Great Danes no Match for ACC Foe
PITTSBURGH – It’s not about how you start. It’s about how you finish.
That’s at least what the University at Albany football team will be telling themselves after a 33-7 blowout loss to the University of Pittsburgh in their 2018 season opener at Heinz Field (the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers) Saturday afternoon.
The game could not have started any worse for the Great Danes (0-1) as the Panthers (1-0) returned the opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the season. Maurice Ffrench broke multiple tackles as Pittsburgh left their stamp on the game in the first 12 seconds of play.
Senior transfer Vincent Testaverde, son of 21-year NFL quarterback Vinny Testaverde, opened up his UAlbany career with a 37 yard pass to junior Jerah Reeves. Testaverde drove the Great Danes down into the Pittsburgh red zone before throwing an interception just in front of the end zone. Pittsburgh’s Damar Hamlin returned the pick 75 yards before being brought down inside the Great Danes’ 20-yard line. The interception set up a Kenny Pickett 5 yard touchdown run as the quarterback gave the Panthers a 13-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.
“My greatest fear was starting the game the way we did. It was out first bite as this level of football and it was very similar to our Buffalo game a couple of years ago,” head coach Greg Gattuso said after the game. “It’s really had to chance in these kind of games but I thought we settled in and played a lot better as the game progressed.”
After a three and out by the Great Danes, the Panthers drove down the field methodically before Maurice French struck again with a nine yard touchdown run to put Pittsburgh up 19-0 after a failed 2-point conversion with 4:42 remaining in the first quarter.
Testaverde and the Great Danes offense got it rolling on the next drive as he connected with freshman Dev Holmes and Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks on passes of 40 yards and 28 yards respectively. Testaverde then hit Holmes for a 9 yard touchdown pass to make it 19-7. The rest of the first half was all Panthers as Pickett found Rafael Araujo Lopes on a 3 yard strike and then a 42 yard strike and the Panthers were up 33-7 at the half.
At the half, Testaverde had 152 yards on 8-for-12 passing, and Troy native Dev Holmes had 72 yards on four catches and a touchdown.
“Offensively we came out hot and threw the ball down the field,” Testaverde said after his big opening half.
With the Great Danes driving to open the second half, Testaverde threw his second interception of the day, in the end zone. The Great Danes forced a fumble of on the ensuing Pittsburgh drive setting up good field possession, but the Pittsburgh defense held strong forcing a quick three and out.
Quarterback/punter turned linebacker Neven Sussman was a lone bright spot in the UAlbany defense with an interception at the end of the third quarter. But for most of the second half, Pittsburgh controlled the game, especially on the defensive end, limiting Testaverde to just 26 yards in the third quarter.
The teams traded punts throughout the fourth quarter as the Panthers had the game fully under control, winning by a convincing score of 33-7.
Up next, the Great Danes travel to Rhode Island to take on the Rams and open up Colonial Athletic Association play.
Vincent Testaverde threw for 263 yards on 18-for-29 passing. He finished with one touchdown and two interceptions on the day, in his first game in four years.
“It was definitely fun getting back out there,” Testaverde said after the game.
Dev Holmes was the story of the day as the freshmen exposed the Pittsburgh secondary for 148 yards on nine catches and a touchdown. The Capital Region native also finished with one rush for eight yards in his first ever collegiate game.
“It was a good experience for me to get under my belt and we have a lot of games left,” Holmes said after his breakout game. “Thankful for Vinny and the game he had and hopefully we can improve for next week and get the W.”
Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks had 53 rushing yards in his first game back after only playing one game all of last year. Ibitokun-Hanks was the CAA leading rusher in 2016 before being injured in the final game of 2016.
The game was also a homecoming for Gattuso, who is a Pittsburgh native, and a Pittsburgh assistant coach from 2005-2010 under David Wannstedt. UAlbany Offensive Line Coach Jim Sweeney, Safeties Coach Jarred Holley, and Run-game coordinator/Tight Ends Coach Nate Byham are all former Pittsburgh football players.