Andrew Renneisen | Photo EditorFootball
Ground attack: Syracuse looks to stop Stony Brook’s vaunted running game
The game against Western Illinois still stands out to Scott Shafer. Five jobs and more than a decade ago, Shafer was a member of the Northern Illinois coaching staff when his Huskies took on a Football Championship Subdivision team with a slew of former Division-I players.
He runs through the breakdown with ease: six kids that started their careers in the Big Ten, Southeastern Conference or Mid-American Conference only to wind up at Western Illinois.
“If you look across the board, there are a lot of kids that signed Division I and transferred,” said Shafer, the Syracuse defensive coordinator.
But he has faced perhaps no FCS player with more D-I accomplishments than running back Marcus Coker, who ran for 1,384 yards in his sophomore season at Iowa in 2011 before transferring to Stony Brook. Now Coker is part of a loaded Seawolves (2-0) backfield that averages 411 rushing yards per game and should provide a test at 4 p.m. Saturday inside the Carrier Dome as Syracuse (0-2) looks for its first win of the season.
It would be easy for the Orange to pay no mind to the rushing statistics Stony Brook accumulated through its first two games, writing them off to a lower level of competition as part of the FCS. But Syracuse linebacker Dan Vaughan said any team that rushes for 521 yards and nine touchdowns, as the Seawolves did last week against Pace, must be taken seriously.
“Any time you face a team that can put up close to 600 yards of offense, I don’t care what level it’s at,” Vaughan said. “That’s a big deal.”
Though Coker’s name carries the most clout, he is certainly not the only Stony Brook tailback who can run wild against an opposing defense. The Seawolves have four different rushers with more than 140 yards already this season, including Miguel Maysonet, who leads the team with 225 yards and a touchdown.
Coker, who is still adjusting to a new scheme and new teammates, scored in the season opener against Central Connecticut and earned the start last week against Pace.
“I think Maysonet is probably a little bit more shifty, and Coker will run it right down your throat,” Shafer said. “They are a little bit different, they really are. But they are incredibly competitive. You can tell that they’re fighting for reps, too.”
Shafer said that Stony Brook’s offensive line is a strong one led by sophomore center Mike Lisi and junior right tackle Michael Bamiro. He highlighted Lisi’s athleticism and ability to pull around the edge as two of his strengths, and said Bamiro’s 6-foot-8-inch, 345-pound frame is simply monstrous.
Put together, the line guided the Stony Brook offense to the top of the FCS in total offense with 591 yards per game through the first two weeks of the season — nearly 50 yards more than any other team in the country.
“They’ve got a bunch of big old offensive lineman there that have played a lot of football that do a good job pulling,” Shafer said. “They try to get you on the edge, and then those (running backs) can slash it back against the grain. They’re a very good offense.”
It presents Syracuse’s defense with a platform to stifle a unit that is yet to be contained in 2012. Defensive tackle Jay Bromley said any team that comes into a game determined to run the ball 60 or 70 times — the Seawolves ran it 57 times last week — is disrespecting its opponent.
So Bromley and Co. plan to come out fiery on Saturday, prepared for a physical battle with bragging rights up for grabs if the Orange can become the first defense to slow down Stony Brook.
“We can’t let anyone come in and run the ball down our throats,” he said.
Yet that will undoubtedly be Stony Brook’s goal, as the Seawolves’ quarterbacks have attempted only 25 passes through two games. To put that in context, SU’s Ryan Nassib threw 65 passes in Week 1 alone.
That’s why Bromley said the plan is to hit Stony Brook’s offensive linemen hard on Saturday and hopefully shut down the run. He said the Seawolves have no interest in passing the ball, and if the Orange can force them to do so, the game will likely be tilted in Syracuse’s favor.
Every defensive lineman loves to take on a quarterback like Southern California’s Matt Barkley, since it’s a chance to get a few sacks against a pass-happy offense. But it’s the smash-mouth game that linemen love, so Saturday should be fun.
“This game is not on the linebackers, it’s not on the defensive backs, it’s on us,” Bromley said. “They want to put their hand in the ground and run the ball, so we have to show them that we’re not going to back down from anybody.”
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