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As the 2019 college football season hits its mid-October stride, UAlbany — fresh off an upset of then-No. 9 Towson — is set to host Rhode Island.
Who: Rhode Island (1-5, 0-3) at UAlbany (4-3, 2-1)
When: Saturday, Oct. 19, 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Bob Ford Field; Albany, New York
Watch: LIVE on FloFootball.com
The surprise of the Colonial Athletic Association season through seven weeks is UAlbany. The Great Danes have already exceeded their 2018 conference win total, and after beating Towson on the road in Week 7, they have a realistic path to the FCS Playoffs.
They return to Bob Ford Field in Week 8, the climax of homecoming at UAlbany. The prospect of pulling to 5-3 with a 3-1 CAA mark gives the festivities an extra buzz.
“It’s definitely a big week coming off of Towson,” said UAlbany quarterback Jeff Undercuffler.
Contending for its first berth in the postseason requires UAlbany finishing strong against a tough conference slate to come. Up first is a Rhode Island team that, a season ago, was in a similar position to the Great Danes in 2019.
Rhode Island shocked the Colonial last year with its outstanding start, breaking into the Top 25 and appearing bound for the playoffs. Injuries and the rigorous CAA docket doomed Rhode Island to a disappointing finish out of the postseason picture.
The Rams come into Saturday’s matchup looking to play the role of spoiler. While the first half of this season has been much different than last, Rhode Island is a threat to beat any team in the CAA — as it proved in nail-biting finishes against Stony Brook, New Hampshire, and Delaware.
“They’re in the CAA, and we all know the CAA is hands-down the best conference in the nation. Every week in this conference, home or away, it’s going to be a four-quarter battle,” Undercuffler said.
Airing It Out
Lovers of high-powered, aerial offenses will want to check out the Rams and Great Danes. Quarterbacks Vito Priore and Jeff Undercuffler come into Saturday’s matchup ranked No. 1 in passing yards per game (333.8) and passing touchdowns (20), respectively.
Of course, no passing attack shines without great receivers. Rhode Island and UAlbany boast two of the most impressive in the nation. Rhody’s Aaron Parker came into 2019 with a bevy of preseason accolades and generating buzz as an NFL draft gem.
That certainly hasn’t cooled with Parker putting up a CAA-best 746 receiving yards, but he isn’t alone in the spotlight, either. Isaiah Coulter has come on particularly strong in recent weeks and is second to Parker atop the Colonial.
The Parker-Coulter duo abused Virginia Tech last week to the tune of 64 and 152 yards, one week after pacing the Rams to a Governor’s Cup defeat of rival Brown with 94 and 171 yards.
UAlbany’s stable of pass-catchers includes CAA touchdown-reception leader Juwan Green and breakout playmaker Jerah Reeves. Green ranks second in the conference with 100.3 yards per game, while Reeves is seventh at 80.7
Mencer The Menace
Rhode Island’s offensive line has been as much a part of the Rams’ potent passing numbers as Priore and the receiving corps. This week, the front five faces one of the stiffest challenges in the CAA from UAlbany’s pass-rush menace, Eli Mencer.
Mencer leads the CAA in total number of sacks (7.5) and tackles for loss (13). The outstanding rush end should meet resistance from tackle Kyle Murphy, an NFL draft prospect and the cornerstone of the Rams' line.
Because Rhode Island drops back so frequently — the Rams have attempted 118 more passes than rushes this season — defenses have more sack opportunities. Rhody averages 2.5 per game, so Mencer will get his chances.
The key for the Rams is mitigating the damage. Forced throws into coverage or fumbles can be game-changing, but Rhode Island has managed to control the ball effectively so far into the season. The Rams rank 18th nationally with a plus-six turnover margin.
Take It Away
Undercuffler said one of the key points of emphasis for UAlbany this season is winning each week’s turnover battle. On the year, the Great Danes are plus-three in turnover margin and last week ran back a fumble at Towson for a touchdown.
In CAA play, the turnover battle has correlated directly to UAlbany’s outlook. The Great Danes were minus-two at Richmond on Oct. 5, their only loss thus far in conference play.
Rhode Island’s willingness to throw in bunches has not led to interceptions. Priore has been picked off just three times, throwing with incredible accuracy in addition to racking up tons of yards. Josh Wynn has been UAlbany’s primary playmaker on the back-line with three interceptions, but forcing fumbles has been the Great Danes defensive calling card. They’ve knocked the ball loose 11 times.
For Rhode Island, defensive back Mamadou Mbye has four interceptions to tie Elon’s Greg Liggs Jr. for the CAA lead.