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March 22, 2017

Defense wreaks havoc on Great Danes, force five turnovers

In its 44-7 win Saturday night, the No. 17 Massachusetts football team needed little help on offense. But with five turnovers from Albany, the Minutemen got all the opportunities they needed.

Starting with a Brandon Collier forced fumble on the first play from scrimmage for the Great Danes, the Minutemen (1-1) dominated the turnover battle 5-1, converting three interceptions and two fumble recoveries into 17 points with a missed field goal.

UMass picked up where it left off with takeaways after getting an interception, a fumble recovery and a blocked punt against Kansas State. Such production from the defense was not lost with UMass coach Kevin Morris.

“That’s their number one mission every time they go out on the field,” Morris said of his defense after the game. “And offensively you have to put the ball in the endzone and we were able to do that tonight and get that scoreboard to light up a little bit.”

After two quick scores in the first quarter by UMass, Albany had bounced back to bring the score to 10-7. But when the Danes’ turnover woes continued, what little success they had running the ball had gone for naught.

“When you turn the ball over five times, you probably don’t deserve to win and most of the time you don’t win,” Albany coach Bob Ford said.

Playing a key role in pressuring the offense into turnovers was the all-senior front four of Anthony Monette, Kyle Harrington, Michael Hanson and Collier, who kept consistent pressure on Great Danes quarterback Vinny Esposito all night. With four turnovers on the night, Esposito showed signs of frustration with the UMass defense. Without accounting for Esposito’s 25 yards lost rushing when he was sacked three times, the Danes almost ran for as many yards (121) than passing (124).

Matthew HarrisonHavens on target

After a lackluster performance against Kansas State (10-of-34 passing for 102 yards a touchdown and two picks), junior quarterback Kyle Havens had a coming out party in his first game at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

Havens, 20-of-32 passing for 284 yards two touchdowns and an interception that deflected off a receiver’s hands, showed why he won the starting quarterback job for UMass just two weeks ago.

Hitting nine receivers on the night, Havens used a strong running game to his advantage, using play action and finding openings deep in the Albany secondary.

While Havens was effective in the pocket and reading the defense, he showed off his play making ability when, on a bootleg, the junior college transfer fired a pass through traffic to senior Victor Cruz who broke from the crowd and down the sideline for a 67-yard score.

“In just his second start, Havens already seems to have the confidence of the coaching staff behind him. On multiple occasions on third down and short situations, Havens was given the ball even with an All-Conference tailback in Tony Nelson behind him.

Collateral damage

While UMass did major damage to Albany on the scoreboard, the Danes made a dent in the Minuteman roster when senior wideout Jeremy Horne and redshirt junior center John Ihne both left the game with injuries.

Horne left the game early in the second quarter when he was hit hard after a nine yard reception, his only catch of the game. He remained on the ground for a few minutes before leaving the field under his own power. According to Morris, Horne left the game with a mild concussion and was kept out as a precautionary measure.

Ihne was hurt during the first half and left with a shoulder injury. Details of the injury following the game were vague. He was replaced at center by senior Jared Chivers.

Nick O’Malley can be reached at nomalley@student.umass.edu.

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