ALBANY — Like most successful quarterbacks, University at Albany redshirt freshman Jeff Undercuffler is talented, tenacious and tough. He’s also not afraid to heave the big-play pass, regardless of the circumstances.
Those are just some of the endearing qualities that UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso appreciates about his young leader, and they are also some of the traits the Great Danes (9-4) will need in abundance when they travel to Bozeman, Montana, to take on the fifth-seeded Montana State Bobcats (9-3) in the second round of the FCS Playoffs Saturday.
Undercuffler threw for 304 yards, and a school-record six touchdown passes in a 42-14 victory over NEC champ Central Connecticut State in the opening round of the playoffs last week. It was the Great Danes’ first appearance in the FCS playoffs since 2011, and they pulled away to the lopsided win despite being outplayed in a 7-7 first half.
Undercuffler leads all FCS teams with a school-record 39 TD passes, and he’s thrown for a UAlbany single-season record 3,270 passing yards. His partner in crime in the deep passing game is Juwan Green, who paces FCS programs with a school-record 16 TD catches. Green holds school records for receiving yards (1,263) and receptions (80). Ace tailback Karl Mofar has run for at least 100 yards eight times this season and tops the CAA in rushing yards with 1,239.
Gattuso was asked when he knew his prolific signal caller was so special.
“I don’t think you know until you put him under fire,” Gattuso said. “Look at the NFL. They test their guys physically, and they mental-test the kids, but they still miss a lot. Until you get to this level, you never know. It’s how you handle adversity. That’s how you become a great quarterback. I think the one thing he does so great is that he’s so even. He’s had some turnovers, but he recovers, and he’s confident. He believes in the kids.
“He also has a short memory. He will regroup after a mistake and make five great throws in a row. He wants to make plays. I’m not mad at him when he goes for the big play. I love a gunslinger who throws the ball with people hitting him and in his face all the time. That’s what I love about him. With a gunslinger, occasionally you wonder why he made that throw. He thinks he can make every throw, and he can. But I really trust him. He’s earned his teammates’ respect, and he can deliver the ball.”
Undercuffler said he is ready for his next challenge.
“Who’s been to Montana?” he asked. “Montana State is a great football team with a great defense. We have our work cut out for us. But if we don’t start out fast, they are so good that can bury us. They play in one of the best conferences, just like us. We’ve got to come out with all the guns blazing.”
Meanwhile, Green admitted he needed to shake off some jitters during last week’s game with CCSU, but he’s ready to jump into the lion’s den this week.
“Me personally, I missed a couple of passes in the first half, but this was my first playoff experience as a college athlete. It was all new to me,” Green said. “I just needed to take a deep breath and settle down, stay calm. Jeff believed in me. I came on to make the plays, and he made the throws.”
Green said the Great Danes are ready for what is expected to be a huge, hostile crowd.
“It’s a road game, and that’s always a challenge,” Green said. “Every home team has a 12th man, whether it be a hundred people or 200,000 people. I’m pretty sure this is everybody’s first time at Montana. If I didn’t make it now, I’d never stop in Montana.
“Everywhere we go, we’ve faced adversity. We were picked 12th in the preseason poll, and we proved everyone wrong. Everything we’ve done, we’ve earned. We’re calling this the revenge stretch.”
Gattuso planned to take the Great Danes to a dinosaur museum, and to a Genghis Khan (Mongol Empire leader from 1162-1227) exhibit to pass the time in Bozeman before the game.
“I figure its Tyrannosaurus and tyrants,” he said.
That might describe the extremely physical Bobcats, who grind out 270 yards rushing per game on offense and have 32 quarterback sacks on defense.
Logan Jones (796 yards, seven TDs) paces a group of six Bobcats with at least 225 yards rushing. They can use three different QBs in wildcat-type formations. Defensively, Bryce Sterk has 13 of the team’s 32 sacks.
The Bobcats, of the Big Sky conference, average 18,547 fans per game.
“They will grind it out and are super committed to their system on offense. Defensively, they will give us a lot of different looks. They will throw the house at Jeff,” Gattuso said. “I just hope they don’t throw beer on me.”