Finally, after waiting for 2 minutes and 43 seconds for Villanova’s offense to stall, the Stony Brook offense gained possession of the ball and assumed it would stay in control of it.
Twenty-one plays, 98 yards, one touchdown and 12:43 later, the Seawolves were forced to give control back to Villanova after producing the game’s first seven points. By that time, Stony Brook had exerted its offensive force and philosophy on the Wildcats and there would be no turning back.
Stony Brook would finish its 20-10 first-round playoff victory over Villanova with a 19:04 edge in time of possession, nearly doubling the time the Wildcats spent with the ball.
“When you get to this time of year, hopefully you can play the game the way you want it to be played,” Stony Brook head coach Chuck Priore said. “I thought on Saturday, for pretty much the entire game, we played the game correctly.”
Priore’s statement reverberates not only on the stat sheet from Saturday’s game, but also on the one documenting Stony Brook’s season. Through twelve games, the 10-2 Seawolves are the 12th most proficient offense in terms of ball control in the Football Championship Subdivision. The school located on Long Island spends 32:41 of every game with its offense on the field, wearing out opposing defenses with its mammoth offensive line and two running back system.
“Obviously being ahead in field position, time of possession and opportunities when you’re playing against good football teams you have to be able to plus that theory,” Priore said. “We always go into every game thinking where are we going to get plus possessions whether its caused by turnover or by our ability to keep the ball which keeps it away from their offense.”
It’s a comprehensive approach from Stony Brook. The Seawolves’ basic concept at work is to gain large chunks of yardage on first and second down setting up short yardage third downs, or all together skipping the third — Stony Brook has only faced 139 third down attempts, nearly 40 less than Montana State despite playing one more game. This allows the ‘Wolves to continually move the ball down field keeping opposing offenses on the sidelines and out of the end zone.
“Once we do get the lead, we’re able to control the tempo of the game through time of possession with the run game,” Priore said. “I think when you have the ability to be ahead on teams, certainly it’s a little easier to call a football game.”
For the record, Stony Brook won’t be the only team in Bobcat Stadium Saturday night with a prowess for controlling the clock. Montana State actually averages more time with the ball than the Seawolves by 61 seconds. Both teams employ seriously different tactics — Stony Brook runs nearly 70 percent of the time, while Montana State favors a more balanced attack, running 56 percent of the time — but both teams adhere to winning the battle of third down.
Montana State is currently the fifth best third down conversion team in the nation at 51 percent. And both squads are particularly stingy with their third down defense; Stony Brook allows a 35 percent conversion rate, while Montana State, FCS’ fifth-toughest defense against third-down, has seen opponents convert just 29 percent of the time.
“We have to win on first and second down because they’ll run the ball on third down too,” Montana State defensive tackle Zack Minter said. “It’s important on third down just to get them in a long position to make them throw the ball. That’ll be good.”
“It’s huge,” Bobcats’ safety Joel Fuller added. “First, second and third down are big, but we can’t be giving up eight- or nine-yard runs on first downs because that’s going to set us up to fail on third down.”