Richmond seeks road reversal at unbeaten Albany
(STATS) - Even veteran teams and coaches can learn from their mistakes.
Richmond wasn't exactly in a New York state of mind - or the right state of mind - during the first road trip of its CAA Football schedule. A late arrival and early start time had the then-No. 2 Spiders out of whack throughout their Sept. 17 visit to Stony Brook, and the disorder was evident in a lethargic and mistake-filled performance that ended in a stunning 42-14 defeat.
Having since regained their bearings with a pair of hard-earned wins over quality opponents, the sixth-ranked Spiders have a chance to leave the Empire State with a far more positive memory in Saturday's conference clash with No. 16 Albany (3:30 p.m. ET). Coach Danny Rocco insists his team will be better prepared for this Northeast sojourn, which carries considerably more weight than one might have initially expected following the events of the season's opening five weeks.
"At Stony Brook, other than the fact that we got our butts kicked, we were on a tight window when we got there," he said. "It was a noon kick, we didn't get there as early as we were supposed to get there. I will make sure I get my team into the locker room well in advance of the 2 1/2 hours prior to the kick."
If that humbling outcome didn't get the 2015 FCS national semifinalist's attention, the Great Danes' impressive start surely has. Behind a resurgent rushing attack and a remarkably resourceful defense, upstart Albany (4-0, 1-0 CAA) stands as the league's lone unbeaten team and owns the highest national ranking in program history.
Coach Greg Gattuso attributes his young squad's turnaround to its own lessons learned from last year's visit to Richmond (4-1, 1-1). Down 38-10 early in the third quarter, the Great Danes scored 21 unanswered to put a considerable scare in the eventual CAA co-champions on Halloween.
"I thought we struggled with being resilient last year and got ourselves down when things when bad," he said. "I saw a change last year, actually against Richmond when they got up big on us in the second half early. Instead of quit playing we started to fight back, and we started making progress from that point."
That fortitude has shown up this season in the form of fourth-quarter comebacks against FBS member Buffalo and Saint Francis, in which the Great Danes - picked 11th of 12 teams in the conference's preseason poll - outscored the Red Flash 20-0 after halftime in the preceding game to last week's bye. Albany has outscored its opponents 53-14 in the fourth quarter thus far.
Richmond displayed some grit of its own in last weekend's matchup with Towson. Down by seven early in the third quarter, the Spiders rallied for 10 straight points to pull out a 31-28 victory and avoid a potentially disastrous 0-2 start in CAA play.
"I think what is critical with this team is that when we need each other, we're there to pick each other up," quarterback Kyle Lauletta said. "When the offense has struggled to get in rhythm, the defense has picked us up. When the defense has needed us, we've been able to put a few drives together."
The win was Richmond's school-record 10th straight at Robins Stadium, but it has lost its last three conference road games dating back to last November. Lauletta, the CAA preseason player of the year and league leader in passing yards (1,504) and touchdown passes (13), has thrown eight interceptions in those defeats.
The junior will have to choose his spots carefully against Albany's highly opportunistic defense. The Great Danes lead the FCS with a plus-13 turnover margin and 2.25 interceptions per game.
Albany hopes to use another strength to its advantage as it vies for its first league win over a Top 25 opponent. The Great Danes, 0-6 against ranked CAA members since joining in 2014, possess the conference's leading rusher in Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, who piled up a career-high 202 yards in last season's meeting with the Spiders.
Richmond has struggled to defend the run in recent weeks, having surrendered 640 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground over its last three games.
Gattuso also seeks a boost from an anticipated large Homecoming crowd in a game billed as Albany's biggest since entering the CAA.
"The reason this is a big game is because we've played well," he said. "(The Spiders) are very good, they've jumped out big on us the last two years and I think they kind of pulled off the gas a little bit. But hopefully this is a game where we're going to show up and play a full four quarters and we're going to give it our best shot.
"It's obviously a huge challenge, but we're excited about it."