Super Bowl LV is shaping up to be a masterclass in quarterback play, and Jeff Undercuffler is ready to sit under the learning tree.
Sunday’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs is a showdown between two generations of quarterbacking greats. On one side is the Bucs’ Tom Brady, widely considered the greatest ever at his position, making his 10th Super Bowl appearance and looking for an unprecedented seventh ring. On the other is the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, the thrilling vanguard of the current generation of QBs, and the most likely heir to Brady’s GOAT — Greatest of All-Time — title.
Undercuffler is coming off a record-setting campaign for the UAlbany football team, but with the Super Bowl coming less than a month before the Great Danes open their first-of-its-kind spring season March 5 at New Hampshire, the redshirt sophomore is ready to get in a little extra study by watching a pair of masters at work.
“[You’ve got] the current GOAT [Brady], and No. 15 [Mahomes] is definitely on the verge of breaking that,” Undercuffler said Wednesday during a teleconference with reporters. “Just being able to watch that game, watch how those guys handle their offenses, watch how those guys play quarterback at the best level that you can, and just lead their guys to a victory, I can’t wait to watch that.”
Undercuffler knows he still has plenty to learn heading into his second season as UAlbany’s starting quarterback, a sentiment that head coach Greg Gattuso underscored Wednesday. The 6-foot-5, 231-pound Undercuffler may have thrown for an FCS-leading 41 touchdowns and a CAA-best 3,543 passing yards during UAlbany’s 9-5 2019 season while setting single-season program records for passing yards, touchdowns, attempts and completions, but Gattuso said there are still some specific areas where the Great Danes coaching staff want to see Undercuffler improve.
The first is Undercuffler’s progression at making anticipatory throws, delivering the ball to an open spot on the field and trusting his receiver will be there.
“He’s very good at delivering the ball on time,” Gattuso said. “When he starts figuring out that [he] can lead a guy into an open space, I think that’s a step he has to take.”
The second is a cutting down of the number of risky, cavalier plays that Undercuffler attempted as a redshirt freshman.
“He had a few silly plays last year that could’ve really hurt us in games,” Gattuso said. “Trying to throw passes left-handed, trying to do too much. I think the sign of maturity is when they quit trying to do too much.”
Undercuffler, for his part, is focused on efficiency.
The Delran, New Jersey native only threw 10 interceptions in 464 attempts in 2019, but he’s hoping to play even cleaner football this spring with a particular emphasis on improving his 56.5% completion percentage from a season ago. To do that, Undercuffler will have to develop chemistry with a group of pass catchers that lost a huge chunk of production with the loss of its top-two receivers from 2019 in Juwan Green and Jerah Reeves, who combined for 159 catches, 2,344 yards and 24 touchdowns last season.
In terms of production, Undercuffler’s top-two returning targets are running back Karl Mofor (32 catches, 319 yards, 2 TDs) and tight end LJ Wesneski (21-277-7). On the outside, redshirt sophomore Tyler Oedekoven emerged late last season, with 15 of his 17 receptions, 217 of his 256 yards and all three of his touchdowns coming during UAlbany’s last six games. Also back is junior Dev Holmes, the former Troy High standout who put up 734 yards and five touchdowns on 50 catches as a freshman in 2018 before temporarily leaving the team after four games in 2019.
“With Tyler and Dev, it’ll just be like last year,” Undercuffler said. “We’ll pick up where we left off, because we’ve just got that bond.”
UAlbany also brought in a number of graduate and junior college transfers at receiver who could immediately step into roles.
For Undercuffler, the next four weeks will be crucial in forming a bond with those new teammates, most of whom he’s had little to no in-person contact with since they joined the team due to COVID-19 protocols.
“You’ve got to FaceTime them, call them, any of the new commits that we’ve got, just keep in touch with them as best as we can — whether it’s through Twitter or all that,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re a big football team and we’ve got to have each others’ backs.”
With the likelihood of fan attendance being extremely restricted or not allowed entirely, Undercuffler said communication at the line of scrimmage should be easier than ever as he makes adjustments on the fly.
That’s something, in particular, that Gattuso wanted his quarterback to glean from watching NFL games played in largely empty stadiums this year.
“It’s really been kind of a dream come true, for a coach,” Gattuso said, “to sit and watch NFL teams play with no crowd, where you can hear the cadence and you can hear the communication. We push our guys to watch those games. It was incredible television watching some of these quarterbacks and how they communicate with their team, how they take charge.”
Absorbing that, Gattuso said, will help take Undercuffler’s game to a new level.
“He can make some more throws that he doesn’t even realize he can make,” Gattuso said. “He’s not at his ceiling. He has a lot of learning still left in him, and I think he’s going to do a really good job with it.”
GATTUSO ON THE BIG GAME
The UAlbany head coach may be defense-first in his approach to football, but in his breakdown of Sunday’s game, it’s all about the quarterbacks.
“I just think Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback — one of the best I’ve ever seen play,” he said. “I just can’t see Kansas City losing this game, no matter how gutsy Tom Brady is.”