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Stakes high for UAlbany football in home opener

Stakes high for UAlbany football in home opener

Great Danes play Bryant
Stakes high for UAlbany football in home opener
UAlbany plays Bryant Saturday night.
Photographer: Gazette file photo

ALBANY — It’s only Week 2.

College football seasons, though, can get old in a hurry.

So University at Albany head coach Greg Gattuso isn’t overstating the Great Danes’ situation when he labels their 7 p.m. Saturday matchup with Bryant as a “must-win” game.

“If we want to accomplish any of our goals,” Gattuso said earlier this week as his team prepared for its home opener at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium, “we have to win this game.”

UAlbany lost its opener 38-21 against Central Michigan of the FBS, while Bryant fell 35-10 against Stony Brook. Playing at home against a squad that couldn’t keep up with a program that also resides in the CAA with UAlbany makes the Great Danes a clear favorite heading into Saturday’s matchup, and they need to make that status hold up.

“I think every game’s a must-win, but playing in front of the home crowd, that’s something else,” said UAlbany redshirt senior defensive lineman Eli Mencer, who scored a touchdown on a fumble return in the Great Danes’ opener. “Being at [Central Michigan] was fun, but nothing beats a crowd at Casey Stadium. It’s exhilarating.”

While UAlbany is coming off a 3-8 season and was picked to finish last in the CAA, Gattuso said at his program’s July media day that the Great Danes “have a team that can make the playoffs, for sure.” Playing a 12-game schedule this season, UAlbany likely could have a shot at making the FCS playoffs with a 7-5 mark, but it’s more realistic UAlbany will have to go 8-4 to earn a postseason berth — and UAlbany will be hard-pressed to find its way to seven or eight wins if it loses its home opener. 

UAlbany redshirt junior tight end LJ Wesneski said the Great Danes understand the stakes of their Week 2 game.

“But, at the same time, I don’t think anyone’s focused on where [this game] would put us for playoff contention,” Wesneski said. “Everyone here is more like, ‘OK, we have a football game, let’s execute and get this win.’”

Against Central Michigan in UAlbany’s opener, the Great Danes had a number of positives. Redshirt freshman quarterback Jeff Undercuffler was solid, contributing 15 of 28 passing for 199 yards and two touchdowns against Central Michigan. Meanwhile, the UAlbany defense scored a touchdown and forced three turnovers.

The Great Danes’ defense, though, allowed Central Michigan 529 yards of total offense, and UAlbany’s running game only generated 45 yards on 22 rush attempts.

“We are definitely realizing what we need to work on,” Wesneski said. “We need to be able to run the ball more, and that starts with all of us up front. We need to be more physical.”

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