Two weeks into the UAlbany football season, and the bumps and bruises are starting to pile up.
“We’re very beat up,” head coach Greg Gattuso said Wednesday during a teleconference with reporters.
Gattuso said it was too early in the week to determine if the team will be close to full strength Saturday when the Great Danes host Rhode Island for UAlbany’s first game on home turf at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium since Nov. 30, 2019, but said it was possible the team could be “down a guy or two” for the game.
Gattuso didn’t elaborate on specific players, though starting right offensive tackle Parris Heath left Saturday’s 38-34 loss to Maine with an injury in the second half. Defensive lineman Ibn Foster also missed a chunk of time against Maine, but returned to the field in the fourth quarter.
“We’re hoping to get some people back,” Gattuso said. “At this point, on Wednesday, we’re really not sure who’s ready and who isn’t. We’re in that process, for sure, but the injuries are mounting.”
A couple of those injuries could roll over to affect the fall. Gattuso said that two of the team’s freshmen both suffered injuries on the first plays of their career that could linger. Defensive back Sean Evans suffered a fractured ankle while covering the opening kickoff of the season against New Hampshire.
“There’s just no way to foresee any of that,” Gattuso said. “We’re trying to do things to limit some injuries at practice, but the games are a different world. Things happen in the games that you can’t prevent.”
There is one UAlbany (1-1 CAA, 1-1 overall) starter guaranteed to miss a chunk of time Saturday. Senior safety Tyler Carswell will have to sit out the first half against Rhode Island after he was ejected from the Maine game in the third quarter when he was called for a targeting penalty after a hit to Black Bears quarterback Joe Fagnano when Fagnano was scrambling in the open field.
“We’re going to miss Tyler,” Gattuso said. “It was unfortunate, the penalty. It was certainly not a blatant hit. We’ll miss him, but he’ll be back in the second half. We’ve just got to survive that first half and get him back.”
With Carswell sidelined for the first half, sophomore Larry Walker Jr. — whom Gattuso called “a star in the making” — will get the start at safety against Rhode Island (1-0, 1-0) opposite redshirt senior Hayden Specht.
The targeting call against Carswell was one of 12 accepted penalties that UAlbany incurred against Maine, a number that Gattuso derided as far too many for a Great Danes team that the head coach said has normally averaged about half that many penalties per game under his tenure.
UAlbany has had particular trouble with pre-snap penalties in each of its first two games. Gattuso cited drive-killing motion penalties against both New Hampshire and Maine, while the team’s defensive line committed multiple offsides infractions against Maine, giving the Black Bears multiple free plays — two of which resulted in a touchdown and a 32-yard gain.
“I feel as though we beat ourselves,” redshirt junior defensive lineman Mazon Walker said. “A lot of unnecessary penalties, not being as disciplined as we should, never putting the punctuation on what we should’ve done. Leaving something out on the field is definitely something that we’re not OK with.”
With multiple coronavirus pandemic-related pauses severely limiting the Great Danes’ ability to practice during the fall semester, Gattuso said he expected some lack of sharpness from his squad early in the season.
“You take the amount of time off [that we did], and it takes a minute to get back,” he said. “We’re in that process right now. The good thing is, whatever happens in the spring for us, I believe we’ll be better in the fall because a lot of guys are getting playing experience who would not have gotten it if we didn’t have a spring season.”
Gattuso said the Great Danes have responded well to the frustration of the Maine loss, calling Tuesday’s practice one of the team’s best since preseason camp began in early February.
The mood heading into the Rhode Island game, according to Walker, has been “very serious, to say the least.”
“Taking a loss,” he said, “when we know we shouldn’t have, that doesn’t lead to anything near normal. The intensity has definitely been there, and it’s picking up. We hate, hate losing — especially when we know we shouldn’t.”