As his team sat through an hour-plus weather delay at halftime last Saturday against Morgan State, UAlbany head football coach Greg Gattuso got an indication of how invested his Great Danes are in the final act of what’s been a frustrating season.
Gattuso was concerned that, with his team already leading by 34, there might be signs of complacency from a squad simply playing out the string.
“The locker room was insane,” Gattuso said Monday during the CAA’s weekly coaches’ teleconference. “They were just beating on doors to get back out on the field.”
It’s that attitude, Gattuso said, that has gotten the Great Danes back on track after their winless eight-game run to start the season.
Despite all of those losses, many of them under puzzling and heartbreaking circumstances, UAlbany is determined to wrap up its 2021 campaign on a high note. The Great Danes have won back-to-back games, and can conclude the year on a high note Saturday at 1 p.m. with a road victory over their biggest rival, Stony Brook, with the Golden Apple Trophy on the line.
After eight straight losses, which included five setbacks of seven points or less, UAlbany (2-6 CAA, 2-8 overall) has impressed the past two weeks.
“I always talk about how winning games is [about] being great in the big moments,” Gattuso said. “We’ve started to do that. We haven’t won enough of those big moments in games where we’ve made blunders or caused problems for ourselves, and it’s cost us greatly this year.”
It was Karl Mofor’s career day — 222 yards on a school-record 45 rushing attempts — that got UAlbany its breakthrough two weeks ago against New Hampshire, but Gattuso pointed at quarterback Jeff Undercuffler’s return to form as a major reason for UAlbany’s overall offensive improvement down the stretch.
On Oct. 16 against Maine, Undercuffler headed to the bench in favor of backup Joey Carino after the Great Danes’ first drive ended with a fumble. He returned at the tail end of the third quarter to engineer a pair of late touchdown drives, and in the three games since he’s flashed some of the form that saw him throw an FCS-best 41 touchdown passes in 2019.
Against Towson, New Hampshire and Morgan State, Undercuffler has completed 51 of 83 passes for 759 yards and four touchdowns, including 300-yard games against Towson and Morgan State.
“Last week [against Morgan State], we could’ve thrown the ball all night if we wanted to,” Gattuso said, “whether it’s raining or windy. He’s starting to come back, and we need him to finish strong.”
UAlbany’s 41-14 win over Morgan State was a perfect example of Gattuso’s favored philosophy — an effective run game opening things up for the passing attack. The Great Danes ran the ball well early, forcing Morgan State to stack the box against Mofor, which left things open for Undercuffler to throw for 328 yards.
“That’s what we want to be,” Gattuso said, “is able to play it either way.”
Mofor needs 102 rushing yards to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the season. The 5-foot-8 tailback has averaged 120 rushing yards over his past six games. . . . Defensive end Jared Verse needs a half-sack to reach double digits for the season in that category.