ALBANY — Wait, how many years has it been?
“It can’t be 35,” University at Albany football head coach Greg Gattuso said. “That means I’m old.”
Well, no judgment here, but the number in question is 35 — that’s how many seasons it’s been since Gattuso won a national championship while playing his college ball at Penn State.
That group of Nittany Lions will be honored Saturday during Penn State’s home game against Pittsburgh. Gattuso was a junior defensive lineman on Penn State’s 1982 team, which topped Georgia 27-23 in that season’s Sugar Bowl to win the national championship.
One problem. Gattuso can’t be there Saturday to celebrate with his old friends and teammates. He has his own game that day, the Great Danes’ 1 p.m. matchup at Morgan State.
“They all know I coach,” Gattuso said. “I’ve missed every reunion for 30 years.”
Gattuso is in his fourth year with the Great Danes. Prior to succeeding Bob Ford at UAlbany, Gattuso was an assistant coach at Maryland and Pittsburgh, stints that followed his head coaching tenure of more than a decade at Duquesne.
Several of his former teammates, Gattuso said, have reached out to him about Saturday’s event in State College, Penn. The UAlbany coach said he keeps in regular contact with a number of his former teammates, so they were unsurprised he’d have to skip another reunion event in favor of his current team’s game.
Gattuso said he’s fine with that — and then threw in a dig at the old friends he’ll miss out on seeing Saturday.
“It’s alright. I like what I do,” Gattuso said. “They’re all old and fat, anyway.”
GET GOING EARLY
Malachi Hoskins, UAlbany’s senior defensive lineman, liked the way the Great Danes finished this past weekend’s game at Old Dominion.
UAlbany outscored Old Dominion 14-7 in the fourth quarter and were down seven points midway through that period. But after spotting Old Dominion a 24-3 head start through three quarters, that final period’s effort wasn’t enough.
“That was a little bit too late,” Hoskins said, “but I think that we understood we’re a team that can compete with anybody.”
UAlbany lost 31-17 against Old Dominion, while Morgan State fell 10-0 in Week 1 to Towson, a team that plays in the CAA with UAlbany.
In its loss, Morgan State impressed on defense. The Bears held Towson to 102 yards of total offense and 11 first downs — five of which were achieved on penalties.
“I know we never held anybody to 102 yards,” Gattuso said. “That’s hard to do. . . . They’re going to make us earn every yard we get.”
Morgan State found success rushing the quarterback against Towson, picking up four sacks and disrupting Towson’s passing game. UAlbany redshirt sophomore quarterback Will Brunson said the Great Danes are ready to counter Towson’s aggression with their own.
“We’re just going to try to exploit that a little bit,” Brunson said.
UAlbany is without junior running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks (knee) for the second consecutive week.
Before UAlbany’s first game, Gattuso said his team needs to find a way to win eight games this season to avoid the postseason-less fate of last year’s 7-4 squad.
With one loss already to its name, UAlbany needs a win Saturday to avoid needing to end the season with eight wins in its final nine games to hit that mark.
While reaching the postseason is a goal for UAlbany, Brunson said the Great Danes aren’t worried about any math yet when it comes to that.
“Once you do get caught up in all that, it’s very negative. It’s not very positive,” Brunson said. “We try to think one week at a time.”
After falling to an FBS competitor this past weekend, though, Hoskins said the Great Danes’ aim at Morgan State is a simple one.
“We have to a get a ‘W’ out of it,” Hoskins said.