ALBANY — During the team’s bye week, the UAlbany football coaching staff was able to spend ample time reviewing footage from the Great Danes’ first eight games.
What the coaches saw, though, wasn’t unexpected. This season’s Great Danes are 5-3 overall and 3-1 in CAA play because they’re doing what’s expected of them.
“We haven’t changed who we try to be,” Gattuso said ahead of Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. conference game against Maine at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium. “We’re better at being that [team] right now, and that’s what’s led to some success.”
After back-to-back losing seasons, though, UAlbany did make some changes ahead of the 2019 season that have paid off. Notably, the Great Danes shifted around some players on their defense to favor speed instead of size, and that change has helped UAlbany to a plus-7 turnover margin and a defense that ranks third in the CAA in average scoring at 23.6 points per game. Already this season, UAlbany’s defense has 19 takeaways compared to last season’s 14, and redshirt defensive lineman Eli Mencer — previously, a linebacker — has 8.5 sacks, which leaves him 0.5 behind Eddie Delaney’s single-season program record.
“I think we’ve gotten back to who we were when we were successful, in the sense of being better with takeaways and preventing turnovers,” said Gattuso, whose program flirted with earning an FCS postseason bid in 2016 when it went 7-4.
What’s most different, though, about this season’s Great Danes is the play they’ve received at quarterback from redshirt freshman Jeff Undercuffler. UAlbany has struggled to receive consistent play at that position since Will Fiacchi — now a member of the program’s coaching staff — graduated following the 2014 season.
With four games to go this season, Undercuffler is one touchdown pass shy of Dan DiLella’s single-season program record of 25 and 615 yards away from Fiacchi’s single-season passing yards record. On the season, Undercuffler has completed 58.9% of his passes for 2,021 yards for a UAlbany offense that ranks third in the CAA in scoring at 33.6 points per game.
Heading into its final four games of the regular season, UAlbany is tied for second place in the CAA with New Hampshire and Richmond. Off a bye week that allowed the team some needed time to get healthy, the Great Danes are set to play meaningful late-season games for the first time since 2016.
“I don’t think we’re the most talented team in the league, but we’re way closer than we used to be,” Gattuso said. “I think that we have good players and they’ve been practicing hard, and they’ve fought for these wins. Nothing’s been easy. Nothing’s been given to them.”
While UAlbany won its last two games before its bye, Maine is coming off a win that improved its CAA record to 1-3 and its overall mark to 3-5. It’s been a disappointing season so far for Maine, which made the FCS national semifinals last year, but there is still enough season left for the Black Bears to finish with a winning record. Gattuso said the Great Danes know that means a motivated Maine team will show up Saturday at Casey Stadium.
“They’re coming here to save their season,” Gattuso said, “so it’s going to be a battle and we know that.”