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Football preview: Stony Brook faces road challenge against undefeated Rhode Island

Head coach Chuck Priore leads the Stony Brook football team as they run onto the field at the beginning of the game against Fordham on Sept. 25. The Seawolves will be playing the Rhode Island Rams on Oct. 2. KAT PROCACCI/THE STATESMAN

One week removed from an embarrassing home loss to the Fordham Rams, the Seawolves will hit the road to face the Rhode Island Rams at noon on Saturday, Oct. 2.

Rhode Island will be Stony Brook’s second Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) opponent this season and will start a stretch of seven straight games against CAA teams to end the season.

Coming off a bye week, the 3-0 (1-0 CAA) Rams will be well-rested as they look to stay undefeated and earn their first win over Stony Brook in program history. The Seawolves are 7-0 all-time against Rhode Island, with an average margin of victory of 18.14 points in those games.

In their last matchup in 2019, a 92-yard touchdown drive followed by a successful onside kick and another touchdown gave the Rams a 27-24 lead with only one minute remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Seawolves’ final drive threatened to stall at the 50-yard line, as they needed six yards on fourth down to keep the game alive. Graduate quarterback Tyquell Fields dropped back, stepped up in the pocket and took off running all the way to the endzone to make the game-winning play with 11 seconds left.

While Stony Brook has dominated its series with Rhode Island, the Rams seem poised to earn their first win against the Seawolves. They were one fourth-down stop away from winning the matchup in 2019 – a season that saw the Rams finish 2-10 (0-8 CAA), while the win brought Seawolves to 4-1. In 2019, the Rams were outscored by their opponents by 10.6 points on average and outgained by 64.2 yards per game.

Heading into their eighth matchup, the Rams are rolling on both sides of the ball, while the Seawolves are struggling to find consistency.

One of the keys to Rhode Island’s recent success has been redshirt junior quarterback Kasim Hill. A four-star recruit out of high school in 2017, Hill appeared in 11 games for Maryland between 2017 and 2018 but had each season cut short by injuries. After transferring to Tennessee, Hill was forced to miss the 2019 season due to NCAA eligibility rules. 

Before the 2020 season began, Hill was expected to compete for Tennessee’s starting job, but he ultimately transferred to Rhode Island and took over as the starting QB in the shortened spring season.

Hill has not been asked to throw the ball too often this year, but he has completed 60.6% of his passes, thrown five touchdowns to only one interception and boasts a 173.7 efficiency rating, good for seventh among all FCS quarterbacks. Hill also has two rushing touchdowns and averages 40.6 rush yards per game.

Rhode Island’s defense has been stout this season, allowing only 3.3 yards per carry and recording five takeaways while allowing eight touchdowns. It starts with the front seven, led by redshirt sophomore linebacker Evan Stewart, who leads the Rams with 24 tackles, and freshman defensive lineman Neal Westley Jr., who has a team-high five tackles for loss and is tied for first on the team with two sacks.

“They’ve changed schemes since the last time we played them… I think they’re doing a good job with the scheme,” head coach Chuck Priore said about Rhode Island’s improved defense in Monday’s media teleconference. “I think they’ve got some good, talented players. I think they’re physical upfront, which is helping them and they’re creating some mismatches with personnel groupings.”

A key reason for Stony Brook’s struggles has been red zone inefficiency. In 16 trips to the red zone, the Seawolves have scored only seven touchdowns. “Our ability to produce points has not been good,” Priore said. “We’ve been able to move the football. We had 29 first downs on Saturday and I don’t know if I’ve ever lost a game having 29 first downs, but at the end of the day, we did not execute correctly within those 29 first downs.”

Meanwhile, the Rams have been excellent at cashing in those opportunities, scoring nine touchdowns and 12 total scores in 13 trips to the red zone.

The Rams have momentum, rest and home-field advantage on their side heading into this game. The Seawolves cannot afford to let their losing streak extend to three games and go down 0-2 against CAA teams if they want to get back to the playoffs. They might need some more late-game magic from Fields and company to leave Rhode Island with a win this Saturday.

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