ALBANY — Even before it started working, University at Albany football head coach Greg Gattuso said the decision had been made for the Great Danes to look for more opportunities to keep their offense on the field for fourth-down plays.
“We went into this year deciding to be aggressive,” Gattuso said at Tuesday’s practice, which came three days after the Great Danes went 2 of 3 on fourth-down attempts in their win against William & Mary.
Both successful fourth-down attempts against William & Mary came during drives that saw the Great Danes score touchdowns in their 39-31 win. On the season, UAlbany improved to 10 of 14 on fourth-down tries.
UAlbany leads the CAA in fourth-down attempts, and the Great Danes have converted five more fourth-down plays into first downs than any other team in the league. UAlbany’s 71.4% conversion mark is tied to lead the CAA among teams that have more than three fourth-down tries.
In past years, Gattuso’s UAlbany teams have rarely kept the offense on the field for fourth-down plays. In Gattuso’s first five seasons leading UAlbany, the Great Danes averaged 14 attempts per year on fourth down and converted 44.3% of their attempts. In four of those five seasons, UAlbany ranked in the bottom half of the CAA in terms of total fourth-down attempts; in the 2017 season, UAlbany ranked third in fourth-down attempts, but its 17 tries were 19 fewer than the conference leader.
“It’s a confidence, I think, in our offensive line more than anything,” Gattuso said of his increased willingness to go for it on fourth down.
Still, Gattuso said not to expect UAlbany to go for it on fourth down from “crazy places” on the field.
“Game situations matter,” said Gattuso, whose 3-2 squad plays at 1-3 Richmond this weekend. “Normally, my rule is over the 50, I’ll consider it.”
Against William & Mary, UAlbany rushed to convert a pair of fourth-and-1 plays, including one from its own 47-yard line in the fourth quarter. In the game’s first half, UAlbany came up short on a fourth-and-6 from the William & Mary 28-yard line, only gaining five yards on a pass play.
Redshirt junior tight end LJ Wesneski said it’s helped the overall confidence level of UAlbany’s offense that the Great Danes coaching staff has allowed it so many chances to extend drives.
“It’s built confidence, as a whole, that no matter what down it is, we can move the chains,” Wesneski said. “We’ve gone for it a lot on fourth down, but it’s not because we’re hoping to get it — we know we have good running backs, good receivers, a great offensive line, good tight ends and a good quarterback. We’re confident we’re going to get the first down and keep driving.”
After UAlbany’s win against William & Mary, Gattuso credited redshirt junior offensive lineman Ryan Lape for how he “battled” in replacing starting left guard Griffin Clancy, a redshirt senior, in the Great Danes’ lineup.
“I had big shoes to fill,” Lape said Tuesday.
Lape entered the game late in the second quarter after Clancy suffered an ankle injury. Clancy missed the rest of the game, but Gattuso seemed optimistic Tuesday the redshirt senior could play at Richmond.
Lape said he’d only had a “few” practice reps with the starting offensive linemen prior to joining them for Saturday’s closing first-half drive that produced a field goal. He gained confidence as the game went along, and did a solid job filling in for Clancy.
“That’s all I tried to do,” said Lape, who has appeared in only two games during his college career.
After setting a program record with four field goals in UAlbany’s win against William & Mary, redshirt junior Dylan Burns was recognized Monday as the CAA Special Teams Player of the Week.
Burns made field goals from 25, 27, 42 and 43 yards, and made 3 of 4 extra-point attempts.
Previously, UAlbany’s program record for made field goals in a game was three, which had been accomplished 11 times.
On the season, Burns has made 6 of 8 field-goal attempts.
‘INDESTRUCTIBLE’ NO. 81
For several weeks, redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Mazon Walker has often sported No. 81 on his practice jersey, rather than the No. 92 he wears during games.
“They always rip my No. 92s for some reason,” a smiling Walker said of his teammates.
With a laugh, Walker explained that throughout his UAlbany career, he’s rarely been able to keep a single No. 92 practice jersey for too long before a major tear occurs during a drill or scrimmage session. Usually, he said, it’s one of the sleeves that gives way.
“Since I’ve been here,” Walker said, “I’ve had eight No. 92 [practice jerseys] rip.”
His current No. 81 practice jersey, though, has lasted for the first several weeks of this season — and Walker said he’s interested to see how long it can last.
“This one, for some reason, it’s indestructible,” Walker said.