The trendy pick to win the NEC this year was Wagner, at least if you ask the NEC coaches. While I thought that Wagner would be better than they are, I also felt that Duquesne was going to be superior. But the team that few were really talking about as a league winner was Bryant, and for a while they did appear to be a dark horse to top the conference. Through four games, that looked like a smart prediction – they were 3-1, the only loss was to Maine, and they were 1 – 0 in the NEC with an impressive win over Wagner. Now, they’ve lost three in a row. Those dreams may have been dashed by the shellacking that Sacred Heart put on them last week, but at 1 – 1 in the conference, they’re still in the hunt.
So what’s happened to Bryant to make their stock fall? Discounting the Maine game – as it is a stretch game for a team in the NEC – the difference may be surprising. While Bryant looks like a passing team, with experienced QB Mike Westerhaus and a wideout who is among the best in FCS in Jordan Harris, it has been rushing effectiveness that seems to tell the story.
In the three wins, Bryant rushed for an average of 224 yards per game. In their most recent three losses, that number has been 100 YPG. Most significantly, they managed just 4 net yards on the ground against the Pioneers. In their best rushing game in the losses, against Stony Brook, the quarterback Westerhaus struggled.
In fact, with the exception of the Sacred Heart game, Westerhaus hasn’t looked himself since the season-opening win against Holy Cross. No doubt Jordan Brown is receiving a lot of attention from teams, but that can’t be the whole story. Even in the convincing win over Wagner, he was just 9 – 20 for 91 yards.
So where has the running game gone? That’s a tougher question to answer because the personnel situation at running back has been unclear. Four different running backs have been featured this year – Riccardo McCray, Paul Canevari, Michael Perry, and Ryan Black.
Against Holy Cross, McCray was the horse, with 23 attempts. The next most was 9. Things were much more even against Assumption, where Paul Canevari actually had one more carry than McCray. Rutgers transfer Canevari was the star of the next two games, including a 27 for 173 performance against Wagner. McCray didn’t play at all against Stony Brook and hasn’t since. Canevari hasn’t played the last two games in a row.
Injury would be the most logical answer, but no article on the Bryant athletic site or anywhere else mentions an injury even in an offhand sense.
Defensively, the Bulldogs offer much to be wary of. Defensive linemates McNamara and Nwanekezi both have 4.5 sacks on the year thus far and are also two of the top three tacklers on the team, including 21 tackles for loss. Bryant’s pass defense is opportunistic, with eight interceptions this year – though it’s worth noting that three were against Holy Cross and three were against Wagner. Most of that production has been in just two of seven games.
Bryant presents some challenges on defense, and offensively, it’s a question of what team shows up. WR Jordan Harris must be respected, but if his quarterback has another iffy game, that won’t matter as much. The running game can be very good, but question marks abound with McCray and Canevari going MIA. Without those two, much more pressure falls on Westerhaus. The Dukes defense will have to make the Bulldogs one dimensional.
Our Bryant coverage this week continues tomorrow with the five keys for victory!