Air Force Non-Conference Preview: Stony Brook Seawolves
Stony Brook won ten games in 2017, but what will the Seawolves look like when they open 2018 against the Air Force Falcons?
How will the Falcons contend with an FCS playoff-caliber foe?
Location: Stony Brook, NY
Mascot: Wolfie the Seawolf
Conference: Colonial Athletic Association (FCS)
2016 Record: 10-3 (7-1 CAA)
Head Coach: Chuck Priore (77-61 at Stony Brook, 116-70 overall). One of the longest-tenured coaches in the FCS ranks, Priore’s run at Stony Brook, which began in 2006, has been largely defined by breaking even: His Seawolves have never won fewer than five games in a season and won at least nine games three times. Last year’s team may have benefited from some good fortune, though, since Stony Brook went 5-1 in one-score games and ranked 7th among FCS teams in turning red zone opportunities into points.
QB Joe Carbone
Carbone had seen action in 19 games across 2015-16 and, by many measures, played poorly: He completed just 52% of his passes and owned a 5-to-20 TD:INT ratio. In 2017, however, Carbone put a lot of things together and upped his completion rate to 56.2% while tossing 23 touchdowns. Though he loses number one target Ray Bolden, he could still do some damage against a retooled Falcons secondary.
LB Shayne Lawless
The Seawolves’ Buck defender has played in 34 games across three seasons and done a little bit of everything: 26.5 tackles for loss, ten sacks, three interceptions and three forced fumbles. Lawless had his best overall season yet in 2017, racking up eight sacks and 13 TFLs, so chances are the senior will be integral in slowing down Air Force’s ground game.
DL John Haggart
No one on the 2018 Seawolves roster has started more games than the senior Haggart, and he’s been very productive for three years. Last fall, he racked up ten tackles for loss — he and Lawless, by the way, were among five Stony Brook defenders with at least ten TFLs — and six sacks, making his presence known as an edge rusher.
RB Donald Liotine
Stony Brook will have to replace the production of departed leading rusher Stacey Bedell, but they do return Liotine, who finished second on the team with 711 rushing yards and led the Seawolves with ten touchdowns. He also returns kicks and did quite well in that role last year: Stony Brook finished 16th in the FCS in average kickoff returns. Field position was something that Air Force struggled with on both sides of the ball last year, as opposing offenses began at roughly the 32-yard line on average, so Liotine’s impact could be significant.
CB Gavin Heslop
Though you shouldn’t expect Air Force to throw against this defense more often than is necessary, it is worth noting that Stony Brook’s spring prospectus lists three sophomores as starters in a retooled secondary. The lone holdover, Heslop, recorded eleven passes defended and 8.5 tackles for loss in 2017. When the Falcons do take their chances downfield, they may consider looking to the other side of the field.
Last year’s Seawolves offense is perhaps best described as “good, not great”. They converted about 38% of third-down conversions, finished +5 in turnover margin and were just about even with opponents on time of possession, but they outscored teams 380-268 on the season. Stony Brook really leaned on its running game for balance in 2017 with 516 attempts, so Liotine and senior Jordan Gowins should see the lion’s share of that workload. Leading returning receiver Donavin Washington and tight end Cal Daniels combined for 67 catches last year, but averaged just 9.4 yards per catch.
Stony Brook’s front seven will have to be disciplined against the Falcons’ ground game, of course, but they have plenty of disruptive potential. Jordan Scarborough was another Seawolf to collect double-digit TFLs as a defensive tackle, while middle linebacker Noah McGinty did so alongside Lawless. It may be tough to replicate last year’s success, when the defense allowed just 4.6 yards per play, but the likely key will be stunting Air Force’s efficiency rather than preventing big plays.
The Falcons should prepare for a slugfest, but it’s hard for me to see right now how the Seawolves offense will have enough firepower to make a dent against Air Force’s rebuilt defense. I wouldn’t expect to see a significant amount of explosive plays, but the Falcons have always been more about keeping the chains on the move, anyway, so even if Stony Brook can stall for a quarter or a half, Troy Calhoun’s team should begin 2018 with a comfortable win. Air Force 31, Stony Brook 10