Saturday at 12 p.m.
Wildcat Stadium in Durham, N.H.
UNH is 6-3, 5-1 in CAA; Albany is 5-4, 2-4 in CAA
Key Matchup: The Wildcats’ run defense vs. The Great Danes’ rushing attack
The Albany offense revolves around its workhorse running back, Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks. The sophomore is sixth in the nation, and second in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) in rushing yards with 1,072 through nine games. Ibitokun-Hanks’ aggressive running style helped propel the Great Danes to a surprise 4-0 start to begin the season.
“[Ibitokun-Hanks is] fast. He’s got great vision. And the thing he does that I get real impressed about is he breaks tackles and gets a lot of yards after contact,” UNH coach Sean McDonnell said.
Quarterback Neven Sussman has thrown more interceptions (eight) than touchdowns in his nine starts this season. The Albany passing attack averages 118.9 yards per game and is the clear weakness in the Albany offense. Ibitokun-Hanks has 13 rushing touchdowns on the season and averages an impressive 5.2 yards per carry. The Wildcats’ ability to slow Ibitokun-Hanks down will be vital to their success on Saturday.
UNH rushing attack
On his senior day, Dalton Crossan goes against the team with the most forced fumbles in the CAA. Crossan is as sure-handed as they come having not yet fumbled at Wildcat Stadium in his final season. The Wildcats will mix in Donald Goodrich and Trevon Bryant but there is no mistaking that this is Crossan’s backfield. The senior is 195 yards short of a 1,000-yard rushing season with two games remaining.
UNH passing offense
The Albany defense leads the CAA with 26 turnovers forced so far in 2016. The Great Danes have three defenders with a team-high, three interceptions each, star linebacker Michael Nicastro and defensive backs Mason Gray and Rayshan Clark. Trevor Knight, with nine interceptiuons on the season, will have to take care of the ball in order to defeat Albany. Knight’s protected the ball lately at Wildcat Stadium as he hasn’t thrown an interception in their last two home games and only three at home all season.
Albany rushing attack
The Wildcats have the third best run defense in the CAA, allowing 125.2 yards per game. The seniors at every level of the defense are a big reason why. Defensive end Cam Shorey and linebacker Ryan Farrell have had terrific senior years while cornerback Casey DeAndrade has also helped tremendously in run defense with 49 tackles on the season.
Albany passing offense
Sussman’s two interceptions last week against Delaware were “critical errors” according to Albany head coach Greg Gattuso. The dominant running attack was able to spark a strong start to the season but in the CAA, they’ve struggled due to poor quarterback play.
“He may be [the starter], he may not be. I don’t know at this point to be honest with you. That is something we’re looking at,” Gattuso said on Monday about whether Sussman would start against UNH. Either way DeAndrade and his fellow defensive backs will be looking to create more turnovers.
Impact Player: Tad McNeely
A four-year starter, Tad McNeely, has anchored the Wildcats offensive line all season. With help from fellow seniors Andrew Lauderdale and Curtis Nealer, the UNH offensive line has created open running lanes all year. McNeely, along with Lauderdale and Nealer, has started every game this year for the ‘Cats.
“Three great kids,” McDonnell said about his senior offensive linemen. “They have bought into everything we’ve asked them to.”
Crossan is third in the CAA in total rushing yards and the role his burly offensive line plays into his performance has been a large one.
After suffering a season-ending injury in the second game of last season, McNeely has triumphantly returned to help lead the ‘Cats this season and into his final home game.
Albany noseguard Daesean Timmons will line up across from McNeely frequently and is a matchup to watch on Saturday.