Defense Dominates in Spring Football Game
In annual spring game with odd scoring system, experienced defense beats confused offense 58-9.
It’s a good thing football season isn’t here yet. Because if it were, the University at Albany squad wouldn’t be ready to compete.
In the annual spring game on Saturday at Casey Stadium, the defense pummeled the offense, winning 58-9 in a battle of a veteran-laden defense and a young and inexperienced offense.
“I’m very disappointed in the offense. It was embarrassing,” head coach Greg Gattuso said. “Our defense is good, but I don’t think they’re that good.
In a scoring system that rewarded big plays (two points for runs of 15+ yards and two points for passes of 20+ yards), the UAlbany first and second team offenses struggled to move the ball. Redshirt sophomore Will Brunson led the first team, completing 11 of 17 passes for 113 yards. Jake Thompson and Neven Sussman split reps on the second team, going a combined 8-for-18 for 62 yards. Brunson and Thompson each threw two interceptions.
The offense failed to score a touchdown in the abbreviated game, which ended early after Gattuso had seen enough following a pick-six at the start of the fourth quarter. The only offensive score came at the end of the third quarter when kicker Ethan Stark nailed a 32-yard field goal.
The young offensive line failed to get any push against the strong defensive line, which gave the quarterbacks little time to scan the field. The quarterbacks mostly threw check downs and short routes, which limited the team’s ability to score points. The only highlight play came in the fourth quarter from senior wide receiver Jerod Diggs, a JUCO transfer (Lackawanna College in Scranton, PA) who will only play one season at UAlbany. Brunson completed a 39-yard pass to Diggs, who boxed out the defensive back and made a juggling catch falling to the ground.
Despite the offensive missteps, tight end Brian Dolce is confident his offense will be all right.
“They’re very talented. They’re young and they’ve just got to learn the system,” Dolce said. “We hope to help them throughout camp.”
The offense usually doesn’t fare well in the spring game, because it doesn’t try to out-execute the defense. The spring game simply serves as an opportunity to put on pads in a game-like situation in front of fans.
Based on the results, the fans likely think the offense is in trouble and the defense will be one of the best in the conference, which is certainly a possibility given the amount of experience on that end. Veteran playmakers Julian Cox, Malachi Hoskins, Mason Gray, and Jamal Robinson will return in the fall, along with Penn State transfer Antoine White, who finished with three sacks and a tackle on the afternoon.
Gattuso isn’t concerned with the results of the game. He doesn’t put much stock in scrimmages nor did he want to keep score; it’s something the players wanted. Instead, he is concerned the offense didn’t show any resolve.
“My concern was that we didn’t fight through some things more than anything. Our heads went down quickly,” Gattuso said. “We need more guys to step up and be leaders.”
And on the field, leadership starts at quarterback. It’s been an unstable position for the Great Danes since Will Fiacchi last played in 2014. Brunson came out with the first team, but it certainly doesn’t mean it will be his job come September 2 when UAlbany travels to Old Dominion for the opening game.
Junior Neven Sussman, who opened the 2016 season under center for UAlbany, took third string snaps on Saturday. And then early in the first quarter, Sussman trotted out on special teams.
The former starting quarterback is the team’s starting punter, at least for now.
It was an interesting development in a game that lacked excitement. But the coaches never intended it to be exciting; they just wanted to come out and get a feel for a game-like atmosphere again and walk away without any injuries.
So in that regard, the UAlbany spring game can be considered a success.