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2023 Towson Football Review

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 Towson’s 2023 football season was a rollercoaster of emotions, of major mistakes, stunning wins and losses and some bizarre things from a new coaching staff I’ve never seen before.

Pete Shinnick took over the program from Rob Ambrose in late 2022, he brought with him an impressive resume’ at Division II and NAIA football. In 2019, he guided D2 West Florida to a D2 National Championship and came into his first foray in FCS football (as a head coach) with a 159-67 record.

In 2019, he coached Austin Reed, who threw for over 4,000 yards and 40 TD as a freshman when UWF won the D2 title. Reed went on to a career at Western Kentucky,  where he could end up being a late NFL draft pick due to putting up some huge numbers.

This begs the question of whether Shinnick and new OC Brian Sheppard, who helped run the Air Raid offense at Stetson, saw them average 295.9 yards per game.

So expectations was that Sheppard would run something similar at Towson with a new quarterback from the transfer portal. That new quarterback Sean Brown (Liberty University) lost the starting job to junior Nathan Kent, a former walk-on.

How was this bizarre? Towson was blown out by Maryland (38-6), Monmouth at home (42-23), Delaware (51-13), and Villanova (33-10) on the road. Brown did not attempt a pass until the Rhode Island game at the end of the season, when Kent got injured. Brown wound up leading the Tigers to the 31-30 win.

The strange part was not only having a backup quarterback not even come in during blowouts (Md.and Delaware), but the starting quarterback had an erratic season. Kent completed 58.3% of his passes for 2,123 yards with 14 TD passes and six INTs. This was not an “Air Raid” offense or even one that was close to it. Let’s compare his numbers with the rest of the quarterbacks and how the offense as a whole looked.

In terms of total offense average per play, Towson ranked 12th out of 15 teams with just 5.52 yards per play. They ranked 11th in total offense with 349.91 yards per game and 7th in rushing offense (153.5ypg). The passing offense ranked 12th in pass efficiency at 120.99 and 12th in passing offense (196.5ypg).

In terms of individuals at quarterback, Kent ranked eight in total offense (219.2 ypg), ninth in passing yards per game (193) and wasn’t in the Top 10 in pass efficiency. In comparison, Max Brosmer led the league in total offense with 325 yards per game and led with 29 TDs and just five picks. Kasim Hill, who had played against Towson back in 2017 when he was at Maryland, averaged 279.45 yards per game in the air, with 18 TDs and 10 picks.

You get the point. This was not a passing team this season and Kent, while basically trying to manage the game, had some really strong efforts. He threw for five TDs against UNH and just 53 yards against Villanova. He protected the ball for the most part, throwing just six picks, but was rarely able to connect on the deep ball. That’s why it’s so strange that Brown didn’t play all year and you would think there would be some kind of QB competition in the spring, even if it’s the same player (I would assume at least 1 arrives in the summer).

Another strange thing about the 2023 Tigers was that they were 1-4 at home and 4-2 on the road. Wins against UNH and William & Mary, who were ranked at the time, were extremely impressive. The 54-51 overtime win from Durham was a phenomenal win and came after one of the worst losses in program history. A 21-14 home loss to Norfolk State was the low point of the season where Towson’s offense struggled to produce points on a sloppy day. But the truly embarrassing part was getting mauled in the running game 350-140, when running and stopping the run was crucial in bad weather.

There’s no doubt, that Towson is not built yet for the Air Raid or West Coast offense, but some of the pieces are there at wide receiver and tight end. TE Carter Runyon (6-6, 240) was an offensive lineman at Shenandoah University. He was not the starting tight end against Maryland and it took him a few games, but Runyon was the best offensive weapon the Tigers had in the passing game. Big and fast, Runyon caught 43 passes for 549 yards with four TDs, including a long of 64 yards. His long TD against William & Mary on the road put that game away.

Slot receiver and punt returner Lukkas Londono had a nice year with 32 catches for 479 yards with two TDs. Zay Perkins added just 26 catches for 301 yards and four TDs. He became the main wide receiver when DK James (18 for 205 yards) went out with a toe injury after four games and never played again. But for Towson to succeed next season and if Perkins returns, they need to get him more involved.

At running back, D’Ago Hunter had 308 yds rushing, 137 yards receiving and 514 return yards before suffering a serious leg injury in the sixth game on a run near the goal line. Whether the call was the right one or not, Hunter did some impressive things considering his size (5-4, 170) throughout his career. Devin Matthews became the starting running back and had a solid season with 656 yards rushing and 10 TDs with a 4.4 ypc average. At around 210 pounds, he was the only guy who should have gotten the ball inside the five. That’s also a problem because the Tigers did not have a big back to get the tough yards when Matthews came out and he’s not really a big back.

But in my opinion, there were two guys that stood out in the spring and that was Curtis Murray and Chris Watkins. In the summer, Murray began to fall on the depth chart, but Watkins also fell to the fourth spot behind Tyrell Greene Jr., a juco runner who played sparingly this season and was injured in the middle of the season. He does have some size and speed, but Watkins was a revelation in the last few games. He ran for 298 yards on just 37 attempts with four TDs and had a 8.1 yards per carry attempt. Watkins should at worse, become the third down back, because he showed an ability to catch the ball with 11 catches for 79 yards. But that ability to make people miss along with home-run threat ability is something this team has lacked since Shane Simpson was healthy.

The offensive line was led by sophomore LT Dan Volpe (6-6, 320) and redshirt junior center Ralph Paige Jr. (6-2, 310). Paige was named on the HM all-CAA list and maybe should have been higher. When he was out, Towson struggled to run the ball. He played in nine games and missed the Norfolk State and Villanova games. Those were two big losses and games where they struggled to run the ball. Right tackle K.J. Brooks (6-3, 305) is built like a guard and you would expect him to move inside next season even though he was named freshman All-American. Versatile OL Alex Desire has graduated though I assume there will be more movement and if they bring in at least one transfer who can start (did not this season).

Before I get to the defense, another odd thing that happened this season was that Josh Cupitt took over as the main punter in the third game for JMU transfer Justin Ritter. Yet, Ritter and Cupitt often lined up together behind the long snapper. That would be fine if Cupitt was bad, but he averaged 44.9 yards per punt and Ritter averaged 36.5 yards per punt. Cupitt was named Honorable Mention all-CAA, though maybe he’d be on the second or third team had he started the season as the punter.  

Now to the defense. Darian Dulin took over after coaching Shinnick’s defense at West Florida from 2017-22. To his credit, he just didn’t have the horses to run the 3-3-5 stack and teams took advantage of that by running over Towson in most game. In terms of rankings in the CAA, the defense ranked 14th with 446.4 yards per game allowed, 14th in run defense (192.9 yards per game), 11th in pass defense efficiency, and 13th in passing yards allowed per game (254.5ypg). But the biggest problem was getting off the field on third downs and the Tiger ranked LAST in the CAA in opponents’ conversions on third downs at 50.7%.

The defense was supposed to be an aggressive one with blitzers coming from everywhere. So why were they so awful on third downs and struggled against the run and pass? It starts with personnel and while the scheme should probably be tweaked to suit said personnel (like the offense), the Tigers need more speed on the back end and more size and speed at linebacker and the safety/bandit hybrid spot. When OLB Makye Smith was removed from the team after another dead-ball personal foul penalty, you could see teams were having their way running on the edge.

DL Jesus Gibbs (6 sacks) and NG/FB Dion Crews-Harris (5 sacks) had solid seasons. Gibbs made the second-team all-conference in his final season and Crews-Harris made the move from fullback to defensive line pretty effortlessly. However, he played a fullback during short-yardage situations which was interesting considering the fact that Shinnick didn’t have a fullback on the roster (moved everyone to the D-line or off the roster).

Safety Xavier Terry led the defense with 75 tackles and also had a pick. Linebacker Jamal Gay added 74 tackles with a 0.5 sack. He’s graduation and safety Dorian Davis (73 tackles) moved to the transfer portal. Mason Woods, who played 10 games and mostly with a hand injury, was limited to 44 tackles and a sack with four QB hurries.

Gibbs, Gay, CB Charles Peoples (32 tackles, 6 PBU) and CB Robert Javier (29 tackles, 9 PBU, 4 INTs), who was named second-team All-CAA are moving on to graduation. One linebacker who showed some promise was Rodney Roane Jr, who had 36 tackles, 7 TFLs an four sacks mainly as a backup.

But it starts with getting more pressure on the quarterback (29 sacks). Towson desperately needs an EDGE rusher and an inside pass rusher to replace Gibbs. Daniel Raymond (65 tackles) also has eligibility left. In the secondary with Davis gone, they have at least three spots open in camp. Shafeek Smith 20 tackles, 4 PBU) has experience, but has been very inconsistent. Sean Tucker (6-0, 170) and Andre Stewart (6-0, 170) are the most likely competitors in the spring, though there’s a 100% chance they will add at least one player at cornerback and probably need a minimum of four players in the secondary with speed.

With Cupitt and Keegan Vaughn as all-conference punters and kickers returning, that’s a rare position that the Tigers don’t have to worry about. Punt returns (Londono?) and kickoff returns (Watkins?) are something they need to improve on along with kick coverage next season.

Finally, there needs to be more discipline on this team. Towson averaged 70 yards in penalties per game and had 89 in 11 games, which comes to over eight penalties per game. That has to improve next season along with dead ball personal foul penalties. There were way too many penalties committed after the play was over.

The 2023 season was a strange one considering the home record, some of the big road wins and the final win over Rhode Island. Changes in personnel are the most important, but preparation at home and maybe changing those habits next season is a must.



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Good recap of the season. We won some games we probably should not have, and lost a few we should have won. A few plays in each of the losses and we could have been 6-5 or even 7-4. Good start for the new staff. Let's build on this and get bigger and faster.

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