguel Maysonet in Stony Brook's 20-10 first-round Football Championship Subdivision playoff win Saturday. The Wildcats got hit 54 times by the best 1-2 punch at the FCS level and maybe anywhere.
Although Maysonet led the way with 160 yards rushing on 25 carries, the 107 yards Coker netted on a season-high 29 carries appeared to take even more of a physical toll on Villanova's defense. Coker gained 52 of those yards on the Seawolves' epic opening 98-yard, 21-play drive.
"On the first drive, he beat them up," Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore said of Coker. "He really did. Miguel gets out for some of the longer runs, but on Sunday, when you turn the film on, Marcus finishes a lot of runs. They might have been 2-yard gains to normal backs, but all of a sudden, he gains 6.
"We're really fortunate to have both of them."
Priore emphasized the running game more than usual against Villanova because starting quarterback Kyle Essington was out with a deep thigh bruise. It's uncertain whether he will start when Stony Brook (10-2) visits third-seeded Montana State (10-1) for a second-round game Saturday night, so the pressure is on the run game again.
The Bobcats have the seventh-ranked rushing defense (96.0 yards) in FCS and are fifth in third-down defense (28.83 percent). The Seawolves' offensive line outweighs MSU's defensive line by 40 pounds per man, but it's a well-coached unit.
"They're a great defense, probably the top defense we've faced all year," Coker said Tuesday. "We're going to have to step it up another notch. They might not be the biggest guys, but they're fast off the ball and they're physical. They probably have the best linebacking corps we've faced all year, and the DBs aren't scared to come up and tackle. It's an all-around solid defense."
No team is better equipped to attack Montana State than the Seawolves.
Maysonet has 1,881 rushing yards and is a candidate for the Walter Payton Award, but Coker, who has gained 962 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per carry, has just begun to display the form he had last season at Iowa, where he was second in the Big Ten with 1,384 yards rushing.
Coker's three 100-yard rushing efforts have come in the Seawolves' past four games. It took time to adapt to rotating with Maysonet, reducing his carries from 21 per game at Iowa to 16 1/2.
"I haven't really had the best stats that I'm used to," Coker admitted. "Getting in every other series was an adjustment. Now, I'm used to it, so it's not bad.
"I'm definitely a downhill, punish-the-defense type of guy. That's why I normally break longer runs later in the game because the defense just doesn't want to tackle me anymore."
Coker's transfer to Stony Brook spurred dreams of a national title, and he's excited by the opportunity.
"It's a great group of guys," Coker said. "I couldn't really ask for anything more."