It won’t erase the sting of coming away with a loss, but Karl Mofor and the UAlbany football running game were back in form Saturday against Maine.
In the season opener at New Hampshire, Mofor got his typical heavy workload with 28 carries, but the senior running back struggled to find holes behind a revamped offensive line and finished with just 79 yards — 31 of which came on one carry in the fourth quarter.
Saturday, with the line continuing to jell, Mofor was back to his old routine of plowing through defenders, rushing for 155 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 30 carries in the Great Danes’ 38-34 loss.
Getting the running game going again felt satisfying for Mofor, who led the CAA with 1,290 rushing yards in 2019, but that feeling paled in comparison to the disappointment of losing a game that UAlbany (1-1 CAA, 1-1 overall) felt it had control of after leading 10-0 early in the second quarter.
“It feels good to move the ball a little bit, just to know we can do it,” Mofor said during a post-game teleconference, “but it always hurts to come out on the opposite end of a game like this. We just want to get the ‘W.’ There’s always some good and some bad with wins and losses. We just have to focus on the good and get better with the bad.”
Through two games, Mofor has been UAlbany’s workhorse. He accounts for 58 of the 59 rushing attempts from the team’s running backs, with graduate student Caylin Parker responsible for the other carry.
Saturday represented progress for UAlbany’s rebuilt offensive line. After struggling to open lanes in the running game and allowing four sacks against New Hampshire, the line plowed the way for Mofor’s big afternoon and kept a clean pocket for quarterback Jeff Undercuffler, who wasn’t sacked.
The passing game struggled to find rhythm in the swirling wind at Alfond Stadium in Orono, Maine — Undercuffler was just 14 of 36 for 147 yards — but with no sacks, no turnovers and an in-form Mofor leading the rushing attack, UAlbany coach Greg Gattuso would have expected a different result.
“These are the kind of stats you look at,” Gattuso said, “and you think you’re going to win the game.”
A dozen penalties, mistakes on special teams and an inability to slow down Maine’s big-play threats on offense ended up dooming the Great Danes to a split in their season-opening two-game road swing.
“I just think that sometimes we lost focus,” Mofor said. “Those are small things we work on daily that we have to keep improving on. The little things hurt a lot. We have to get better with that.”
MISADVENTURES IN PUNTING
For the third time in two games, UAlbany on Saturday had a major mistake from its punt unit that put the team behind the 8-ball.
Against New Hampshire, freshman punter Sean Ralls had a punt blocked that was recovered for a touchdown in the second quarter, and later dropped a snap before kicking the loose ball off the turf, resulting in an illegal kicking penalty that forced a change of possession deep in UAlbany territory.
Against Maine, it was a low snap from Stephen Sokach-Minnick that skipped back to Ralls, who went down to a knee to field it. The play continued and Ralls got the punt away, but on video review it was determined that his knee was down while he possessed the ball, giving Maine the ball at the UAlbany 17-yard line.
“I’ll take the blame for those,” Gattuso said. “We pride ourselves on practicing situations, and we have to cover areas to help young players learn how to handle things. . . . I think the biggest thing we have to understand is that not every young player understands what to do. I tell my coaches that all the time.
“That’s on us. Those mistakes are on coaches, and on me. I have to make sure that they are cleaned up, and we are working hard at it. I can promise you that.”
UAlbany has been fortunate to allow just 10 points off the three mistakes in the punting game. The Great Danes’ defense forced a game-deciding turnover on downs against New Hampshire after Ralls’ illegal kicking penalty, and Maine was held to a field goal following Saturday’s botched snap.
When he’s gotten the ball away, Ralls is averaging just 29.3 yards per punt on 10 attempts this season.
“Our punt team needs to pick it up,” Gattuso said. “We’re killing ourselves on the punt team with some mistakes. They’re very simple solutions, we need to figure it out.”