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Nov 01, 2022

Monmouth University Football Exceeding Expectations in New Conference

By Tim Morris

It hasn’t taken long for the Monmouth University football team to announce its arrival in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). With a multi-dimensional, explosive offense and defense that has a knack for coming up with the big play, the Hawks have more than proven they can compete in the CAA.

As a newcomer to one of the best Football Bowl Sub-Division (FBS) conferences in the country this season, the Hawks weren’t expected to make much noise, but halfway through the season, Monmouth is 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the conference. The Hawks’ signature win was their 49-42 win over defending champion Villanova, which was ranked No. 9 in the country prior to playing Monmouth. It was also Monmouth’s first conference win.

“We knew when we entered the CAA that we would be facing tremendous challenges each week,” Monmouth Head Coach Kevin Callahan said at the post-game CAA press conference. “It was good to get that first [win] and build on it.”

What stood out about the victory to Callahan was that it was a 60-minute effort by the Hawks.

“I’m happy with our guys. They continued to play hard throughout the game,” Callahan remarked. “That’s something we talked about beforehand, play until zeroes are on the clock. I was pleased with how hard they played and how focused they were. It gives us something to build on.”

The Hawks carried the momentum from the Villanova victory with a non-conference 35-7 win over Lehigh and a 38-31 thriller over Albany to improve to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in conference. The Oct. 8 win over Albany was Monmouth’s first CAA home win.

Thanks to their four-game win streak and upset of Villanova, Monmouth has received top 25 votes in the FBS national polls.

Despite an 0-2 start, Callahan said the Hawks never doubted themselves. He noted that in both those losses, the team had the lead in the fourth quarter. All they needed to do was close those games out, which they did against both Villanova and Albany with the defense making last play game-ending stops. 

“In the last four weeks, we’ve done a better job at finishing,” Callahan said following the Albany win.

Monmouth’s offense has been dynamic this fall with playmakers sprinkled throughout the offense. The Hawks are averaging just under 500 yards of total offense a game and 39.5 points per contest.

Individually, Monmouth players are having a major impact in the league. Sophomore running back Jaden Shirden has already been named the CAA Offensive Player of the Week twice. He was first named for his school-record 299 rushing yards on just 12 carriers against Fordham. It’s the single-game high for CAA runners in 2022. He earned his second Offensive POW for his 211-yard game in the upset of Villanova. Shirden has been electric, scoring on touchdown runs of 75, 80 and 90 yards. He not only leads the conference in rushing but all FCS schools with 932 yards in six games. He has rushed for more than 100 yards in five straight games.

Owen Wright (Sr.), who had a 99-yard TD run against Albany, has 12 touchdowns rushing and one receiving. His 13 TDs are tops in the country. 

Hawk quarterback Tony Muskett has extended his streak, throwing at least one touchdown pass in 21 consecutive games. The junior is the fifth ranked passer in the nation with a rating of 153.13. His 1,456 passing yards are third best across the country as are his 1,570 total yards.

With the upset win of Villanova making Monmouth a player in the conference, the Hawks are poised to make their initial CAA campaign an exciting one. In November, Monmouth closes the regular season at No.  6 Delaware on Nov. 5 and at home to Stony Brook on the 19th.