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Stony Brook football has nightmare matchup ahead with Monmouth’s Shirden

Running back Roland Dempster (center) runs the ball into the open field against New Hampshire on Saturday, Oct. 21. Dempster will look to steal some of the shine from Monmouth running back Jaden Shirden this Saturday. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

With time running out to find its first win of the season, the Stony Brook football team will hope to get its first road victory in two years this weekend.

This Saturday, the Seawolves (0-8, 0-6 CAA) will head over to West Long Branch, N.J. to take on the Monmouth Hawks (3-5, 2-3 CAA) for their final away game of the season. Opening kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.

Everything about this game will come down to Monmouth’s superstar running back Jaden Shirden. After being arguably the best offensive player in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) a year ago, he has repeated his success in 2023. His 1,173 rushing yards lead the CAA by a wide margin, as it is 459 more than the conference’s second-leading rusher. He has rushed for eight touchdowns this year and has been very explosive again, averaging 6.8 yards per carry. He has also caught 15 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.

Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan attributes Shirden’s dominance to his strong closing speed.

“He seems to be able to kick it into another gear,” Callahan said in a press conference on Monday. “There’s [been] a number of times where it looks like he’s going to get caught … before he gets to the end zone, but it rarely happens.”

Naturally, the Hawks have one of the best rushing attacks in the conference. Their 208.6 rushing yards per game ranks fourth in the CAA, while they lead it with an average of 5.7 yards per carry. Not including sacks, 10 different players have run the ball for them.

Besides Shirden, there is backup running back Sone Ntoh, who leads the team and is second in the CAA with 12 rushing touchdowns. He has rushed for 340 yards this year and averages 7.9 yards per carry, the latter of which leads the conference. Ntoh has still not had a negative run this year.

Monmouth can throw the ball, too, as quarterback Marquez McCray has put together a respectable season. McCray is sixth in the conference with 221.5 passing yards per game on a 62.3% completion rate. His main target is wide receiver Dymere Miller, who leads the team with 63 receptions. Miller also leads the Hawks and is second in the CAA with 760 receiving yards and six touchdown receptions. Wide receiver Assanti Kearney has been respectable as the second option in the passing game with 23 receptions, 332 yards and three touchdowns.

The Hawks are likely licking their chops with their matchup, as it has been a season to forget for the Stony Brook defense. The Seawolves have been unable to prevent anything, as they have given up the most points (37.5) and yards (461.1) per game in the CAA. Their 461.1 total yards allowed per game is not only the worst mark in the conference but also the worst mark in the program’s history.

The biggest fault of Stony Brook’s defense has been its secondary. The unit has allowed 287.9 passing yards per game on 9.3 yards per attempt, which are the worst marks in the CAA. The Seawolves’ seven interceptions are tied for the sixth-most in the conference, but they have not tallied one since they had four against Richmond on Sept. 23. Opposing quarterbacks have not thrown an interception in six of their eight games facing Stony Brook.

After starting the season strong, the Seawolves’ defensive front has continuously declined. Its 17 sacks are tied for the sixth-most in the CAA, but they have just five over their last four games after tallying 12 through the first four. The pass rush is led by defensive end Rodney Faulk, who leads the team with three sacks and 4.5 tackles for a loss. Additionally, their run defense has allowed 173.3 rushing yards per game on 4.7 yards per attempt, which are both the fifth-worst marks in the CAA.

Head coach Chuck Priore is hoping the defense can hone itself in better on Saturday.

“We’ve got to play disciplined,” Priore said in a press conference on Monday. “That’s been the one thing that has hurt us across the board. [The team] is working hard at it … we need to just make some more plays.”

While Monmouth’s offense has thrived, its defense has been closer to average. The Hawks are seventh in the conference in points allowed per game (26.8) and sixth in total yards allowed per game (351.1). They have the worst red-zone defense in the CAA, allowing scores in 20 of their opponents’ 21 trips. Of the 20 scores in the red zone, 18 of them have been touchdowns.

Monmouth’s defensive front has improved significantly of late. However, in its last four games, it has allowed just 129.3 rushing yards per game, which would be good for the fourth-best mark in the CAA. They have also racked up nine sacks over the last three weeks.

Middle linebacker Ryan Moran quarterbacks the Hawks’ defense and leads them with 51 total tackles. Outside linebacker Jake Brown, strong safety Tyrese Wright and defensive end Antonio Colclough all co-lead the team with 2.5 sacks each. Wright and outside linebacker Remi Johnson co-lead the team with 4.5 tackles for loss.

Opponents have not tested Monmouth’s secondary very much, but when they have, it has shown to be a weak spot. Although the unit is allowing the fifth-fewest passing yards per game in the CAA, opponents have attempted just the second-fewest passes (198). In those pass attempts, they have surrendered a 64.1% completion percentage, which is the third-worst rate in the conference. The Hawks’ five interceptions are the second-fewest in the CAA.

Cornerback Eddie Morales III leads the group with two interceptions. Cornerback Mike Reid has been a mainstay in the secondary and has four pass breakups. Wright leads the team with five breakups. Hard-hitting free safety Thomas Joe-Kamara rounds out the starting secondary.

The Seawolves will likely try to exploit the Hawks’ defense through the air. Quarterback Casey Case will look to get back on track after exiting the game early last week. This season, Case has averaged 204.5 passing yards per game on a 55.1% completion rate.

Case’s main target is wide receiver Anthony Johnson, who leads the Seawolves with 50 receptions and is fourth in the CAA with 627 receiving yards. Wide receiver Jayden Cook leads the team with four receiving touchdowns.

Although it has depth at the running back position, Stony Brook is averaging just 96.4 rushing yards per game, which is the second-worst mark in the conference. That is likely due to the fact that the Seawolves have spent most of the time trailing this year, which has forced them to ditch the run game early. They are deep at running back, with Roland Dempster, Johnny Martin, Ross Tallarico and Shakhi Carson all averaging over four yards per carry.

Tallarico is the team’s leading rusher with 234 yards and 5.9 yards per carry. Dempster has rushed for two of their three touchdowns, with Martin scoring the other. With Carson out due to injury, the other three will be integral in keeping Stony Brook in it.

With Monmouth coming off back-to-back narrow, one-score losses, Callahan is hoping to get back on track on Saturday.

“We’re close, but close isn’t enough,” Callahan said. “[We’ve] got to play the full game. [We’ve] got to be at our best for [those] three hours.”

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