Home-field advantage big for UMass this weekend
With the success the Massachusetts football team has had this year at home, the team must be happy to return to Amherst, especially when facing an opponent like No. 4 New Hampshire.
On the year, the No. 18 Minutemen are a perfect 3-0 at McGuirk Stadium, but winless in two tries on the road, after their 43-27 loss last Saturday at Delaware. With the Wildcats (5-0, 2-0 Colonial Athletic Association) coming to campus on Homecoming weekend, UMass (3-2, 1-1 CAA) will hope to continue its perfect record at home, and make a statement in a game that few can deny could have big implications down the road.
“We’ve got to come back and make a statement that we’re still competitors in this conference,” quarterback Kyle Havens said. “We still have faith that we can win this conference, so it’s a big game.”
Havens, as well as UMass coach Kevin Morris, are happy to have a home-crowd advantage at the game after traveling to Delaware, where they faced a tough Blue Hens squad and a crowd of over 22,000 fans. But regardless of whose side the crowd is on, Morris feels his team shouldn’t be affected by it, and should be able to play the same on the road as they do at home.
“Home or away, we still have to play well at both places,” Morris said before Tuesday’s practice. “We obviously have to get better at doing that, but we love playing at home because we have the great home crowd.”
The Minutemen have controlled the all-time series against UNH, especially at McGuirk, where they hold a 15-7 record against the Wildcats.
When it comes to hosting Top 5 teams since 2002, the Minutemen have also fared well, going 4-2. The last visit by a Top 5 team, however, came in 2005 when the then-fourth ranked Wildcats squared off with then-seventh ranked UMass, with the Wildcats coming out on top, 34-28.
UMass has always played well in McGuirk, going 22-2 since 2006 and 48-11 since 2000.
Keep on running
When the Minutemen fell behind 20-0 to Delaware last Saturday, it had to change its mentality on offense, as it found itself playing catch up. With that mentality, tailback Tony Nelson had one of his worst statistical games in a UMass uniform.
Nelson averaged just 2.2 yards per carry on 15 carries for a total of 33 yards in the loss.
“It was definitely playing catch up, and a matter of that we didn’t play well,” Morris said. “We didn’t block well, we didn’t tackle well, all of those fundamental things, but we didn’t get it done, and that took away from our effectiveness on both sides of the football, and that hurt our running game.”
Morris hopes for his team to not find themselves in an early deficit as they did against the Blue Hens, in hopes of being able to keep Nelson as a full part of the offense. Last year, when UMass traveled to UNH, they found themselves in an even greater deficit, as they trailed 31-0 less than two minutes into the second quarter.
“Any game in the CAA, if you’re going to give points away like we did, you’re going to put yourself into a hole that is really hard to get out of,” Morris said. “We did that, and we couldn’t get out of that hole.”
Drop in the polls
With the loss to Delaware, UMass dropped six spots, its lowest ranking of the year to No. 18. The drop was tied for the second largest drop of the week, with only Eastern Kentucky falling further from No. 16 to No. 24.
The win also boosted the Blue Hens into the Top 25 at No. 23 after not being ranked the week before.
Prior to this week’s rankings, the Minutemen had been as low as No. 17 in the Sports Network Poll. UMass started the year at that spot, and remained there until their win over Rhode Island boosted them to No. 15. While the Minutemen may have dropped in the most recent poll, they have still been one of the most consistent teams in the Top 25, claiming a spot in the polls for 60 of the last 61 weeks.
Jeffrey R. Larnard can be reached at email@example.com.