ALBANY — In the week leading up to Saturday’s home opener against Bryant, University at Albany football head coach Greg Gattuso didn’t shy away from it.
His Great Danes, he said, knew they needed to win Saturday at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium to keep alive a realistic shot at chasing a postseason berth. That’s a tough place for a team to be in Week 2, but that’s the nature of FCS football. Simply put, UAlbany — a program coming off back-to-back losing seasons and still trying to find its footing within the CAA it joined in 2013 — couldn’t afford to fall to 0-2 with a home loss to an NEC squad coming off a blowout loss.
So the win UAlbany secured Saturday was crucial.
More important, though, was the dominant way in which the Great Danes handled themselves in cruising past Bryant in a 45-3 blowout victory.
“The kids,” Gattuso said, “needed something like that to get them some confidence.”
“Confidence-wise, any win is a confidence booster, no matter who you’re playing,” UAlbany junior running back Karl Mofor said. “It just helps us to get on the right track for the season.”
Mofor and fellow running back Alex James starred for UAlbany in the victory, as Mofor rushed for 123 yards on 18 carries and James — a redshirt junior — turned a dozen rushing attempts into 229 yards and a touchdown.
“It was fun to watch those two run today,” said Gattuso, whose team plays next weekend at Monmouth before returning back to Casey Stadium the following weekend to play Lafayette.
James had runs of 83 and 80 yards in Saturday’s contest, in which UAlbany led 28-0 at halftime in front of an announced crowd of 5,014. In UAlbany’s season-opening loss at Central Michigan, James rushed three times for negative-seven yards in a game that saw UAlbany gain 45 yards on 22 rushing attempts.
“Just being persistent throughout practice,” James said of UAlbany’s improvement with its rushing attack. “Not giving up on who we are. Sticking to what we do. . . . We’re going to try to come out and smash teams in the mouth.”
UAlbany led 7-0 after the first quarter, which saw James score on his 80-yard run. In between touchdown passes for redshirt freshman Jeff Undercuffler in the second quarter, UAlbany redshirt senior Jarren Williams returned an interception 63 yards for a touchdown.
Undercuffler’s touchdown passes in the first half went to senior wide receiver Jerah Reeves and redshirt junior tight end LJ Wesneski, the latter of which was set up when Bryant fumbled away UAlbany’s kickoff following Williams’ score and senior Tyler Carswell recovered it.
In the second half, Undercuffler rushed for a score in the third quarter and redshirt junior Dylan Burns kicked his first career field goal from 24 yards out to put UAlbany ahead 38-0 before Bryant kicked a field goal of its own. UAlbany freshman quarterback Jah Dabney scored the Great Danes’ final touchdown of the night on a short run.
While UAlbany improved to 1-1, Bryant dropped to 0-2 after losing its opener 35-10 to Stony Brook. With the victory, UAlbany won its sixth consecutive home opener and improved to 3-2 in its all-time series against Bryant.
Undercuffler only passed for 94 yards, but completed 14 of 25 attempts. Defensively, UAlbany recorded two sacks, recovered a fumble and had two interceptions. For the game, the Great Danes outgained Bryant 456-296.
“But we weren’t real sharp,” Gattuso said. “We dropped some balls. We had some silly penalties. . . . But we fought through them, and I thought we did a good job persevering, which is something we talk a lot about with our kids.”
And, right now, Gattuso has a lot of confidence in his players that they can continue to make progress. That’s based on how they’ve performed on the field, and the way they’re coming together away from it.
“I think our culture is really strong right now,” Gattuso said. “I’m really proud of these guys for the way they interact with each other.”
Bryant 0 0 0 3 — 3
Albany 7 21 7 10 — 45
A — James 80 run (Burns kick)
A — Reeves 14 pass from Undercuffler (Burns kick)
A — Williams 63 interception return (Burns kick)
A — Wesneski 7 pass from Undercuffler (Burns kick)
A — Undercuffler 9 run (Burns kick)
A — Burns 24 FG
B — Samperi 32 FG
A — Dabney 3 run (Burns kick)