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May 14, 2017

UM, UNH meet in Homecoming Game

After suffering a 43-27 loss to Delaware last week, the No. 18 Massachusetts football team faces its toughest challenge of the season Saturday, as it faces off against No. 4 New Hampshire on Homecoming Day.

The Minutemen (3-2, 1-1 Colonial Athletic Association), look to bounce back after giving up 43 points against the Blue Hens, while giving up just 13.8 points per game through the first four games of the season. To solve their issues on defense, the Minutemen are looking to simplify things and get back to the basics.

“We’ve just got to simplify the game,” senior defensive back Jeromy Miles said. “[We need to] eliminate all the missed assignments and errors by decreasing the number of plays that we have. Now, we’re just trying to run a couple of basic plays, and really start to make them crisp.”

UMass will need to perform well on both sides of the ball if they hope to knock off the Wildcats (5-0, 2-0 CAA). UNH is currently ranked at the top of the CAA in both scoring offense (35.2 points per game) and scoring defense (15 points per game). The Minutemen, meanwhile, are right behind their rivals at second in scoring offense (32.4 points per game), but have dropped back to sixth in scoring defense (19.4 points per game), after being shredded by the Blue Hens last week.

Quarterback R.J. Toman and the Wildcats are fresh off of their victory against then-No. 2 Villanova and feature a stiff defense along with one of the best offenses in the country.

UMass, after facing off against one of the conference’s top passers, Pat Devlin, will be taking on another elite passer, Toman. Usually considered a dual-threat quarterback, Toman has been hampered by a foot injury, but remains a threat for the UMass defense.

The last time UMass and UNH played, the Wildcats ran away with a 52-21 win in Durham, N.H. In that game, Toman threw for 295 passing yards and four touchdowns, running for 61 yards and a score on the ground.

Morris, though, is less concerned about the daunting UNH offense than he is about focusing on improving his defensive unit.

“If we play, there shouldn’t be any matchup problems,” Morris said. “We’re more concerned about us and getting our assignments right [and] our alignments right. We didn’t do that well on Saturday night last week, so we need to go out and take care of UMass.”

This weekend’s game marks the 72nd meeting between the two CAA foes, with the Minutemen holding a 42-26-3 lead in the all-time series. In recent years, the UNH-UMass rivalry has developed into one of the fiercest in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Homecoming will likely be a good omen for the Minutemen, who are currently winless on the road, but are undefeated when they’ve played in Amherst.

“For us, it’s good because we’re bringing all the tradition to McGuirk Stadium, bringing all the tradition back into the house. We want to represent with the 2009 edition,” Morris said. “Homecoming’s very important. Being a CAA game, it’s obviously very important because we want to win the CAA conference.”

Some of UMass’ most important games in recent memory have come against UNH. Two years ago, the Minutemen claimed the CAA North title after they defeated the Wildcats 27-7. The year before, UMass beat UNH twice, the second coming in an NCAA quarterfinal game that ended in a 24-17 UMass win.

The history between the two teams only compounds the importance of the next game for the Minutemen.

“It’s New Hampshire, [it] is what it is,” Morris said about the challenge presented by his team’s upcoming opponent. “It doesn’t matter what the rankings are or anything else. We’re playing New Hampshire. That’s a good rivalry game for us and we always want to beat New Hampshire.”

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

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