From Week 1 to Week 13, the 2019 Colonial Athletic Association season has provided more drama than the entirety of Netflix catalog. Two programs that best exemplify the wild campaign meet Saturday in the Empire Clash.
Who: UAlbany (7-4, 5-2 CAA) at Stony Brook (5-6, 2-5 CAA)
When: Saturday, Nov. 23, 2 p.m. ET
Where: LaValle Stadium; Stony Brook, New York
Watch: LIVE on FloFootball
UAlbany’s 2019 season is a classic underdog story: A team picked to finish in the cellar exceeds all expectations en route to what could ostensibly be a one-game play-in for the Playoffs.
When it comes to hearing his team’s name called on Selection Sunday, Great Danes coach Greg Gattuso joked about his track record “with committees” – a clear allusion to 2016. UAlbany finished that season 7-4 and were left out of the postseason.
A win over rival Stony Brook on Saturday, however, gives UAlbany its eighth win of 2019. It also ensures the Great Danes finish alone in second place of a conference that has arguably been the toughest from top-to-bottom among the entire FCS.
But few know better than the Great Danes what a contest like this brings out in the spoiler. UAlbany’s lone CAA win of 2018 came on a last-second field goal against a Stony Brook squad bound for the Playoffs.
This season, the Seawolves welcome the Great Danes to LaValle Stadium on a three-game losing skid that effectively ended Stony Brook’s hopes for an unprecedented third consecutive playoff appearance.
Still, this is a Stony Brook team that won on two of the most improbable comebacks of the season, one of which came against playoff-bound Villanova. The Seawolves also took CAA champion James Madison to overtime.
“Our respect for Stony Brook could not be higher, because we know the type of program they are,” Gattuso said.
UAlbany’s defense has thrived all season with its turnover creation. Defensive end Eli Mencer, more-than-worthy of consideration for the Buck Buchanan Award, has generated five takeaways to go with his 20 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks.
Mencer’s pass-rush keys the effort, but Levi Metheny, A.J. Mistler and Josh Wynn have all also forced multiple turnovers on the year. Wynn also collected his fourth interception in a critical, Week 12 win over New Hampshire.
Stony Brook is coming off a loss to Delaware in which quarterback Tyquell Fields was intercepted twice. The dynamic, dual-threat Fields has thrown five total picks in the last two games. That’s a trend the UAlbany defense is equipped to continue.
Establish The Run
The Stony Brook offense has long built from its multifaceted approach on the ground, and despite injuries piling up this season, the 2019 Seawolves rank second in the Colonial via the rush.
Against Delaware, Stony Brook racked up a shade below 300 yards thanks to Isaiah White (188) and Jadon Turner (101). Both averaged more than seven yards per carry, with the freshman Turner going off for almost eight an opportunity.
While UAlbany’s overall rushing yield appears high on first glance at 147.9 yards per game, the Great Danes have held opponents to just 3.9 per carry. Those numbers are almost identical to Stony Brook’s against the run.
UAlbany counters the typically stout Seawolves defense with Karl Mofor, a workhorse whose production has quietly been the driving force of a prolific offense.
Freshman quarterback Jeff Undercuffler ranks second in the nation with 32 passing touchdowns, but Mofor’s two scores last week set the stage for Undercuffler to have the chance to throw his game-winner.
Having Mofor gobble up yardage and keep defenses honest has been critical to freeing up Juwan Green and Jerah Reeves, the electric wide-receiving combo this week facing a talented Stony Brook secondary.
Making Green In The Red Zone
The similar statistical identities of the two defenses carries over into the red zone, where both UAlbany and Stony Brook have kept their opponents’ touchdown numbers reasonable. The Great Danes have giving up 19 touchdowns inside the 20, while Stony Brook has allowed 18.
Offensively, however, Stony Brook comes in with just 24 touchdowns in the red zone on the season. Last week, the Seawolves made two trips inside the 20 that netted a total of three points. They crossed the Delaware 35 on three occasions that failed to generate any points.
UAlbany’s been excellent in the red zone, scoring on 35-of-40 trips. Twenty-eight of those have gone for touchdowns.