CFB Preview: Stony Brook at William & Mary

Most college football fans are focused on the power conferences, the Heisman race, and the chase for national playoff spots. But there’s much more to the CFB landscape, like this weekend’s CAA clash of Stony Brook at William & Mary. Mark Schofield looks at one of the most compelling matchups of the weekend.

The Colonial Athletic Association is one of the stronger conferences in the Football Championship Subdivision, and last season the CAA sent four schools to the FCS Playoffs. Stony Brook University, a relative newcomer to the conference after joining the CAA prior to the 2013 season, struggled to five wins in each of the last two years. But the Seawolves are off to a 2-0 start, with a 38-9 victory over Central Connecticut State in their opener, and then a big win over defending CAA Champion New Hampshire, 31-6, last week. This weekend Stony Brook travels south to take on the Tribe from William & Mary, one of the elite CAA squads, and winners of seven games in 2014.

Bedell Can Run

The key to the Seawolves’ success so far has been the strength of their running game. Through two games Stony Brook is second in the conference with 286.5 yards on the ground per game, trailing only James Madison. Their talented running back, Stacey Bedell, leads the CAA with 163 yards per game rushing, and is fourth in total yards rushing with 326, despite the three players ahead of him – and some behind him – having each played three games.

Bedell, who began his collegiate career at the University of Massachusetts before transferring, possesses a nice mix of strength and speed, both of which were on display against UNH. On this first play, Stony Brook faces a 1st and 10 on their own 35-yard line. The Seawolves have 12 offensive personnel on the field, with quarterback Conor Bednarski (#10) in the pistol with Bedell (#21) and tight end Dennis Lestrange (#89) in an offset i-formation. The UNH Wildcats have their 4-3 defense in the game, with the linebackers shifted to the strong side of the formation:CFBPreview4StonyPlay1Still1

The Seawolves run inside here, with Bedell taking the handoff and heading right, reading the flow of the play. Both Lestrange and left guard Armani Garrick (#55) lead in front of the running back, with the LG pulling on this play because he is uncovered before the snap:CFBPreview4StonyPlay1Still2

Bedell takes the handoff and identifies the cutback angle, exploiting it with speed:

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This second angle shows the footwork and vision from the RB, as he sees a rushing lane form to the outside of defensive tackle Rashid Armand (#90), and wastes no time exploiting the opening:

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Listed at 5’9” 195 pounds, Bedell plays with tremendous strength in his lower body, and displays the ability to remain upright after initial contact. On this play, he lines up behind Bednarski in the pistol, with 12 personnel against the UNH base 4-3 defense. He takes a handoff on a simple dive play to the right and is initially hit in the backfield:

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The RB shakes off two tackle attempts in the backfield, keeping his legs  churning, and turning this play from a two yard loss into a gain of eight ‒ carrying defenders on his back along the way. This is an impressive run from Bedell, one that surely caught the attention of NFL scouts.

But when push comes to shove, quickness and speed are the staples of Bedell’s game, and the Seawolves use those traits well. Here, Stony Brook has quarterback Joe Carbone (#10) in the shotgun with 11 offensive personnel on the field, trips on the right and the tight end on the left, to the short side of the field. UNH has their 4-2-5 defense in the game showing Cover 2:CFBPreview4StonyPlay3Still1

The Seawolves run the zone stretch play to the left this time, and provide Bedell a huge hole. From there, the RB turns on the afterburners and outraces everyone to the end zone:

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W&M’s Brand Of Defense

Looking to slow down this running attack is a William & Mary defense that has held defenses to an average of 100 yards per game at this early point in the season. The Tribe opened their season with a 34-7 victory over Lafayette, and nearly upset Virginia on the road last week, 35-29. In the loss to the ACC’s Cavaliers, free safety DeAndre Houston-Carson turned in a colossal performance. The senior finished with a game-high nine tackles, an interception, one tackle for a loss and a blocked punt ‒ the eighth of his career. Houston-Carson is a two-time All-CAA conference selection at cornerback, who moved to free safety for the 2015.

While Houston-Carson leads the secondary, the heart of the William & Mary defense is senior linebacker Luke Rhodes. A two-time All-CAA selection and All-American candidate, Rhodes is also a two-time captain for the Tribe ‒ only the 11th player in school history to earn this honor in the school’s 122-year history. He was named to a number of preseason watch lists, including being placed on the Butkus Award Watch List,  the only FCS linebacker to gain such a selection.

With 191 tackles over the past two seasons, Rhodes is a true middle linebacker who rises to the occasion against elite talent. In last year’s season-opener at Virginia Tech, Rhodes tallied 11 tackles and showed some of the traits that make him an elite player. On this first play, the Hokies face 3rd and run and try to run the inside dive:

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Rhodes diagnoses this play immediately, flows to the hole (while shoving his own DT on the way) and keeps this to a minimal gain.

The LB is also adept at disengaging from blockers, scraping off blocks, and working to the football. On this play watch as Rhodes stones the right guard at the point of impact and gains leverage, then works away from the blocker and back to the ball-carrier:

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This early-season clash between the Tribe and the Seawolves is interesting for a number of reasons: Stony Brook can announce their presence in the CAA with back-to-back wins over two of the top teams in the conference, or William & Mary’s defense can show a continued ability to slow down the opposition’s running game. In addition, both Bedell and Rhodes have a chance to make more of an impression on NFL scouts ‒ this year or beyond.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

Stony Brook film courtesy of the American Sports Network and CAA.tv. William & Mary footage courtesy of ESPN and the ACC.

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