5 Things We Learned From UAlbany’s Loss to Pitt
This past weekend the Great Danes opened up their 2018 campaign with a 33-7 loss to the University of Pittsburgh. It wasn’t the homecoming that head coach Greg Gattuso was hoping for, but his team did however look good in certain spots throughout the game. For one they held the Panthers scoreless in the second half. And their freshman receiver Dev Holmes, from Troy, had a coming out party with nine receptions for 148 yards.
I took the almost seven hour ride out to the game and was on the sidelines for most of the action. Here are five things that I came away with at the conclusion of the contest.
- Vincent Testaverde earned his starting job
There was a bit of a quarterback controversy during the preseason and the Great Danes started camp without a clear front runner in the race. Last year’s starter Will Brunson couldn’t secure the job after a lack luster performance at the position last season. The redshirt junior from Myrtle Beach, S.C. threw more interceptions than touchdowns in 2017 while completing less than 60-percent of his passes.
With a little over a week until their first game of the season Greg Gattuso named Vincent Testaverde his starter. In Saturday’s game Testaverde had a couple of nice drives including a 6-play 75-yard drive capped off by a 9-yard touchdown pass to Dev Holmes. Testaverde looked like he belonged in some drives and looked lost in others, but as the game wore on he seemed to be more in a comfort zone. He did however throw a couple of interceptions including one in the red zone on UAlbany’s opening drive that Pitt converted into a touchdown. He is UAlbany's solidified starter and as the season goes on look for his numbers to improve.
“I thought Vincent played a good football game,” said Gattuso after the loss.
“It hurts when you throw a pick on the opening drive in the redzone and you just look to bounce back from it,” said Testaverde. “Unfortunatey we just couldn’t bounce back from it.”
- Dev Holmes will have a big part in the offense
Troy Native Dev Holmes had one of the best debuts in recent years and he did it against a power five program. The undersized 5’8” 153 lb. speedy back recorded nine receptions for 148 yards and had UAlbany’s only touchdown in the game. Holmes fit in right away in an offense that has been missing an explosive weapon for quite some time. He has the speed and the ability to take the top off of any defense and has the hands to make great catches. Testaverde found him all over the field Saturday and I expect this duo to be on the same page all season.
“I thought he [Holmes] was really good,” said Gattuso. “We knew coming in that he had a lot of ability and he was dynamic.”
“Playing in Pittsburgh’s stadium for my first college game was a good experience to get under my belt,” said Holmes. “We can improve for next week and hopefully get the W.”
- The Danes will have a better season than expected
UAlbany was predicted to finish 10-of-12 in the CAA preseason poll. Granted this poll was before the Danes named a starting quarterback. They have the hardest schedule in program history. Not only did the Danes open up with a power five opponent, their next three opponents on the schedule are all ranked in the College Football Subdivision top 25. They have an uphill battle to make the playoffs, something this Gattuso coaching staff has yet to accomplish since coming to town five years ago, but seeing how they played in that second half against Pitt I wouldn’t be surprised if they made some noise in the FCS.
“I thought we settled in and played a lot better,” said Gattuso. “I thought our kids made a couple plays and forced a couple turnovers. We moved the ball and had some people open.”
- The offensive line has a lot of work to do
The offensive line has been a traditional strong point on most Gattuso teams. The ground and pound mentality is anchored on winning the battle up front and getting those tough yards up the middle. This has not been the case in quite some time. Last year the unit had a handful of new starters and took a giant step back from the 2016 season when Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks rushed for over 1,400 yards and had an astounding 16 touchdowns. Ibitokun-Hanks returned to the field on Saturday, but was limited to 59 yards on the ground and got hit in the backfield quite a bit. UAlbany’s O-line also gave up four sacks in the game, but seemed to grow as a stronger unit as the game progressed.
“Obviously they’re going to overwhelm us a little bit in the pass rush. We knew that and that’s life,” said Gattuso. “All in all the first thing for me is effort and heart and we played that way.”
- Nick Castro leaves a major void in the defense
With their leading tackler from 2017 gone the Danes had a tough time wrapping up Pitt ball carriers. The Great Dane defense gave up 14 rushing first downs while the Panther running backs averaged over six yards per carry. Former quarterback Neven Sussman spent the offseason getting familiar with his new role as a starting linebacker. In the game versus Pitt it seemed like he was lost at times and slow getting to the ball. The senior from Sandy Spring, M.D. went from quarterback to punter and now a linebacker and has showed that he has the grit and the will to play anywhere his team needs him. He’s got potential, but he needs to get caught up to speed a little quicker for this defense to get to where it needs to be.
The fact that the Danes played a power five school an held their own in the second half seems promising. As the game wore on it slowed down for UAlbany and they looked like a team that could at least hang.
Up next the Danes travel out to Rhode Island Saturday to play a Ram team that edged No. 15 Delaware 21-19 last week. This will be a decent gage to see how the rest of the season will shape up.