ALBANY — His team is in a “good place” ahead of its CAA opener against William & Mary.
The question now becomes a simple one: How long can University at Albany football head coach Greg Gattuso’s group stay there?
“Conference play is a different animal. It’s much more physical. Higher level of talent than the people we’ve seen for the most part, other than maybe Central Michigan. But I do think we’re ready,” Gattuso said ahead of his team’s 3:30 p.m. Saturday game at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium. “Last game was about as good a game as we’ve played in a long time. There were mistakes that needed to be cleaned up, but we were balanced. We threw the ball really well. We ran the ball really well. We tackled better. We limited a lot of big plays. The turnovers snuck up a little bit, which we’ve got to keep working on, but, all in all, I was happy with our progress in that game.”
That performance delivered a 36-7 win against Lafayette, and came two days before the Great Danes and sophomore wide receiver Dev Holmes officially parted ways. The former Troy High School star had been suspended for the game against Lafayette, and Holmes — who only had six receptions in UAlbany’s first three games after registering a team-high 50 last year — left the program Monday.
UAlbany’s matchup against William & Mary pits a pair of 2-2 teams against each other, as well as the programs picked to finish at the bottom of the CAA; the Great Danes were picked last in the league, while William & Mary was picked one spot ahead of UAlbany.
League preseason polls, largely, are reflections of how the past year went — and UAlbany’s dismal 2018 campaign never recovered after a tough loss against William & Mary. UAlbany led William & Mary 22-10 in the fourth quarter before losing 25-22.
Gattuso recalled that defeat as a “really hard loss” that “hurt us and affected us,” and it showed. That loss started a six-game losing streak for UAlbany, which finished 3-8 last season.
Getting some payback for last year’s result is on the minds of the Great Danes, but a 1-0 start in conference play is the most important thing UAlbany can take from this year’s game against a William & Mary squad Gattuso views as an underrated group.
“We feel like they’re as good or better than anybody we’ve played up to this point,” Gattuso said, “and we’re going to have to play a great home game to get a win.”
The teams have played one common foe this year. While UAlbany defeated Lafayette 36-7 last week, William & Mary won 30-17 on Aug. 31 against Lafayette. William & Mary trailed 10-6 at halftime, but scored 24 unanswered points in the third quarter.
William & Mary starting quarterback Hollis Mathis, a true freshman, hurt his throwing shoulder last weekend and his status is uncertain for this weekend’s game, according to a report in The Virginian-Pilot.
Despite missing most of William & Mary’s loss to East Carolina, Mathis has completed 20 of 42 passes for 299 yards and a touchdown on the season, plus has rushed for 221 yards and two touchdowns on 49 carries.
Kilton Anderson is likely to start at quarterback if Mathis cannot. On the season, Anderson has played in three games, and is 18 of 38 passing for 297 yards and no touchdowns. Anderson has rushed seven times for negative-1 yard.
UAlbany is averaging 38.7 points per game in its last three outings, while redshirt freshman quarterback Jeff Undercuffler has passed for four touchdowns in each of the Great Danes’ last two games. On the season, UAlbany is averaging 410.5 yards of total offense.
Offensive coordinator Joe Davis said he has been satisfied with the level of improvement UAlbany’s offense has shown from a year ago, but that he knows the team’s true test starts this weekend.
“Everything is about to change. The CAA is a whole other world of football,” Davis said. “We know the competition is going to pick up from here.”
With Undercuffler playing well at quarterback, Gattuso hinted this week that freshman Jah Dabney — a player listed as a running back who has played exclusively this season as a wildcat quarterback — could see his role expand.
“That’s certainly on the table,” Davis said. “Every week we go into game-planning, his name has been on the table to see how we can best use him.”
In past years, Gattuso has normally pointed to a 7-4 overall finish as one that could put UAlbany in the hunt for a FCS postseason berth.
The Great Danes, though, play a dozen games this season. Gattuso said 8-4 likely gets UAlbany consideration for the postseason this year, but that the Great Danes have “got to try to get to nine” if they want to play beyond their regular-season finale.
“Right now,” Gattuso said, “where we’re at, we’re just trying to win games and play week to week.”