It was a should have should have season for Monmouth.
If they didn’t get a punt blocked in the season opener in New Hampshire, eventual CAA co-champs, and returned for a goal, or screwed up a cover in the final minutes of regulation, eventually resulting in a seven overtime loss to Rhode Island, or could simply knock down a late pass in a 52-49 loss to Fordham.
But the Hawks didn’t, couldn’t, finishing 5-6 overall and 3-5 in the league, while New Hampshire and Fordham will be in the FCS playoffs next week while Rhode Island was in the bubble , but not came in.
“I think we can point to the games we didn’t win this year and say, ‘If it’s done differently, we’ll win this game,'” said Kevin Callahan, Monmouth manager. “I think it helps the confidence of that team, the confidence of that program as we move forward.”
Now it’s time to sift through the rubble to see what needs to change. There’s a slightly different mood going into the offseason after Saturday’s 24-21 win over Stony Brook sparked a four-game losing streak.
“It was a tough season. Everyone can see that. It didn’t go the way anyone wanted it to,” said Justin Szuba with right tackle after the Brick Memorial product played its final game. “But the way the guys bounced back (Saturday) and reacted to play our best team game of the whole year means a lot.”
Here are five things that need to happen this off-season:
1. Keep the Offense Together
In the age of the NCAA transfer portal, nothing can be taken for granted. But if Monmouth returns his key offensive pieces, including running back Jaden Shirden, who won the FCS regular-season rushing title with 1,722 yards including nine 100-yard games, quarterback Tony Muskett and receiver Dymere Miller, who had the most on Saturday Work done 72-yard game winner.
Monmouth finish on a top-10 offensive domestically, although Muskett missed the last three games with a knee injury.
2. Defense overhaul
Monmouth was last in the CAA in total defence, goal defense and pass defense. Coordinator Andy Bobick’s unit hasn’t been able to keep up as offense, the CAA’s top spot, has risen over the past six seasons.
They don’t have enough playmakers this side of the ball. With four sacks, defensive end Pat Hayden was the only Monmouth player in the top 25 sacks in the CAA, ranking 20th. Only two CAA teams had fewer sacks than the 20 Monmouth ended up with.
Miles Mitchell, the newcomer on the defensive end, finished the limited game with two sacks while junior cornerback Mike Reid was their top defenseman and cornerback Eddie Morales, who has been injured extensively this season, will be back for another season.
Monmouth needs to rethink everything he does and how he does it on defence. And some good transfer portal pickups would help.
3. Repair special teams
You’ll be hard pressed to find a game where special teams haven’t hurt them in some way, whether it’s missed field goals and extra points, allowing long returns and failing to break returns of their own.
Monmouth needs to develop a reliable kicker and better coverage and return teams. Special teams are pretty high on the list of things that have held this team back this season.
They get punter Ryan Kost back, with Kost’s 46.5-yard average leading the CAA.
4. Win recruitment battles
This is the most important recruitment cycle ever for the program as it is the first full cycle to face CAA rivals such as Delaware, Villanova and Towson. And Monmouth needs to start winning those battles because that’s the level of players they need.
Monmouth also need better quality depth across the lineup. The weaknesses in the depth chart were revealed as the grueling league schedule continued.
5. Get lights
At this level of college football, who doesn’t have lights on their field? Seriously, that has to be the first job for management this offseason. It’s just nice to be able to have a Saturday night game every now and then, which might help revitalize the fan base a bit.
It also gives you the opportunity to showcase the school and football program by hosting events including NJSIAA High School Football Playoff games.