UAlbany football head coach Greg Gattuso grew up in Pittsburgh, during the heyday of coach Chuck Noll’s dynasty with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It was a tenet of Noll’s philosophy that Gattuso found himself going back to as the Great Danes spent their bye week stinging from their 0-3 start.
“He always talked about going back to basics,” Gattuso said during the CAA’s weekly coaches’ teleconference with reporters. “What I’ve found is some of our issues are simple concepts. It’s not a preparation thing, it’s more execution, and are we overloading our kids with too much? We’ve tried to look at what we’re doing, evaluate and simplify it, and execute it better for us to have a chance of winning.”
Gattuso is hopeful that “back to basics” mentality will benefit UAlbany when it gets back to work Saturday at 3 p.m. on the road against Delaware.
It’s been a difficult start for UAlbany (0-1 CAA, 0-3 overall), with its three September games including a trip to perennial FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, a tough CAA game against Rhode Island in the Great Danes’ home opener and a trip across the Thruway to face the ACC’s Syracuse.
Three losses later, Gattuso is trying to keep his team steady heading into the meat of its schedule.
“The hardest part,” Gattuso said, “is trying not to let anybody panic. It was a very tough opening schedule, probably for pretty much anybody to play in our conference, and it doesn’t get any easier.”
UAlbany’s next tough stretch includes two teams ranked in the top 15 nationally — No. 8 Delaware on Saturday, then after an Oct. 9 road game against William & Mary, a return home Oct. 16 to face No. 11 Villanova.
It’s a daunting task ahead for a team that’s struggled to find its identity, though Gattuso saw positive signs — both in execution and attitude — during the bye week.
“I have great faith in my football players. I love these kids,” he said. They’ve worked their tails off, and they’re angry and frustrated that we haven’t played better. Their mentality is, ‘We should be 3-0,’ and if we’d played better we would have a chance for that goal. They want to be better, and I have a lot of faith in them.”
To that end, Gattuso said his team isn’t making “any drastic changes” heading into the Delaware game.
Instead, it’s an issue of correcting the mistakes that have plagued UAlbany so far this season. Most of those come on the offensive end, where a rebuilt offensive line has only allowed senior running back Karl Mofor room for 109 yards on 41 carries while also surrendering 17 quarterback sacks.
“We certainly have to run the ball better, more effectively,” Gattuso said. “That’s probably the single biggest thing. The second biggest thing is we’re not protecting our quarterback well enough.
“Some of that is situational. Some of that is you get behind in these tough arenas and it’s hard to communicate in the domes, but at the end of the day we’ve got to protect our quarterback. We have some schematic things that are open, we’re not able to get the football to them sometimes.”
In Delaware (1-0, 2-1), UAlbany faces a team that’s also coming off a bye week following a loss to an FBS opponent. The Blue Hens dropped a 45-13 decision Sept. 18 at Rutgers, but came into that game having won their first two following a spring season that saw coach Danny Rocco’s team reach the FCS semifinals.
Gattuso is hopeful his team is more prepared following its week to rest things.
“We knew these first three weeks were going to be brutal, and it doesn’t get easier,” he said. “But, I think we’re more prepared for the stretch run we’re about to go on — starting with Delaware on Saturday.”