ALBANY — Coming off a missed opportunity, the University at Albany football team needs to create one for itself this weekend.
“When we play the game the right way,” UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso said earlier this week, “we’re a pretty good football team.”
But mistakes last Saturday at Richmond — “unforced errors,” Gattuso called them — cost the Great Danes likely their best chance at winning an away CAA game this season, as UAlbany fell to a Spiders program previously 1-3 on the season. This week, UAlbany (1-1, 3-3) heads to No. 9 Towson (1-1, 3-2) for a 4 p.m. Saturday matchup to take on one of the CAA’s top teams that is also coming off a bye week.
“Every weekend is a tough battle,” said UAlbany redshirt sophomore linebacker AJ Mistler, whose team committed two turnovers last week and was penalized for 118 yards in its 23-20 loss. “No matter what happens the weekend before, though, we have to be confident. Even if we’ve lost, we’ve got to get past it. Can’t harp on it. Got to fix the mistakes and come back confident.”
The top challenge this weekend for UAlbany is containing redshirt senior quarterback Tom Flacco, whose older brother, Joe Flacco, now plays for the NFL’s Denver Broncos. Tom Flacco is both a threat to pass and to run, which he showed last year against the Great Danes when he was 23 of 36 passing for 306 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, and rushed for 80 yards and two scores.
Mistler said UAlbany needs to be “more conscious” of Flacco’s ability to run when it charges toward the quarterback.
“He’s going to [get out of the pocket] because he’s a great player, but, when he does, we’ve got to do the best we can to tackle him and get hits on him,” Mistler said.
This season, UAlbany shifted toward emphasizing quickness on defense. That’s resulted in a group more capable of producing big plays and one that ranks No. 4 in the CAA in scoring defense, but the Great Danes know Flacco will put them to the test.
This season, Flacco has completed 57.8% of his passes for 1,249 yards and six touchdowns in five games. He has also rushed for 242 yards and two touchdowns.
Gattuso has previously said his program needs to win at least eight games to have a shot at making the FCS playoffs, but likely needs to nine victories. At 3-3 on the season, UAlbany’s margin for error is essentially gone with six remaining games — three of which come on the road, where UAlbany has not won since early in the 2017 season.
Both UAlbany and Towson rank in the top half of the CAA in points per game.
UAlbany is No. 3 at 32.7 points per game, while Towson’s average of 32 ranks fourth. Notably, though, Towson was shut out at Florida; with that game removed, Towson is averaging 40 points per game this season.
UAlbany redshirt freshman Jeff Undercuffler remains one of the CAA’s most-prolific quarterbacks this season. Undercuffler has completed 58.9% of his passes for 1,501 yards and 18 touchdowns, but has thrown six interceptions.
Freshman Jah Dabney will miss the rest of the season with an injury, Gattuso confirmed. Dabney — who sported a brace on his lower right arm this week at practice — has only appeared in four games, and will be able to redshirt.
While Dabney made brief appearances this season as a wildcat quarterback, Gattuso said the program’s plan remains to use Dabney at running back and wide receiver in addition to snaps at the quarterback spot.
“Plus,” Gattuso said, “we think he’s a really good return guy, so we’re really excited about his future.”