THE MATCHUP: PITT (0-0) VS ALBANY (0-0)
WHEN: 3:30 P.M. EST
WHERE: HEINZ FIELD, PITTSBURGH, PA
HOW TO WATCH: ACC NETWORK EXTRA
HOW TO LISTEN: 93.7 THE FAN & THE PITT IMG SPORTS NETWORK
The University of Pittsburgh’s grueling 2018 schedule, widely considered to be one of the toughest schedules in all of college football, begins Saturday with their least daunting opponent of the season, the Albany Great Danes. Although FCS teams typically serve as a “warm-up” game for FBS programs, Pitt fans know better than to overlook such an opponent (see Pitt versus Youngstown State, 2012).
The Great Danes are coming off of an underwhelming 4-7 campaign in 2017. Their record could have easily looked much different, though, as four of their losses were decided by seven points or fewer. After beginning the season 3-1, they endured a 6-game slide before shutting out New Hampshire in the finale, 15-0. They will now look to carry the momentum from their last game into the 2018 season.
Albany’s coaching staff holds many ties to the Pitt football program. Leading the Great Danes is 5th-year head coach Greg Gattuso, who served as Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Line Coach on Pitt’s staff from 2005-2010. Former Pitt tight end Nate Byham serves as their tight ends coach and run game coordinator, while former Panther offensive lineman Jim Sweeney serves as Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Line Coach. Jarred Holley, a former safety at Pitt, is also in his first year coaching the team’s safeties.
Overview: Albany’s offense struggled in 2017, averaging just 17.4 points-per-game and 273.5 yards-per-game. Newly hired offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Joe Davis, the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Fordham the past two seasons, was brought in to improve upon those numbers. With a new starting quarterback, a few returning weapons, and a more experienced offensive line, the Great Danes at least appear ready for offensive improvement on paper.
Vincent Testaverde (Quarterback, SR): Testaverde, son of former Heisman trophy winner and NFL quarterback Vinny Testaverde, transferred to Albany in 2017 from the University of Miami. After sitting out last season under NCAA transfer rules, he dethroned the Great Danes’ incumbent starter, Will Brunson, in fall camp. Testaverde’s lone collegiate action came when he was a true freshman at Texas Tech, when he completed 15-of-26 passes for 116 yards and 1 interception in one appearance. Despite the limited collegiate game tape available on Testaverde, Pat Narduzzi was able to offer his assessment of the quarterback at this week’s press conference.
“I think play 32 he got in the game there, and looks composed,” said Narduzzi. “I’d say as a true freshman, I believe, or a redshirt freshman [in] ’14, looks composed throwing the football, really accurate quarterback … So a good player. Not as tall as his dad. Very mobile…maybe not like his dad. And a good quarterback. So we’ll find out Saturday.”
Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks (Running Back, RS-JR): The Great Danes will feature two experienced ball carriers on Saturday, the first of which is Ibitokun-Hanks. Since he missed all but one game in 2017 with a torn ACL, one must turn back two years in order to assess Ibitokun-Hanks’ on-field potential. In 2016, he earned STATS FCS Third Team All-American honors after rushing for 1,401 yards (4th in FCS) and 16 touchdowns on 247 carries.
Karl Mofor (Running Back, SOPH): The stocky, 5-foot-8-inch, 225-pounder led the team in carries (153), rushing yards (555) and rushing touchdowns (6) as a true freshman a year ago in Ibitokun-Hanks’ absence. Even with Ibitokun-Hanks’ return, Mofor will still factor in to the Great Danes’ gameplan.
Donovan McDonald (Wide Receiver, JR): McDonald, at 5-feet-10-inches and 176 pounds, was the team’s second leading receiver in 2017 with 339 yards and 3 touchdowns on 29 receptions. A former sprinter at the University of Nebraska, McDonald was also recently named to the CAA Preseason All-Conference team as a punt returner.
Overview: Defensively, Albany fared much better in 2017 than their offensive counterparts; their 282.5 yards allowed-per-game ranked 9th in the FCS, and they allowed a respectable 17.7 points-per-game. Defensive Coordinator Bernard Clark left the program following the team’s defensive success in 2017, accepting the head coaching position at Robert Morris University. The Great Danes will now look to a pair of co-defensive coordinators to replicate the defense’s success: Joe Bernard, Albany’s offensive coordinator last year, and Keith Dudzinski, the team’s linebackers coach in 2017.
Josh Wynn (Free Safety, SR): With 74 total tackles in 2017, Wynn is Albany’s top returning tackler. Standing at 6-feet-1-inches tall and 196 pounds, he must shoulder an even heavier load in the defensive backfield after senior strong safety and returning starter, Mason Gray, was lost for the season.
Eli Mencer (Outside Linebacker, RS-JR): Mencer, a native of Altoona, PA, is Albany’s most productive returning linebacker with 60 total tackles, 8.0 tackles-for loss and 1 sack in 2017. The 2017 Third-Team All-CAA honoree also contributed to the team’s turnover margin by registering 5 forced fumbles and 3 fumble recoveries.
Brian Dolce (Defensive End, RS-SR): At 6-feet-5-inches tall and 283 pounds, Dolce will be easy to spot on the defensive line. His 3.5 sacks in 2017 ranked second on the team. He also registered 38 total tackles, 8.0 tackles-for-loss and 2 forced fumbles.
THE STATS (2017)
|Points Per Game||23.9||26.6||17.4||17.7|
|Yards Gained Rushing||2143||1959||1297||1529|
|Yards Lost Rushing||361||250||341||352|
|Average Yards Per Rush||3.9||4.2||2.5||3.0|
|Average Yards Per Game||148.5||142.4||86.9||107.0|
|Average Yards Per Game||217.7||254.2||186.5||175.1|
|Average Yards Per Play||5.3||6.0||4.3||4.4|
|Average Yards Per Game||366.2||396.6||273.5||282.1|
|KICK RETURNS – RETURN YARDS||30-562||28-706||31-636||24-460|
|PUNT RETURNS – RETURN YARDS||23-329||20-251||22-225||18-151|
|INTERCEPTION – RETURN YARDS||9-84||8-73||3-0||11-152|
|KICK RETURN AVERAGE||18.7||25.2||20.5||19.2|
|PUNT RETURN AVERAGE||14.3||12.6||10.2||8.4|
|INTERCEPTION RETURN AVERAGE||9.3||9.1||0.0||13.8|
|FUMBLES – FUMBLES LOST||13-8||10-7||13-8||26-16|
|PENALTIES – YARDS||46-458||57-461||75-644||63-589|
|Average Per Game||38.2||38.4||58.5||53.5|
|PUNTS – YARDS||60-2644||61-2515||60-2162||59-2229|
|Net Yards Per Punt||38.2||35.5||32.5||33.3|
|TIME OF POSSESSION PER GAME||32:28||27:32||31:34||28:26|
|4th Down Percentage||65%||47%||41%||29%|
|SACKS BY – YARDS||23-145||31-221||24-179||39-212|
HOW/WHERE TO WATCH
The first ever meeting between Pitt and Albany kicks off at 3:30pm on Saturday at Heinz Field. The game may be watched on ACC Network Extra, and can be heard on 93.7 the Fan. Pittsburgh Sports Now and its staff will provide in-game updates and observations via Twitter.