Must-win games usually don't happen this early in the season. For Syracuse, Game 3 has that sort of feel to it.
Win, and the Orange (1-1) are back on track. A loss to in-state foe Albany (0-2) on Saturday in the Carrier Dome would be a blow to a team trying to restore a winning mentality after a 10-loss season. The Orange lost their home opener last week to Rutgers, 17-7, a victim of gaffes by special teams and a sputtering offense that doesn't yet have a touchdown pass.
“Obviously, we lost. You hate that feeling, but we can’t go into this week still thinking about the game we just lost," defensive end Josh Black said. "We have to flush it. Let’s get better, let’s see what we need to improve on, and then let’s take it to Albany. Little things, big things, finding ways to improve ourselves so this ultimately doesn’t happen again.”
The Great Danes play in the Football Championship Subdivision, Division I's second level, and face a tall task against their Football Bowl Subdivision foe in the first game between the teams. Syracuse has 17 straight wins in the Carrier Dome against FCS teams and coach Dino Babers has been at the helm for the past four. However, this season FCS teams already have eight wins over FBS programs, including Montana’s 13-7 victory over then-No. 20 Washington and Jacksonville State's stunning triumph over Florida State on the game's last play.
“I don't think in a million years I would have ever thought you would ever utter the words Jacksonville State beat Florida State,” Albany coach Greg Gattuso said. “It's an inconceivable thought that that could happen, but it can. There's a lot more parity. FCS teams are pretty good. We have talent. If we can play well, we can get yah."
Albany, a football-only member of the Colonial Athletic Association, started the season with a 28-6 loss to then-No. 4 North Dakota State on the road before dropping its home opener, 16-14, to Rhode Island in a conference matchup.
Babers said quarterbacks Tommy DeVito and Garrett Shrader will both play again and he's hopeful one will emerge as the starter. Syracuse's fast-paced offense isn't purring as it has in the past. The Orange are averaging just 145.5 yards passing and are one of only three Power 5 teams without a touchdown pass.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
The Great Danes are no strangers to the scenario they'll face Saturday. They played at Pitt in 2018 and started this season on an indoor stage like the Carrier Dome — in the Fargodome of North Dakota State.
“I think we handled the dome at North Dakota State really well. It was a nonfactor," Gattuso said. "Three years ago we walked into Pitt a little big-eyed being in Heinz Field and it hurt us in the beginning of the game. I think our team has really learned from these experiences. We’re not who we were five years ago.
"It's not a stage that's too big for us. We feel comfortable going in there and playing. I think they (the Orange) have all the pressure. They need to play well. We need to compete. There's a big difference."
Albany quarterback Jeff Undercuffler is 6-foot-5 and can sling it. He's 36 of 64 for 400 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Tailback Karl Mofor has 37 carries for 99 yards.
“If you’ve got the right personnel, it can be extremely interesting,” said Babers, who coached at the FCS level nearly a decade ago. "That’s why I take these games very seriously.”
Syracuse recorded 13 tackles for loss against Rutgers, one shy of the most under Babers. LB Mikel Jones leads the Atlantic Coast Conference in tackles with 22.
Syracuse and Albany are 145 miles apart, just a two-hour drive drive on the New York State Thruway. Great Danes fans have a nice option if they want to stay home. The game will be streamed live on the scoreboard at Albany's home field, Casey Stadium.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://apnews.com/cfbtop25