The biggest question facing Stony Brook’s defense entering this season was how to replace the pass rush of All-American defensive end Victor Ochi. It didn’t take long to find the answer.
Weak safety Jaheem Woods earned STATS FCS national defensive player of the week honors with three sacks, five tackles for a loss and 11 total tackles in the Seawolves’ opening 13-9 win over then-No. 19 North Dakota. The combination of Woods and rover back Tyrice Beverette rushing off the edge is a formidable weapon to throw at any offense, including FBS opponent Temple on Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
Although Woods has been productive in the past, his game against North Dakota was a revelation because it’s the first time the fifth-year senior, who has played four positions in the secondary, has been completely healthy at SBU.
“It’s a big honor coming off what I had to go through the last three years from two ACL surgeries,” Woods said. “So it’s really big to see me back on my feet and show the progress I’ve made over the years. I don’t think I’ve been this healthy since high school.”
Woods suffered a torn ACL near the end of his redshirt year, and another torn ACL ahead of his junior season limited him to eight games last year. Now coach Chuck Priore can see the athlete he recruited out of Neptune, New Jersey.
“When we recruited him, he was one of the best athletes we’ve ever had our hands on,” Priore said. “We saw that early in his freshman year, and right at the end when he was redshirting, he tears his ACL. Both injuries happened at inopportune times when he had to go into the next season six or seven months off surgery.
“The combination of his health and playing one position consistently has helped him be more successful.”
Trying to find a way to replace Ochi’s pass-rushing impact, defensive coordinator Lyle Hemphill hit on using the 4.6 40-yard dash speed of Woods and Beverette on the outside. They played off each other against North Dakota.
“Tyrice started to get off, and then I was like, ‘All right, now it’s my turn. They’re going to start letting me get one-on-one,’ ” Woods said. “Once they did that, I just had to beat the person in front of me.”
Woods was a redshirt standing on the sideline in 2012 at West Point when Stony Brook dominated Army, 20-3, in its only victory ever against an FBS opponent. Coincidentally, Army upset a Temple team coming off a 10-win season in last week’s opener. The Owls, who were without top running back Jahad Thomas, gained just 83 yards rushing and threw three interceptions.
So the Seawolves’ defense, which was the No. 1-ranked total defense in FCS a year ago, has a chance to make it competitive. “I think they’re going to be ready to play when we come there,” Woods said of Temple. “But we pride ourselves on stopping everything. Honestly, we have a target on our backs from being No. 1 in the nation last year. We want to show we’re still the same thing.”