Stony Brook effectively had its passing arm tied behind its back when it relied on the running of Miguel Maysonet and Marcus Coker to beat Villanova, 20-10, in the first round of the FCS playoffs last Saturday. But coach Chuck Priore knows his quarterback must produce to win Saturday at third-seeded Montana State whether injured starter Kyle Essington returns or backup Lyle Negron makes his second straight start.
The Seawolves (10-2) didn't practice Monday, but Essington worked out and showed enough progress with his deep thigh contusion for Priore to place his chances of starting against the Bobcats (10-1) at "50-50." The nation's FCS passing efficiency leader spent Monday morning in the pool and then did agility drills, straight-line running and took some pass drops. He also did light throwing with some receivers.
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"He ran and threw today, so it looks pretty good," Priore said. "He was moving a lot better than everybody thought. The doctors are surprised he's where he's at today, so it's a good thing."
Priore plans to limit Essington to the seven-on-seven drill in Tuesday's practice while Negron takes all the snaps in the full-squad portion. Essington's progress will determine whether he takes any first-team snaps Wednesday and Thursday.
Essington was not in uniform for the Villanova game. Priore expects that much to change at Montana State but said Essington would have to be close to 100 percent in terms of being able to execute the offense to start.
"Certainly, he'll be dressed and ready to play if he's 80 percent and will be in a backup mode," Priore said. "He's not going to feel 100 percent, but he's got to be able to perform what we need him to do and he knows that."
Against Villanova, the plan was to have Negron manage the game, which meant he was called upon to throw only six passes, completing three for 37 yards and two third-down conversions. In effect, it took wide receiver Kevin Norrell, who leads the nation in average per catch (21.34) and ranks third in receiving yards per game (108.50), out of the game. He had one catch for 11 yards, and Negron missed him on all three incompletions.
Priore said the game plan was based on controlling time of possession, not Negron's lack of experience. The combination of the success of the running game, a 20-3 lead and the windy conditions allowed him to stick to the script.
"What we did on Saturday, you do once or twice a year," Priore said. "We did it at Army and against Villanova. You can't do that week to week because these guys will pick on you. To win championships, you've got to throw the ball."