Monmouth, CAA
(Photo by Riley Lorenz - JSN)

Monmouth Travels To Ranked William and Mary For Crucial CAA Battle

WEST LONG BRANCH – Both Monmouth University and William and Mary – ranked 22nd in the Stats Perform Media Poll – are coming off disappointing loses last week and both will be fighting for their postseason lives when the two meet Saturday at Zable Stadium in Williamsburg, Virginia.

The Tribe (4-3, 2-2) is still reeling from their home 34-24 upset loss to Towson last week when after leading 17-10 with three minutes left in the third quarter, they turned the ball over twice deep in their own territory with both fumble recoveries leading directly to Tigers touchdowns.

“When you look back at it, losing the football in the red zone with a fumble on offense then losing it on a kickoff return it gave them opportunity for two red zone scores,” said William and Mary head coach Mike London on Monday’s CAA coaches Zoom call. “We’ve been pretty good defensively, but we weren’t good enough in those particular situations. But you can’t give the ball up there on those areas of the field. We would’ve liked to have held there, which we’ve been able to do, but they did a good job, and they won the game. We have to learn from that and know that the critical moments are always about how you execute.”

Monmouth (3-4, 2-2), who defeated Towson 42-23 earlier in the season, was its own worst enemy in their 28-26 loss to Elon when they failed to put any points up on the board four times after advancing deep into Elon territory. Twice they advanced into the red zone but on fourth-and-goal from the two-yard line and fourth-and-6 at the 12-yard line and came up empty. Adding to their frustrations, the Hawks had a first-and-10 at the Elon 22-yard line before quarterback Marquez McCray’s pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted and then they came up short on a fourth-and-9 play from the Elon 30-yard line.

“It was unfortunate that we squandered too many opportunities to come out on top,” said Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan on Monday’s CAA coaches Zoom call. “I thought we had some opportunities but we weren’t able to capitalize, especially down in the red zone.”

So, as you can imagine, both teams are bursting at the seams to get back on the field and make amends for their untimely losses last week.

William and Mary’s defense enters the game ranked number one in the Coastal Athletic Conference and sixth in the country in scoring defense allowing just 16.43 points per game. So, the 34 points they gave up to Towson appears to be an aberration while at the same time inflating the number.

This game shapes up to be an epic battle between William and Mary’s top-ranked defense and Monmouth’s explosive offense, ranked third in the CAA and 14th in the country averaging 35.6 points per game.

The Tribes defense is led by junior outside linebacker John Pius, a 2022 first team All-American selection by the Associated Press, who finished second in voting for the Buc Buchanan Award, which honors the national defensive player of the year in the FCS. This season, he has 34 tackles (11 solo), 11.5 TFL, seven sacks, four QB hits, FF and FR.

Then there’s 2022 first team All-CAA defensive end Nate Lynn, who was a third team All-American selection a year ago by Stats Perform and Phil Steele. Lynn leads the team with eight sacks along with 40 tackles (23 solo), 10 TFL, three QB hits and two forced fumbles.

William and Mary is ranked 20th in the country with 20 sacks on the year.

Linebacker Isaiah Jones was a 2022 second team All-CAA pick a year ago and is third on the team with 40 tackles (24 solo) along with 2.5 TFL, one sack and a fumble recovery. Senior safety Marcus Barnes (44 tackles, 24 solo, one interception and one FF) is second on the team in tackles and senior linebacker Kevin Jerrell leads the team with 47 tackles (33 solo), 3.5 TFL, one sack and two pass breakups. Senior cornerback Ryan Poole has recorded 30 tackles (19 solo), 1.5 TFL, one interception and a team-leading six pass breakups.

“They’ve got an outstanding defense,” said Callahan. “They give up points very grudgingly and the amount of negative plays they have really stands out to me. They’ve got two guys in their front line that have 22 TFL between the two of them and 15 sacks between the two of them. So, they’re very aggressive and very talented. And then they’ve got two really fine linebackers and a safety that’s very active in the run and pass game and makes a lot of plays for them.”

Offensively, William and Mary is ranked eighth in the CAA in total yardage averaging 360.3 yards per game with most of the yardage coming on the ground. The Tribe averages 235.7 yards per game on the ground and 5.4 yards per carry, which leads the CAA in both categories.

The Tribe has three running backs that can hurt you in a lot of different ways starting with junior running back Malachi Imoh, who leads the team with 602-yards rushing and one touchdown on 91 attempts for a 6.6-yard average – fourth in the CAA – along with 14 receptions for 122 yards. Then there’s senior Bronson Yoder (77-408, 4 TD) and sophomore Martin Lucan (53-236, 3 TD).

“They’ve got a very, very good running game,” said Callahan. “They have a running back that’s averaging just under 100-yards per game. They’re an experienced group that has 10 upper classmen that start on the offensive side. They present a lot of pictures to a defense between personal, formations, motions, shifts - all of those type things. They have two quarterbacks in the game a significant amount of the time and you really have to good eye discipline on defense. You have to be able to sustain your tough play against all the weapons they have because they present a lot of challenges to defenses.”

Junior quarterback, Darius Wilson, is load to bring down at 6-foot-3, 205-pounds and can run through you and around you. He’s rushed for 286 yards and a touchdown on 60 attempts and has passed for 867 yards and six touchdowns completing 81-of-143 passes. Junior quarterback Hollis Mathis has 91-yards rushing on 16 attempts for a 5.6-yard average and is also a threat out of the backfield catching passes (11-127, 2 TD).

Junior wideout J.T. Mayo leads the team with 17 receptions for 202 yards and two touchdowns while freshman tight end Sean McElwain (13-131) is also a top target of Wison’s.

Monmouth boasts a prolific offense that leads the CAA and is 11th in the country in total offense averaging 440.9 yards per game and is third in the CAA in scoring averaging 35.6 points per game.

The Hawks offense can beat you through the air as well as on the ground and feature two potential 2023 All-Americans in junior running back Jaden Shirden, who was an All-American selection a year ago when he led the country in rushing yards (1,722), yards per carry (8.36) and rushing yards per game (156.5) and senior wide receiver Dymere Miller, a second team All-CAA selection last season.

So far this season, Shirden leads the CAA and is fourth in the country – 18 yards behind the leader – in rushing yards (922) and leads the CAA and is third nationally in rushing yards per game (131.7). Shirden got off to a bit of a slow start for him but has looked true to form in recent games breaking touchdown runs of 63 and 72 yards.

 Miller leads the CAA in receiving yards (698), receptions (57), receiving yards per game (99.7) and receptions per game (8.1). Nationally, he’s second in receptions, third in receptions per game, fourth in receiving yards and third in receiving yards per game. He has five receiving touchdowns and one rushing touchdown – a 68-yard scoring run on a reverse last week. He’s developed an unflappable connection with transfer quarterback Marquez McCray, who has been rock solid in his first year as the Hawks signal caller.

McCray is the fifth-ranked quarterback in the CAA, but his contributions to the team go way beyond statistics. He’s been a steady presence for the offense displaying leadership qualities that the team feeds off of. He doesn’t get rattled in the line of fire and has the arm strength and smarts to make every throw. He’s completed 63.1 percent of his passes for 1,650 yards and 14 touchdowns with only four interceptions, second in the CAA.

Harvard transfer running back Sone Ntoh has been a revelation for the Hawks. Brought in primarily for short-yardage situations, he’s done that and a whole lot more. The 5-foot-11, 235-pound Ntoh is power runner that surprised everyone with his breakaway speed. He’s third in the country in rushing touchdowns with 11, including dazzling runs of 66 and 92 yards where he flat out out-ran everyone on the field.

The Hawks have an experienced offensive line with a lot of moving parts but have again been up to the task this season. Anchored by veteran right guard Greg Anderson – a captain and CAA Preseason All-Conference selection and fifth-year center and captain Tyler Williams, the line has really jelled of late both in the running game and protecting the quarterback.

Fifth-year wideout Assanti Kearny is a nice compliment to Miller and has 21 receptions for 320 yards and three touchdowns while junior T.J. Speight (17-163) and fifth-year wide receiver Dre Tucker (7-84-2) have made big contributions. Senior tight end Jack Neri (14-103) is a big target and has a knack for moving the chains.

“They are two dynamic players for that’s sure,” said London of Shirden and Miller.  “They’re one of the highest ranked offenses as far as putting up points, so that’s an issue for us, but we look forward to the Monmouth team coming down here on Saturday. We respect Monmouth as a football team and a program and what coach (Callahan) has done for them and we look forward to the competition.”

Monmouth’s defense has been inconsistent this season and that has presented problems. They’ve shown a vast improvement over previous years, but far too often revert back to the bad habits that defined them for many years.

However, on a positive note, the defense is ranked sixth in the CAA in yards allowed per game (338.7) and seventh in points allowed (26.1), which is a huge improvement for a unit that has been regularly ranked at the bottom of the pile.

This defense has the potential to be a very good unit. In back-to-back weeks against Lehigh and Hampton they allowed just seven and 10 points respectively and only 477 combined yards in the two games. Then last week against Elon they gave up passing touchdowns of 59, 41 and 65 yards along with a game-clinching 41-yard touchdown run. If you took away those four plays the defense played well. So, the key this week must be to cut out those long hitting pass plays for chunk yardage which can turn a game upside down.

Graduate student and captain Ryan Moran spearheads the defensive unit from his linebacker spot. A three-year starter, Moran leads the team with 47 tackles (24 solo) along with 1.5 TFL and a fumble recovery. An unheralded player who deserves more credit than he gets, Moran is an inspirational leader of the team.

Fellow linebackers Remi Johnson (33 tackles, 23 solo, 4.5 TFL, 1 sack) and Harvard transfer Jake Brown (32 tackles, 15 solo, 2.5 TFL, 2 sacks, interception and FF) combine to form a cohesive unit that has sideline to sideline tenacity. Damir McCrary, Charlie Sasso and Sam Korpoi add valuable depth at the position.

Graduate student Eddie Morales III is the heart and soul of the secondary, that includes fellow starting cornerback Mike Reid, strong safety Tyrese Wright and free safety T.J. Kamara. Kamara, in his second season with the Hawks, has been a force in run support with 40 tackles (24 solo) which ranks second on the team. Other contributors in the secondary include Davis Smith, Deuce Lee, Israel Clark-White, Jude Umunakwe and Justin Bennin.

The defensive line regularly rotates eight or nine bodies throughout the game. Transfer defensive end Nick White has come on strong of late spending a lot of time in the opponent’s backfield. He’s sixth on the team with 20 tackles (11 solo) along with 3.5 TFL, sack, FF and QB hit.

Fifth-year defensive tackle Pat Hayden (15 tackles, 2 TFL, sack, QB hit) brings invaluable experience across the line and sophomore tackle Bryce Rooks has gotten better every game. End Miles Mitchell (16 tackles, 10 solo, 2 TFL, PD, FR) has come on strong in his second season while ends Justin O’Bannon (2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks) and transfer Antonio Coldclough (2 TFL, 1.5 sacks) are making their marks as have tackles Sheku Tonkara and freshman Logan Barnes (13 tackles, 7 solo, TFL, sack), who shows real potential and is a big body at 6-foot-1, 300 pounds.