Head coach Greg Gattuso expects his UAlbany football team’s second half of its season-opening swing through the northernmost section of the CAA to be much the same as the first — tough, physical and unpredictable.
The Great Danes got things off on the right foot last Friday when they held on late for a 24-20 victory over New Hampshire. This week, it’s a journey even further to the north to take on a Maine team that Gattuso isn’t taking lightly, even given Maine’s 37-0 shellacking at the hands of Delaware in its opener.
“There’s going to be a lot of similarities in terms of the type of game it’s going to be, the type of physicality it’s going to take to win this football game,” Gattuso said Wednesday during a teleconference with reporters. “We won a tough road game [against New Hampshire], and not a ton of teams are winning on the road in this new spring season. We played a pretty good football team and won. Now, we’re going to have to try to do it again.”
Saturday’s noon game in Orono, Maine, will be crucial for a UAlbany (1-0 CAA, 1-0 overall) team attempting to navigate the six-game CAA and earn a berth into the 16-team FCS playoff field next month.
Getting through a two-game road trip unscathed would put the Great Danes in an ideal spot moving forward, with three of their final four regular-season games slated for home turf at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium.
“It’s a tough road when you have to open your conference [schedule] in two away destinations that are so hard to play in,” Gattuso said. “We got one down, now we’ve got to find a way to go up again and beat Maine.”
While UAlbany won a back-and-forth contest at New Hampshire in its opener, Maine (0-1, 0-1) fell behind from the outset last Saturday when Delaware’s Dejoun Lee returned the game’s opening kickoff for a touchdown and never recovered.
Maine’s offense struggled in particular, managing just 112 total yards and six first downs — three of which were gifted to the Black Bears by Delaware penalties.
But, there’s plenty in Maine’s arsenal that the UAlbany defense — which struggled on its first two series against New Hampshire before tightening the screws over the game’s final two-and-a-half quarters — has to account for.
“They’re huge up front, like they always are,” UAlbany senior safety Hayden Specht said. “They have a bunch of different running backs that they’re subbing in and out. We’ll get a few different looks from them.”
LOCKING DOWN THE OUTSIDE
When UAlbany last met Maine, on Nov. 2, 2019, the Black Bears powered to a 47-31 victory in Albany — the last loss of the regular season for the Great Danes before the run that carried them through the first round of the FCS playoffs.
Maine had particular success through the air, with then-freshman quarterback Joe Fagnano throwing for 257 yards and four touchdowns while averaging more than 20 yards per completion. While star receiver Earnest Edwards — who caught six passes for 134 yards in that win — is gone, Maine has another standout threat on the outside in Andre Miller, who hauled in a 90-yard touchdown pass against UAlbany in 2019.
“They’ve got a big-time receiver,” Gattuso said. “Every year it seems like they have a great receiver, and they have another one this year.”
The Black Bears’ passing attack struggled against Delaware, with Fagnano completing 10 of 23 passes for 61 yards, but Specht expects Maine to provide a stiff test for UAlbany’s secondary — especially on the outside, where four relatively untested cornerbacks are splitting playing time.
Those corners held up well as the game against New Hampshire progressed, and Specht expects that development to continue.
“Those guys, the younger guys, they’ve practiced so hard,” Specht said. “They’ve been in their playbooks and they knew what they were doing. It didn’t feel like there was a lack of experience out there with those guys.”
Saturday’s matchup is the 14th in the series between UAlbany and Maine, and while the Black Bears lead the overall rivalry 8-5, neither team has had much success on their respective home fields.
UAlbany is just 1-5 all-time at home against Maine, but has gone 4-3 in its seven trips to Alfond Stadium — though Maine has won five-straight meetings in the series overall.
Maine, Gattuso said, is an historically overlooked program in the CAA landscape.
“People look at Maine in a way sometimes that I don’t know is real realistic,” he said. “These guys went deep into the playoffs two years ago [as national semifinalists in 2018], they won the conference in the last three years. They’re really a good football program. They’ve been around forever and been good forever. We need to go up there and play a great football game.”