For the first round of the FCS playoffs anyway, it didn’t matter that Stony Brook didn’t have injured starting quarterback Kyle Essington. It didn’t matter because a Villanova offense averaging 31.2 points per game couldn’t sustain much of any offense in a 20-10 loss Saturday afternoon at LaValle Stadium.
The Wildcats’ offensive problems were two-pronged – first, the Seawolves’ offense had the ball for 39 minutes and 32 seconds, and second, they were held to 136 yards rushing, 135 yards passing and quarterback John Robertson completed only 15 of 31 passes and threw two interceptions. Robertson led Nova with 85 yards rushing, while running back Kevin Monangai, who came in averaging 108 yards pergame, gained just 20 yards on nine carries.
“They played solid defense,” Villanova coach Andy Talley said of the Seawolves (10-2). “I don’t think we ever put enough stress on them to get them concerned.”
Villanova (8-4) always had the potential to break big plays, as Robertson showed on a 25-yard scramble in the first half and a 21-yard quarterback draw in the second half that went untouched for the Wildcats’ only TD.
But as Robertson said, “They ran their base defense and got a little pressure on me. It seemed like we would start moving well and then stall out. It was hard to convert third downs.”
The biggest difference between this season’s Seawolves, who advance to meet third-seeded Montana State (10-1) Saturday in Bozeman, Mt., and the team that fell in the second round last year at then-No. 1 Sam Houston State is the improved defense. Stony Brook (10-2) had two terrific goal-line stands in its 11-point loss at FBS Syracuse and held FBS Army to a season-low three points in a 23-3 win at West Point, and the Seawolves once again came up with big plays when they were needed against Nova.
After taking a 7-0 lead following an epic 98-yard, 21-play drive, they stopped Villanova after it responded by driving to a third-and-one at SBU’s 39. Defensive lineman Jonathan Coats stopped Robertson for a three-yard loss, and when Wildcats personal protector Gary Underwood took a direct snap on a fourth-down fake punt, he was stopped a yard short of the first by rover back Christian Ricard.
Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore explained that assistants Rob Nevaiser and Lyle Hemphill coached together at Delaware in the CAA and knew Villanova coach Andy Talley liked to run the fake punt in opponents’ territory. “We kept the ‘punt-safe’ defense in there,” Priore said. “The coaches made the right call, and we made the stop.”
After running back Marcus Coker fumbled in Villanova territory on the next drive, Stony Brook forced a three-and-out series. Ricard made a tackle for a loss on second-and-1, and linebacker Grant Nakwaasah pressured Robertson into an incompletion on third down. Stony Brook then drove for a TD and a 14-0 lead.
In the third quarter, Seawolves nose tackle Kevin Hauter (pictured pressuring Robertson) had a tackle for a loss by Monangai on second-and-5 at the SBU 23 to help stall another Villanova drive that ended with a field goal. Early in the fourth quarter, Hauter sacked Robertson to forced what turned into a four-and-out series when the Wildcats failed on fourth down at their own 32.
“The defensive line knew pressuring the quarterback was big,” Hauter said. “We used a lot of pass stunts. The defensive line had a great attitude and a great motor the whole game…We tried to get off the ball and play with a violent attitude.”
Stony Brook had a 20-3 lead when the defense made its only major mistake, allowing Robertson to score from 21 yards out on a quarterback draw with 6:57 left, but it was too little and too late. Cornerback Davonte Anderson came up with his second interception of the game on Villanova’s next possession to end the last threat of a comeback.
“Our coverage was tight, and the pass rush was amazing getting to the quarterback almost every play,” Anderson said. “You can’t really get comfortable because that offense is complex and they run a lot of formations.”
The response of defensive coordinator Nevaiser was to simplify. Priore explained that much of what the Wildcats do is “window dressing,” using formations and movement to disguise basic plays. “We played our base defense,” Priore said. “We played the first preseason call that we installed. We played one call the whole game.”
The beauty of it was that the Seawolves played it to perfection.