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UMass looks to made it two in a row against Rams

FootAFresh off a convincing 44-7 win over Albany, the No. 17 Massachusetts football team takes on its first conference opponent, Rhode Island, this Friday.

The Minutemen, (1-1) have gotten off to a strong start with an impressive showing against Kansas State, along with its win against the Great Danes.

 But in the first game against a Colonial Athletic Association opponent, UMass coach Kevin Morris and his team are forgetting their past performances and focusing on URI. The Rams (1-0) are coming off of a bye week following their 41-28 win in their season opener against Fordham.

“They had a really convincing win over a good Fordham team in their opener, and then they had two weeks to get ready for us. So we really have to be ready to go,” Morris said during the weekly CAA conference call. “Every game has an angle, and the angle on this one is that it is the first league game against a very good team.”

Looking to bounce back from a 3-9 record and a 49-0 loss to the Minutemen last year, the Rams feature an influx of talent in the form of four transfers from Rutgers. In the transfer class are tight end Tom Lang, wide receiver Robenson Alexis, defensive back Rob Cervini, and most importantly, the Rams’ new starting quarterback, Chris Paul-Etienne.

Paul-Etienne, a junior, is a dual-threat quarterback who outshines all of the signal-callers the UMass defense has faced this season. Against Fordham, Paul-Etienne led the Rams in passing and rushing, putting up 245 yards of total offense (81 rushing and 164 passing), including three total touchdowns.

“He moves well in the pocket and can really deliver the ball in the air,” Morris said of the Rams QB during the conference call. “As much of a running that threat he is, he can really throw the ball. We really have to give him a bunch of different looks.”

For the Minutemen, things are looking up for the passing game. New starter Kyle Havens had a breakout performance in last week’s game with 284 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Havens was also able to take advantage of a defense that focused on senior tailback Tony Nelson, who averaged only 3.7 yards per carry.

Although Havens has hooked up with 10 different receivers so far this season, he has selected All-Conference wideout Victor Cruz as the go-to weapon in the passing game. Cruz’s 165 receiving yards through two games is good for second in the conference.

On the other side of the ball, the UMass defense has been firing on all cylinders, forcing seven turnovers while giving up just 28 points in two games, including no points given up in the second half.

Much of UMass’ success on defense has to do with many new starters stepping into new roles and performing well, including former wideout Ke’Mon Bailey and linebacker Tyler Holmes. But with many new starters throughout the linebacking corps and secondary, the Minutemen have been leaning heavily on a defensive line that features four senior starters.

“The four of us have a lot of playing experience, Kyle [Harrington], and Mike Hanson, and myself,” senior defensive tackle Brandon Collier said.” “I’ve started for four years and they’ve started for three years, and [Anthony] Monette, he’s a veteran, he’s played a lot in four years here.”

After being removed from the game against Albany, the status of senior wide receiver Jeremy Horne and redshirt junior John Ihne is still uncertain. According to Morris, both players are “probable” players in Saturday’s game.

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

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