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UM travels to take on defending national champs

When Richmond traveled to Amherst last fall, they walked away with a 30-15 victory on its way to a Football Championship Subdivision National Title.

For the Massachusetts football team, it limped away with a snapped 16-game home winning streak, a spoiled homecoming and a torn MCL for defensive tackle Brandon Collier.

“I got hurt in that game last year, I tore my MCL and I’ve been waiting a year for this game, and they ruined our homecoming, so we owe them a lot,” Collier said.

Despite it being a tall task to knock off the No. 1 team in the country and defending national champions, it’s a challenge the No. 14 Minutemen are welcoming. It’s also a challenge that gives UMass (4-2, 2-1 Colonial Athletic Association) a chance to return some favors when they face off in Richmond this Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

The Spiders (6-0, 4-0 CAA) are currently riding a 15-game winning streak that started with last years win over the Minutemen and has carried on through a run to a national title as well as a perfect start to their 2009 season.

UMass is also looking to find its first road win this year. In six games on the season, the Minutemen are a perfect 4-0 at home, yet are winless 0-2 away from Amherst. One of the losses came in the first week of the season, a near upset over Football Bowl Subdivision Kansas State, while the other came after a three-week home stand followed by a bye week against a tough Delaware team. But for UMass coach Kevin Morris, it doesn’t matter where his team plays.

“You better be ready to play. We have to make sure that we are really focused, that our preparation is good during the week and that any trip doesn’t make us weary,” Morris said before the team’s practice on Tuesday. “Being on the road is no different than being at home.”

UMass has had recent struggles on the road in the past two years, losing its last three and five of its last seven dating back to last year. But Collier feels the Minutemen could prove to be a strong road team this week against the Spiders.

“I feel like we could be a good road team, its just our first game of the year was on the road, [and] then we took basically a month off at home [and] kind of got settled into home,” Collier said. “I feel like we’re going to be a good road team, and [that] we’re going to prove it this week.”

 To do that, Collier and the rest of the defense will have a tough task of keeping Richmond’s dynamic quarterback, Eric Ward, under wraps. The senior is a danger in many ways, but mostly in how efficient he is with the ball and with the Spiders offense. Ward averages 203.7 yards per game through the air, and has also piled up 119 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns on the year, while throwing three interceptions.

“He doesn’t try to do things that he can’t. If you give it to him he’ll take it, he’s one of those guys, not just a run-around guy making plays,” Morris said. “He’s a smart, sharp, efficient quarterback who can run and pass.”

“We [have] got to play well, we’ve got to play assignment football, [and] make sure we’re playing as 11 [on] every snap. We can’t have anyone make any mistakes.”

Morris is still uncertain whether or not the four previously suspended players – Mike Mele, Shane Viveiros, Bob McLaughlin and James Carven – will dress for Saturday’s game, as the four players are going through an integration process.

“It’s part of the integration process and the answer is no, its not up to me, its just how they play into the roles and if they earn a spot on the bus,” Morris said.

The four players were reinstated before UMass’ victory over New Hampshire last weekend, but did not dress for the game.

Jeffrey R. Larnard can be reached at jlarnard@student,umass.edu.

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