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Villanova at Albany football preview: Q&A with Aaron Cheris of the Albany Student Press

Will the Wildcats bounce back against the 2-4 Great Danes on the road?

Matt Gregory
Villanova is reeling after two consecutive home losses following the season-ending injury to John Robertson. Heading on the road this Saturday, they'll face the University at Albany for the for just the second time ever, making their first appearance at the NY Capital Region schools' home field. Last season's game was a 48-31 Wildcats' victory.

After a decent seven-win campaign last year, the Great Danes appear to have taken a step back this Fall. To find out what's been going on, 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) At 2-4, Albany has struggled at the outset of this season. What are the Great Danes lacking since entering the CAA a few years ago?
This team doesn't really have an identity this year. It is in an odd spot right now after all of the injuries and suspension to Gontarek. Nearly every major Albany skill player from last season is gone. Starting QB Will Fiacchi graduated, as did second team all-CAA RB Omar Osbourne. TE Brian Parker is now on the Kansas City Chiefs 53 man roster. Top WR Cole King graduated.

But this team is at an difficult point in the year. Bob Ford's last recruits are juniors and seniors while Gattuso's first recruits are starting to take over at the major positions as sophomores and transfers. Nearly every starter is a freshman or sophomore on both sides of the ball. There aren't that many seniors and leaders on the field for this team. The fact is Albany just doesn't have the talent or experience like many of the top CAA teams. Last week, Coach Gattuso said it himself at his press conference after the loss to Maine. He said, "We're not a very good football team right now."
(2) You may remember a little kerfluffle from last season's game at Villanova Stadium; do you expect emotions to still be hot after that series to end the game, or have things cooled down in New York since?
I think tensions have simmered and the incident will be forgotten. Most of the players that played for Albany in that game graduated or won't play this week. However, I'm sure Coach Gattuso remembers that and wants to win this game even more and may use this as a talking point to motivate his new players.
(3) Based on the stats, the Great Danes seem like more of a passing team than a running team this season. Is that accurate? Who are their offensive playmakers?
I think this team seems like a passing team this season, but I think that is partly because they have been losing by a lot in the game that they have lost that they needed to air it out to get back in the game. Additionally, the running game just hasn't been that good either. Albany has two freshmen at running back, so there has been a learning curve for them to get over, and they have struggled against top CAA teams. Elliot Croskey is the #1 back and has big play potential, but only has shown glimpses of it. At receiver, Zee Roberson is the top guy. I'm pretty sure he leads the CAA in catches with 34, but he is just a freshman also. Tight End Anthony Manzo-Lewis is sophomore and the number one guy at that position now. QB DJ Crook transferred from Penn State, but he has looked outmatched behind a struggling offensive line. Albany has been outscored 76-7 their last two games, so pretty much everyone needs to get going. Also, they have only kicked one field goal all season.
(4) Defensively, Albany has two of the CAA's top-10 players for interceptions, how important are those guys against Villanova's freshman QB?
Rayshan Clark is the leader of the Albany secondary and has thee interceptions while Jamal Merritt has a pair. These guys in particular will need to be huge against Villanova's young QB. However, Albany forced six turnovers at JMU and still allowed 42 points. That has been the story of the team this year; one step forward and two back. The defense isn't good at all, especially without Nicastro and Sakowski. The defense has allowed almost 900 more yards than their opponents have. They are giving up over 30 points a game and the d-line isn't doing much to stop the run.
(5) Villanova's unexpected rebuilding season has had a rough impact on some fans; how has the Albany fanbase reacted to the last few years post-Ford?
It’s been a tough few years post Bob Ford. He was the only coach this program knew until coach Gattuso arrived. I think the 7-5 record Albany got last year was a little bit of overachieving. This year was branded as ‘A New Era’ by the marketing department. I do believe A New Era is starting, but I don’t think it’s starting off the way anyone wanted it to. Albany will be an underdog in every game the rest of the year and it will probably be a few years before the team is fighting for a CAA title. Obviously the fans want to see wins, but this team is very reminiscent of the team that only won one game a couple seasons ago in Ford’s last year as coach. I think after seeing the team get crushed at homecoming last week, fans don’t think it could get much worse, and I agree.

Ultimately, this is a winnable game for Villanova even with a young QB.