His team’s season-opening performance certainly felt like a good dose of “two steps forward, one step back” for UAlbany football head coach Greg Gattuso.
Yes, that left the Great Danes coming out ahead against New Hampshire, but with more than enough mistakes that Gattuso wants his team to erase as it heads into the remainder of its six-game CAA schedule, which continues Saturday at Maine.
“There are things that are correctable,” Gattuso said Monday during the CAA’s weekly coaches’ teleconference. “First-game jitters, a little bit of issues here and there, some new people in different spots. We feel really good that we can get that taken care of and solved.”
There was a lot of good in Friday’s 24-20 road win over New Hampshire — three touchdown passes from redshirt sophomore quarterback Jeff Undercuffler, a defense that allowed fewer than 200 yards — but other mistakes gifted the Wildcats two touchdowns and forced UAlbany into needing a pair of late defensive stands in the red zone to hold onto the victory.
On offense, there was a botched third-down snap that turned a potential second-quarter scoring drive into a situation where UAlbany was forced to punt, and a fourth-quarter fumble that set New Hampshire up deep in UAlbany territory to get back in the game.
On special teams, an inexperienced punt unit had a pair of crucial gaffes. First, a blocked punt late in the second quarter was pounced on for a touchdown that put New Hampshire up 14-7. Second, with UAlbany protecting its lead in the final two minutes, punter Sean Ralls fumbled a snap and kicked the loose ball off the turf, resulting in an illegal kicking penalty that set New Hampshire up at the UAlbany 7-yard line for its final drive.
“Every time we felt like we had a chance to take control of the game,” Gattuso said, “we did something that hurt us.”
The special-teams errors are easily correctable, Gattuso said. He put the onus for the blocked punt on the coaching staff putting the punt team “in a situation that they could not be successful in,” and chalked up Ralls’ late mistake to first-game jitters from a new punter who was trying to rush during the late-game situation.
Even with the errors, the Great Danes still came away with the win in their first contest since Dec. 7, 2019.
The two mistakes on special teams were balanced out by a crucial 37-yard field goal into the wind by Dylan Burns early in the fourth quarter that gave UAlbany a 10-point lead, and a blocked extra point by Jared Verse that eliminated New Hampshire’s chances to attempt a tying field goal on either of its closing drives.
And, of course, the defense rose to the occasion with two huge fourth-down stops down the stretch, with linebacker AJ Mistler and safety Hayden Specht both breaking up passes to force turnovers on downs.
“It was a crazy day,” Gattuso said, “but the good things outweigh the bad things.”
METHENY, GRAY HONORED
In the aftermath of UAlbany’s season-opening win, Great Danes players scooped up half of the CAA’s weekly awards as linebacker Levi Metheny was named the Defensive Player of the Week and wide receiver Michael Gray was tabbed as the league’s Rookie of the Week.
Metheny, a redshirt senior from Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, finished with a team-high 10 tackles — including nine solo stops — to spearhead a defensive effort that limited New Hampshire to 186 total yards and 11 first downs.
Gray, a redshirt freshman from West Chester, Pennsylvania, caught seven passes for 74 yards and scored UAlbany’s first touchdown on a 23-yard catch-and-run in his collegiate debut.
Gattuso said the Great Danes came out of Friday’s game largely unscathed in the injury department, with only one significant setback as redshirt freshman defensive back and special teams contributor Sean Evans was lost to a fractured ankle in his first collegiate game.
“He’s come off some injuries, it’s his first college game and he fractured his ankle,” Gattuso said. “It’s a shame. We’ll miss Shawn.”
Beyond the Evans injury, Gattuso said his team should be “largely OK” from a health standpoint heading into the Maine game.
CAA GAME POSTPONED
Saturday’s game between No. 1 James Madison and William & Mary has been postponed due to COVID-19 related protocols within the James Madison program, the CAA announced Monday afternoon.
According to a press release, a decision on rescheduling the game, the first postponement involving CAA teams this spring, will be made at a later date.