The 6-4 Albany Great Danes are ready for their first conference game against Villanova since joining the CAA in football a season ago. The team has moved on from legendary coach Bob Ford, who retired, and has it's eyes set on competing for league titles. With just two conference wins this season, they have a little way to go before they will be able to reach the top of the CAA, but they are having a few positive takeaways from this season to build on.
For one, they have the fourth-best scoring offense in the league in conference games, and that offense has worked primarily through the air. In this quarterback-driven league, that will always be a good statistic.
Albany hasn't been a regular opponent for Villanova over the years, so we reached out to Aaron Cheris(@aaronhowie), the Sports Editor for The Albany Student Press, and Sports Director of student radio station WCDB Albany, to fill us in.
(1) The transition from the NEC didn't look like it was going to be as smooth last year, but Albany the Great Danes are 6-4 this season and haven't really been steamrolled by any opponent. What has been the biggest challenge of adapting to the CAA?
To be honest, I’m not completely sure what the biggest challenge of adapting to the CAA was other than the fact that the schools in the CAA are just flat out better than those in other FCS conferences. Last season, UAlbany moved into a new stadium, Bob Ford Field, with legendary Bob Ford coaching his final season. At his retirement press conference in August 2013, he said he stayed because he knew they were going to lose some games and didn’t want a new coach to get off to a bad start, so Ford suffered through a winless home campaign at the stadium that bears his name.
(2) Albany is allowing the third-fewest points in the conference to its opponents this season, what does the defense do well? Who are the key players?
It’s interesting that those stats are happening because in week 2, UAlbany lost arguably it’s best defender, senior linebacker Kyle Jordan. He’s out for the season. The defense doesn’t pride itself on getting sacks, but they do stop the run as good as anybody. Without Jordan, linebackers Michael Nicastro and Christian Dorsey have picked up the slack and are both in the top 5 in CAA in tackles. Another thing the defense does is they get turnovers. UAlbany has the best turnover margin in the CAA. It’s mostly fumble recoveries, but 17 fumble recoveries in 10 games is a crazy amount. In the secondary, Rayshan Clark and Kyle Sakowski are the guys to watch out for, as they both can cover pretty much any receiver in the league.
(3) The Great Danes seem to be a better passing the ball than running it, and they don't turn the ball over a whole lot. How does Will Fiacchi compare to other top quarterbacks around the league?
Yes, they don’t turn the ball over often, which is one of the big reasons they are succeeding this year compared to last year. Fiacchi isn’t much of a scrambling QB, although two week ago he ran for two touchdowns to beat Colgate. He can run when he absolutely has to, but not much more than that. What he does very well is if he stands up in the pocket and has a couple seconds, he will find somebody. I don’t know much about Villanova’s QB, but comparing Fiacchi to Vad Lee of JMU is tough because JMU loves the QB run plays, where UAlbany tries to not do that so much. On top of all this is that Fiacchi is a senior playing most likely his final college road game, and I’m sure he would love nothing more than to silence a home crowd one last time. UAlbany doesn’t run the ball to well as a group, but I think Omar Osbourne is the best RB in the CAA. He has struggled the past two weeks, which have been losses. So if you shut him down and make the UAlbany offense one dimensional, you could win.
(4) Looking at the games where Villanova has struggled, a weakness against the passing game has been highlighted -- they are last in the league in Pass Defense and middling in Pass Efficiency Defense. Who are the targets for Fiacchi that can cause some trouble for the 'Cats secondary?
UAlbany has many targets. First, if feeding Omar Osbourne the ball doesn’t work, which it usually does, than Fiacchi has his pick of who to throw to. His most likely number one WR is senior Cole King. The two of them have been together for a while and are coming to the end of their careers. TE Brian Parker is probably 1a if King is 1. I’ve said it is like trying to tackle a coke machine. He’s 6’4’’ 260 lbs. He is good getting down field and doesn’t get taken down easily. The biggest surprise this season is freshman Josh Gontarek. He has been the leading stats guy for UAlbany this year and 4 time CAA Rookie of the week. He can do it all. He is acrobatic, can grab anything, and is going to be this team’s best player next season. He does have some drops like most freshman, but if you don’t cover him, he will torch you. And if all of those guys aren’t enough, WR Jake Meek and FB Nic Ketter have both been playing better as of late.
(5) What are the keys to victory that Albany will need to execute on to get a win on Saturday?
Keys for UAlbany to win. First and obviously, don’t turn the ball over. That’s a pretty simple one for any game. Secondly, UAlbany needs to get Omar Osbourne going. He has struggled late and UAlbany hasn’t won in their last two games. But once he gets going, Fiacchi makes the play action work so well because defenses want to stop Osbourne so badly. Lastly, the UAlbany special teams were atrocious last week. A missed FG and a snap over the punter’s head doomed UAlbany in the second half. They need to make sure they are perfect on special teams in order to win.
UAlbany will probably struggle defensively. They were good against the non-CAA teams but have really had trouble against Richmond, UNH, and JMU. I can’t really explain why. If I had to make a prediction, I’d say 34-20 Villanova.
(6) From a fan perspective, is there anything that Albany misses about the NEC days?
I wan’t here for most of the NEC days, so I’m not the right person to ask about this. But not having Bob Ford on the sideline is a change that everyone is still getting used to. He took the program from a club sport in the 70s to a DI team in the CAA in 2013. Greg Gattuso has done a great job at the helm, and I think the players feed off his fiery, energetic attitude. Also, I don’t think anyone misses the old stadium, that place was pretty bad.