UAlbany head football coach Greg Gattuso said Monday that redshirt sophomore quarterback Jeff Undercuffler should be available and is the planned starter for Saturday’s game against Villanova at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium.
Undercuffler, who started UAlbany’s first four games this season, traveled with the team and dressed for Saturday’s 31-24 loss to William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, but didn’t play. Gattuso declined to discuss immediately following the game the reason for Undercuffler sitting out the game, but insinuated Monday that the decision — which resulted in freshman Joey Carino getting his first career start — was health-related.
“I talked to Jeff,” Gattuso said Monday during the weekly CAA coaches’ teleconference with reporters, “and if he’s healthy enough, he’ll be starting Saturday. If we’re banged up — Joey’s banged up right now — then I’ve got to get on the field and see where we’re at.”
Given the opportunity to start, Carino turned in a performance that earned him CAA Rookie of the Week honors when the conference announced its weekly awards Monday. The 5-foot-11 freshman passed for 244 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday’s 31-24 loss, and drove the Great Danes (0-3 CAA, 0-5 overall) to the William & Mary 7-yard-line in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter before his pass to Tyler Oedekoven in the end zone fell incomplete as time expired.
UAlbany was also playing shorthanded against William & Mary with several players quarantined due to COVID-19 protocols not making the trip for the game. The team did not identify all of the players who didn’t travel, but Gattuso confirmed Saturday that wide receivers Mike Gray and Roy Alexander were among those who did not make the trip.
Gattuso said Undercuffler dressing for the game despite not being available to play was, “Just the way I wanted it.”
Undercuffler has been UAlbany’s starting quarterback since late in the 2018 season and threw an FCS-best 41 touchdown passes in 2019, when he led the Great Danes to a 9-5 record and the program’s first-ever FCS playoff victory.
Through four games this season, Undercuffler has completed 55 of 107 passes (51.4%) for 662 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions.
Carino has completed 24 of 36 passes (66.7%) for 303 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. Though he’s played in all five games, prior to Saturday’s start that was mostly limited to substitute packages where he was brought in to utilize his running ability. Before Saturday, Carino had attempted just nine passes, all of which came in mop-up duty late in the Great Danes’ Sept. 18 loss to Syracuse, where he engineered a pair of touchdown drives.
Carino also briefly exited the William & Mary game in the third quarter with an injury. Third-stringer Braeden Zenelovic replaced him and fumbled on back-to-back plays, losing the second one to set up William & Mary’s go-ahead touchdown.
Carino returned to the game and nearly helped UAlbany come back from a 10-point deficit after the team had already blown its 21-3 halftime lead. Given the freshman’s performance, Gattuso acknowledged the temptation to continue to start Carino, or at least expand his role in the offense.
“This isn’t a lifetime appointment, like the Queen of England, where you’re the starter at your position for the rest of your life,” Gattuso said. “This isn’t the way it works in football. You have to earn your job every week. Joey’s had a really good game, and I have a lot of confidence in him. We’ve been wanting to play Joey more as this season progresses. Jeff knows that, Joey knows that, [offensive coordinator] Joe Davis knows that. How we configure and how we line up and play the game might be changed a little bit by Joey’s performance.”
UAlbany, which hasn’t played at home since Sept. 11, will face another stiff test Saturday as Villanova (2-0, 4-1) will come to Casey Stadium ranked fifth nationally and having just handed CAA power James Madison its first conference loss in nearly three years.