After a last-second loss to Northwestern and a very respectable losing effort against USC, some called Syracuse the best 0-2 team in the country because of the prolific passing of quarterback Ryan Nassib. Playing at home in the Carrier Dome on Saturday against an FCS school like Stony Brook (2-0), the Orange should be a prohibitive favorite to get their first win.
But there’s one area where the Seawolves definitely have better talent, and that’s at running back with Big South preseason offensive player of the year Miguel Maysonet (pictured) and Big Ten refugee Marcus Coker. Syracuse rushed for a respectable 133 yards against the No. 2 Trojans using a combination of Jerome Smith (16 carries-46 yards) and Prince-Tyson Gulley (9-56), but they don’t stack up against Maysonet and Coker.
Maysonet, who has rushed for 225 yards, four touchdowns and a 9.7 average carry in two games, is a big play waiting to happen with his breakaway ability. Coker has started more slowly than expected but still has rushed for 156 yards, three TDs and a 5.2 average gain. He’s actually third on the team in rushing behind redshirt freshman Jamie Williams (177-4 TDs-11.8) and barely ahead of sophomore Davon Lawrence (144-1 TD-11.1). Williams and Lawrence piled up big numbers in SBU’s 77-7 rout of Division II Pace last week.
Still, it’s Coker who has the best credentials of any back in the Carrier Dome Saturday after finishing second in Big Ten rushing a year ago at Iowa with 1,384 yards and 15 TDs. His numbers haven’t been as flashy as expected because he’s adjusting to a new offensive scheme.
Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore made an especially interesting observation when he said Coker had to get used to the speed at the FCS level. It’s slower than what he was used to at FBS Iowa.
“You hit the hole faster [at FBS] level, and now things aren’t happening as fast and he can let it develop a little bit,” Priore said. “He’s hitting it a little faster than probably he needs to. So, he’s trying to figure out the tempo at this level.”
In that respect, facing an FBS team like Syracuse might be just what the doctor ordered for Coker. Stony Brook’s offensive line actually is bigger than the Orange’s offensive line, but the blockers in front of Maysonet and Coker definitely will have to step up their game. Running the ball well is critical to give Stony Brook a shot at the upset because eating clock is the best way to limit what Nassib can do through the air for Syracuse.
At the same time, the Seawolves can’t expect to pound Syracuse all day on the ground. In two lopsided wins, they’ve been able to keep their passing game under wraps, but Priore knows quarterback Kyle Essington has to take advantage of play-action pass situations to go downfield to wide receivers David Norrell, Adrian Coxson and Jordan Gush. The first two both are transfers from FBS schools.
“We’re very athletic at wide receiver,” Priore said. “I think back two years ago to when we played at South Florida and we couldn’t get open. I think this Saturday will be different. We’ll get open, and we’ll get kids free. We’ve got quality from one to five [deep at WR], and I think those kids will understand how to get open and can match up athletically with their corners.”
Does Stony Brook have a chance to score its first upset over an FBS school in its fourth attempt? It’s a longshot against a team with a high-powered offense like Syracuse, but it’s not out of the question.
In the first two weeks this season, six FCS schools have beaten FBS teams, which get 22 more scholarships. Here’s the list: Youngstown State over Pitt, 31-17; Sacramento State over Colorado, 30-28; Tennessee-Martin over future Big East member Memphis, 20-17; Eastern Washington over Idaho, 20-3; Northern Arizona over UNLV, 17-14, and reigning FCS champion North Dakota State over Colorado State, 22-7. Five other FCS schools have lost to FBS opponents by a touchdown or less, including Stony Brook’s Big South rival Liberty dropping a 20-17 decision at Wake Forest.
Stony Brook’s best shot to beat an FBS team probably will come in two weeks at Army, but it should be fascinating to see how the Seawolves do against a Syracuse team that believes it can reach a bowl game this season.