It doesn’t take a lot to get the UAlbany football team fired up to play Stony Brook.
Throw in the Great Danes’ desperation to turn their season around after back-to-back close losses and keep alive some chance of a second-straight trip to the FCS playoffs, and Saturday’s 1 p.m. game at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium stacks up as a tipping point for UAlbany’s spring campaign.
“That makes it even more important,” UAlbany redshirt junior AJ Mistler said of Saturday’s CAA game for the Golden Apple Trophy. “It’s a rivalry, plus it’s a do-or-die chance for us to continue on to where we want to be and reach the playoffs.”
Thus far, the shortened spring season has been full of ups and downs for UAlbany (1-2 CAA, 1-2 overall). The Great Danes overcame some late blunders to hold on and win their opener against New Hampshire, but have dropped consecutive close games against Maine and Rhode Island where the team squandered promising starts.
Against Maine, defensive struggles and penalties spoiled the day for UAlbany. Against Rhode Island, the Great Danes were better in both of those areas, but the offense stalled out and redshirt sophomore quarterback Jeff Undercuffler was intercepted three times in a 17-10 overtime loss.
Three games in, UAlbany has yet to put together a complete performance in all three phases of the game.
The effort is there, head coach Greg Gattuso said Wednesday during a teleconference with reporters, but the execution has been lacking.
Gattuso’s hopeful the sight of UAlbany’s SUNY rival coming into the state capital will help turn things around as the Great Danes begin the second half of their six-game regular season.
“I’ve told the team this, I’ve told my coaches this, I’ve told my wife this: I love this football team. I love these kids,” Gattuso said. “They really are dedicated and committed to trying to do things the right way. We just haven’t played in sync. I love the team, I love our culture. We’ve just got to get through this rough patch and really play a rivalry game, try to get a win Saturday.”
Stony Brook (0-3, 0-3) has endured a similar rough patch to start its season. Coached by UAlbany alumnus Chuck Priore, the Seawolves started the season with a 16-13 loss to then-No. 5 Villanova, but the struggles have mounted the past two weeks, with Stony Brook outscored 66-22 in losses to Delaware and Maine.
Stony Brook’s biggest problems have come defending the pass, with the team allowing 260 yards per game and eight touchdowns without coming away with an interception.
That could be good news for Undercuffler, who has struggled as a redshirt sophomore to replicate his record-shattering success from 2019. With a rebuilt receiving corps that’s been constantly shuffled due to injury, Undercuffler is completing just 54.4% of his passes for 556 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions.
“We’re lacking a little bit on the execution side,” Undercuffler said. “I think that’s got a lot to do with the quarterback position.”
Undercuffler had far from his best game when the Great Danes met Stony Brook in the 2019 regular-season finale. The UAlbany quarterback was just 16 of 35 for 183 yards and a touchdown, but 180 rushing yards and four touchdowns from Karl Mofor led the way as the Great Danes built up an early 24-0 lead and held off a Stony Brook comeback to win 31-26 and keep the Golden Apple for a second straight year.
A rivalry three-peat is squarely in the minds of the Great Danes heading into Saturday.
“We treat every week like we need to be our best,” redshirt junior defensive lineman Anthony Lang said. “But, [Stony Brook] being our rival, and coming off of two close losses, we’re going to treat this like every play is our last and try to come out with the Apple for the third year in a row.”
“It’s Apple week,” Undercuffler said. “They’re our biggest rival here. We’re going to be ready to play. That’s just the bottom line.”