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Picked to finish 11th and 12th in the Colonial Athletic Association preseason poll, William & Mary and UAlbany have both shown sustained flashes of excellence through the non-conference portion of their schedules.
Who: William & Mary (2-2, 0-0) at UAlbany (2-2, 0-0)
When: Saturday, Sept. 28, 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Bob Ford Field; Albany, New York
Watch: LIVE on FloFootball
The two meet Saturday at Bob Ford Field, and the winner will leave with a record above .500 to close September, and a 1-0 start to CAA play.
“We understand how this thing switches when you get into conference. It’s a different world,” said UAlbany coach Greg Gattuso. “It’s a huge football game for us.”
The Great Danes rebounded from an overtime heartbreaker at Monmouth in Week 3 to rout Lafayette, 36-7. The Patriot League’s Leopards provide a common opponent between UAlbany and William & Mary; the Tribe rolled against them in coach Mike London’s debut Week 1.
William & Mary finished its out-of-conference docket last week in a defensive struggle against its second FBS opponent of the season, East Carolina. With former James Madison coach Mike Houston in his first season captaining the Pirates, Saturday’s game pit the last two head coaches to win national championships from the CAA head-to-head.
“Proud of the players coming out of this four-game stretch here with two FBS opponents, a preseason FCS Top 25 school (Colgate),” London said. “Proud of where we are [but] obviously gotta get better going into conference play. Every team, in my experience in this conference, is a very good team and a playoff-caliber type of team.”
Go-Go vs. Throw-Throw
One of the top priorities facing London and his staff upon their arrival was reinvigorating the offense. William & Mary scored the fewest points in the CAA last season by a considerable margin.
First-year offensive coordinator Brennan Marion implemented the GoGo scheme, which immediately turned around Howard previously.
To deem the GoGo an offshoot of any one system wouldn’t be accurate: Rather, this hurry-up approach is a hybrid of multiple looks, sometimes lining up multiple wide receivers with two running backs alongside the quarterback; other times going in a Pistol look.
The variety of the offense, which includes zone-read and option principles, keeps defenses on their heels. At William & Mary, the GoGo’s started to unlock potential in the run game. Quarterback Hollis Mathis and running backs Owen Wright and Albert Funderburke have all broken off long runs this season while sharing carries.
At Howard, the offense thrived with a multifaceted passing attack – that part’s still in development with freshman quarterback Mathis at William & Mary.
The bulk of the passing yardage on Saturday is likely to come from the other side, with UAlbany coming in posting 229.3 yards per game.
UAlbany’s passing attack is possible thanks to a deep and talented rotation of wide receivers. Juwan Green ranks ninth in the nation with 408 receiving yards, and his six touchdowns are tied with Houston Baptist’s Ben Ratzlaff for second-most.
The receiving corps feeds off quarterback Jeff Undercuffler, who Gattuso said is “progression” well in his first full season as starter.
“He has a good complement of people around him. He needs to trust them and understand he doesn’t have to do everything himself, and I think he is,” Gattuso said.
UAlbany’s shown it can attack as effectively on the ground as through the air. The Great Danes have a capable one-two combination in Karl Mofor and Alex James; the latter won Week 2 CAA Offensive Player of the Week after decimating Bryant with 229 yards.
Mofor’s been the primary ball-carrier the rest of the way. He also adds an element to the passing game, making him the clear every-down back for UAlbany.
“He’s multi-dimensional,” Gattuso said of Mofor. “He’s an exceptional blocker and a great pass receiver.”
It’s all-hands-on-deck for the Great Danes pass-catchers against one of the CAA’s premier pass defenses. The Tribe have picked off six passes in four games, including Arman Jones’ pick-six, and one from All-CAA defensive back Isaiah Laster.
Capitalizing In the Red Zone
A theme from last season’s 25-22 William & Mary win that looms this year is UAlbany’s red-zone efficiency. The Tribe’s outstanding defense forced the Great Danes into three field goals in the red zone a year ago. Turn even one of those into a touchdown and extra point, and it’s a UAlbany win.
A byproduct of – or perhaps a reason for – UAlbany’s offensive improvement thus far in 2019 lies in its red-zone efficiency. The Great Danes are 10-for-10 when crossing the 20, with eight of those going for touchdowns.
Conversely, William & Mary’s been solid defending the red zone. Opponents have converted 14-of-17 opportunities, but nearly half of those scores (6) were field goals. The ability of the Tribe’s linebackers to drop back effectively into pass coverage while Bill Murray and Co. up front clog rushing lanes compacts the already-short field for opposing offenses.
Get To the Quarterback
“Getting to the quarterback” is a ubiquitous football phrase that carries different meanings. Doing so is equally important for both the UAlbany and William & Mary defenses on Saturday, but for different reasons.
William & Mary’s ball-hawking begins with intense pressure off the line. Murray and Carl Fowler lead a team-wide effort to produce almost three sacks per game. The Tribe’s 11 in total rank 20th in the nation.
Getting to Undercuffler is crucial to limiting the explosive pass plays that have been an early hallmark for the Great Danes.
On the flip side, UAlbany’s defense getting to the quarterback is about limiting explosive gains, but more so at the first level than in the pocket. Mathis’ 52.8 rushing yards per game rank second for the Tribe, just behind Wright’s 56. His contributions in the run game are especially important for igniting William & Mary’s approach.
UAlbany’s been effective enough against the run, holding opponents to 4.1 yards per carry, but Mathis is the first truly dynamic dual-threat quarterback the Great Danes defense faces this season.