ALBANY — With his team’s record even at 2-2 following its 36-7 win Saturday against Lafayette, University at Albany football head coach Greg Gattuso described himself as “happy” and “thrilled” with where his program is at heading into next weekend’s CAA opener against William & Mary.
That type of talk can be easy to dismiss, but here’s the thing: There’s a true source for optimism for UAlbany, and that’s the production redshirt freshman quarterback Jeff Undercuffler is providing from the position the program has long struggled to adequately staff.
“We’re really in a different place at quarterback than we’ve been since I’ve been here,” said Gattuso, who has had six different opening-game starting quarterbacks in his six seasons with the Great Danes.
That instability looks to be a thing of the past for the Great Danes after the non-conference portion of their 2019 season. Undercuffler continued his strong start to the season against Lafayette, as the redshirt freshman was 19 of 25 passing for 212 yards and four touchdowns before sitting out most of the fourth quarter. That effort came a week after Undercuffler passed for 398 yards and four touchdowns in a loss at Monmouth.
Undercuffler did throw one interception against Lafayette, his fourth of the season — but Gattuso can live with some miscues given the rest of Undercuffler’s production.
“For a kid his age, I’ve been really pleased with him,” Gattuso said after his team’s win at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium in front of an announced crowd of 3,241. “He’s progressing, and it really gives you a chance.”
On the season, Undercuffler has completed 60.3% of his passes for 903 yards and 12 touchdowns. To put those numbers into some perspective, Undercuffler is on pace to break the program’s single-season records for passing yards (2,636) and passing touchdowns (25), and on track to become the program’s first quarterback since Will Fiacchi — now the program’s recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach — to pass for at least 2,000 yards in a season. Fiacchi passed for 2,636 yards in 2014 — Gattuso’s first season at UAlbany — and no other quarterback has passed for more than 1,889 yards since that season.
When the preseason started, Gattuso described the battle for the quarterback spot as a three-way battle between Undercuffler, redshirt junior Griffin Dahn and redshirt freshman Braeden Zenelovic. Undercuffler, though, had started the last three games of the 2018 season and seemed a safe bet to start the 2019 season as the Great Danes’ No. 1 quarterback even before a hand injury to Dahn completely settled the matter.
Four games into the season? Undercuffler’s spot as the Great Danes’ quarterback going forward is secure, which is a status few UAlbany quarterbacks have gained in recent years.
“He’s on this path and how fast he can keep going is up to him,” Gattuso said. “It’s just a matter of not getting too full of himself.”
That happening doesn’t seem likely.
“Right now,” Undercuffler said of his early-season success, “that’s just something to build off of.”
Against Lafayette, UAlbany led 22-0 at halftime, as senior Donovan McDonald got the Great Danes started with a program-record 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the game’s opening play. Undercuffler connected with junior running back Karl Mofor for a 48-yard touchdown pass later in the first quarter, then the quarterback found redshirt junior tight end LJ Wesneski for an 18-yard touchdown in the second. Redshirt junior kicker Dylan Burns — who missed both extra-point attempts in the first quarter — added a 26-yard field goal before halftime.
After halftime, Lafayette pulled within 22-7 when it scored on a 14-yard run from freshman John Gay, but UAlbany answered with touchdown passes from Undercuffler to senior Juwan Green and redshirt junior Murad Hussain.
For the contest, UAlbany outgained Lafayette 431-320 in yards of total offense, while the Great Danes’ defense created two turnovers and recorded four sacks.
“Every game, I think we’ve gotten better,” said Mofor, who rushed for a career-high 135 yards in 25 carries.
UAlbany played Saturday without redshirt senior defensive back Jarren Williams (lower leg) and sophomore wide receiver Dev Holmes (suspension). Gattuso said he expected Williams to return to practice this upcoming week, while the coach continued not to address any specifics regarding Holmes’ suspension.
“Not commenting on Dev,” Gattuso said.
Without Holmes in the lineup, Undercuffler connected with six teammates in the Great Danes’ passing attack.
“When he’s spreading the ball around,” Gattuso said, “we can be tough to stop.”
Lafayette 0 0 7 0 — 7
Albany 12 10 7 7 — 36
A — McDonald 98 kick return (Kick failed)
A — Mofor 48 pass from Undercuffler (Kick failed)
A — Wesneski 18 pass from Undercuffler (Burns kick)
A — Burns 26 field goal
L — Gay 14 run (Kordenbrock kick)
A — Hussain 3 pass from Undercuffler (Burns kick)
A — Green 14 pass from Undercuffler (Burns kick)