ALBANY — It was a great win, and head coach Greg Gattuso allowed as much.
Last weekend’s upset of then-No. 9 Towson, though, means a lot more for the UAlbany football program if it follows that victory up with another win this weekend.
“I think we’ve been trying to kind of grow past a point,” Gattuso said ahead of Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. homecoming game against Rhode Island at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium. “A couple years ago, I thought we had started to grow through some of this, and we kind of got stopped for a couple reasons.”
The “some of this” refers to an inconsistency that has made maintaining momentum an impossibility. The “reasons” include unfortunate injuries, personnel departures from the program and an inability to execute routinely at a high level against CAA competition. Those elements combined to keep UAlbany from surging forward after its 7-4 season in 2016, a campaign the Great Danes followed with 4-7 and 3-8 seasons.
So while this weekend’s game for UAlbany (2-1, 4-3) looks like one the program should take with ease from Rhode Island (0-3, 1-5), that appearance ignores how the Great Danes have struggled in the past to capitalize on momentum and the deceptiveness of Rhode Island’s record on the season.
Last weekend’s win was UAlbany’s third against a top-10 team in as many seasons, and the Great Danes didn’t win their following game either of the first two times — the second of those two defeats, though, comes with an asterisk. UAlbany beat a top-10 Villanova team in 2017 and lost 6-0 to Elon the following week, while the Great Danes didn’t get the chance to play right after their season-ending 2018 win against a top-10 Stony Brook squad until they lost to Central Michigan — an FBS opponent — to start this season.
Meanwhile, three of Rhode Island’s losses this season — suffered in consecutive games — ended within a one-possession margin. Then, Rhode Island’s last loss came against Virginia Tech of the ACC.
“They’re a good team,” Gattuso said. “We know it. Our kids know it — and we’ll be ready to play.”
Rhode Island has gotten the better of UAlbany the last two times the programs have met. Rhode Island won 31-14 at UAlbany in 2017, then won 45-26 last season at home.
“They gave us a beatdown last year,” UAlbany redshirt freshman quarterback Jeff Undercuffler said. “It was brutal.”
UAlbany redshirt senior defensive lineman Eli Mencer said the Great Danes know they “can’t slack,” and that last weekend’s game, perhaps, provided a firsthand look for them what happens when a team does.
“I feel like Towson kind of slept on us a little bit,” Mencer said, “and they gave up a win.”
UAlbany will need to rely on players such as Mencer — the CAA’s leader in sacks with 7.5 and tackles for loss with 13 — to provide pressure in the backfield of Rhode Island, which has a pair of wide receivers in junior Isaiah Coulter and senior Aaron Parker that are atop a variety of the CAA’s receiving categories along with UAlbany seniors Juwan Green and Jerah Reeves.
With a victory, UAlbany will push its record two games above .500 for the first time since the first month of the 2017 season. A bye awaits the Great Danes after this weekend’s game, and UAlbany has a chance to head into it with hopes still alive of making a push toward making the FCS playoffs.
“We’ve got to play desperate football,” Gattuso said.