Dolphins’ receivers may pose problem for Danes

If the game ends up being played between the tackles, the University at Albany has an excellent chan
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If the game ends up being played between the tackles, the University at Albany has an excellent chance to come out on top against Jacksonville in today’s third annual Gridiron Classic at 1:35 p.m. on University Field.

The game, which pits the Northeast Conference champion against the Pioneer League champ, will be televised by the YES Network.

University at Albany head coach Bob Ford, who at age 71 was named the NEC’s Coach of the Year for third time, said his Great Danes

(7-0, 8-3) should fare well if the game is a grind-it-out affair, but he’s concerned about Jacksonville’s explosive aerial game.

“All five of their wideouts are very fast,” said Ford of the 7-1,

9-3 Dolphins. “We’ve faced fast kids before against New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Hofstra and Del­aware, but they’ve got five speedy wideouts, and that worries us a little bit. We’ve got to keep them in front of us, and not give up the big play.

“The other thing that kind of frightens me is their return game. They’ve got a punt returner who

averages 15 yards a return with three touchdowns. He scares me.

“But on the other side of the ball, we match up well. I like our front seven vs. their front seven. We should be able to pound the ball and control the clock. I also think the weather will be a factor. It will be cold. We’re used to that, and I’m not sure Jacksonville is used to this kind of weather.”

One of the keys to the game will be whether junior tailback David McCarty, from LaSalle Institute, can continue his running success. He recently became the Danes’ all-time leading rusher (3,082 yards) and established Albany single-season (10) and career (18) records for 100-yard rushing games. He’s the nation’s third-leading rusher (143.7 yards per game).

Jacksonville is led by freshman quarterback Josh McGregor, the PFL Offensive Freshman of the Year. He completed 162 of 280 passes for 2,381 yards and 24 touchdowns.

The Dolphins are riding a seven-game winning streak, and are ranked 19th in the nation in scoring (33.4 ppg) and 27th in total yards (395.7).

“They are a combination run-and-throw team that is relatively young,” said Ford. “Their coach [Kerwin Bell] has turned around a program that was only 2-9 last year. It’s the biggest turnaround of any program in the NCAA at any level. He’s done a great job.”

Ford also said his team won’t be satisfied with just getting to this bowl game. The Great Danes lost last year’s Gridiron Classic, 42-21, at Dayton.

“Last year, there was definitely some momentum loss when we had a two-week layoff between the regular season and the bowl game. But I think it was my attitude rather than the kids,’ ” said Ford. “I think I was excited about winning the conference and going undefeated. Then, we went home for Thanksgiving. We came back, and the intensity wasn’t the same.

“This year, we came back a little early, and we tacked on a few Sunday practices. The focus of our staff and the squad is entirely different. I don’t know if we’ll play any better, but I was shocked with the fact that they didn’t seem to waver in this process, in terms of intensity. I’ve been very impressed with them. Plus, we are very healthy. We’ll put the same lineup on the field that we did in our opener against Massachusetts, and that’s very hard to do at any level of football.”

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Bob Weiner at 395-3147 or [email protected] Check out Weiner’s take on UAlbany sports any time by reading his blog, “On the Ball,” at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/weiner.

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