University at Albany head football coach Greg Gattuso knew he had a very young and inexperienced roster heading into the season.
What he didn’t expect was how quickly that youth would be tested under fire when a rash of injuries — and a suspension — completely changed his two-deep lineup.
Today, when UAlbany hosts 25th-ranked Villanova at 3:30 p.m. on Bob Ford Field at Casey Stadium, 23 of the 43 players listed on the Great Danes’ offensive and defensive two-deep are true or redshirt freshmen or sophomores. On defense, 16 of the 21 players on the depth chart are underclassmen.
Significant changes to the roster included an injury to left guard Michael Senn, leaving him out of the lineup for the last two weeks, and a season-ending knee injury to linebacker and captain Michael Nicastro. Fellow linebackers Colin Cooper, DaSharnte Thompson and Neil Morrison won’t be in the lineup this week because of concussions suffered last week.
The Great Danes missed safety Kyle Sakowski last week because of a shoulder/arm injury, and he most likely will be out this week, as well. Additionally, sophomore wideout Josh Gontarek is still serving an indefinite suspension after he was arrested on charges of possession of marijuana.
UAlbany is reeling after back-to-back one-sided defeats. The Danes lost at Holy Cross 37-0 and then suffered a 39-7 homecoming loss to Maine last week.
“Obviously, this is a very difficult situation right now, but I’m not the kind of guy who makes excuses,” Gattuso said before Thursday’s practice. “I’ve talked to the guys after practices this week, and they know that I’ve never changed my expectations for this team. My expectation is always to win the game and to play the best we can play. We’re challenged right now. I realize we are undermanned, but we have to fight harder. The CAA is a very tough league.”
Gattuso said his team is working harder than ever, and he appreciates the Great Danes’ effort. But he also wants better results.
“My philosophy has always been positive reinforcement,” he said. “I know the guys are trying very hard. The effort has been good, but the problem is how we are playing. Missing the players we are missing has created a big void, especially in the leadership department. But the good thing is that we are just now starting to have much better energy during practices. We’ve made some progress, but we are still very young, and that creates problems when you are putting all these young players in key situations. The silver lining is that all of the young guys are getting great experience, and that will help us in the future.”
UAlbany (1-2, 2-4) has been struggling on both sides of the ball lately. The Danes were held to just 172 total yards against Maine last week.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback DJ Crook has completed 94 of 171 passes for 984 yards and seven touchdowns. His favorite target is true freshman Zee Roberson (34 catches, 312 yards, two touchdowns). Christian Brothers Academy graduate Elliot Croskey, a redshirt freshman, is the leading rusher with 399 yards and three carries.
Villanova (1-1, 2-3) lost reigning Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Year and Walter Payton Award winner John Robertson to a knee injury several weeks ago. He is out for the season. Redshirt freshman Zach Bednaczyk (35-for-68, 406 yards, two TDs) is his replacement.
“I don’t feel badly for Villanova. They still have 25 juniors or seniors, and they are much more experienced than we are. Villanova is a very good team,” Gattuso said.
RPI AT HOME
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hosts Rochester in a Liberty League game at 12:05 p.m. at East Campus Stadium.
RPI (3-1, 4-2) is leading the league in total offense (416.7 yards per game) and passing offense (242.7 ypg). Quarterback Jeff Avery tops the league with 1,456 passing yards and 15 TD passes.