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May 6, 2017

Havens to start, UMass out of national rankings

Coming off of a two-game skid against Richmond and Maine, the Massachusetts football team hits a much needed home stretch in its two upcoming games against Northeastern and James Madison.

This upcoming homestretch couldn’t come fast enough for the Minutemen (4-4, 2-3 Colonial Athletic Association). UMass is undefeated at home (4-0), but winless on the road (0-4) so far this season.

The stretch also marks a significant shift in UMass’ position in the rankings. Coming off of their upset win against New Hampshire three weeks ago, the Minutemen were flying high and sitting at the top spot in the CAA North. Entering this weekend, though, UMass is currently tied for third in the conference with Hofstra, and is two games behind the first place Wildcats (7-1, 4-1 CAA).

With three conference games left on the schedule for the Minutemen, there is still a chance for the playoffs entering Saturday’s game against the Huskies (1-7, 1-4 CAA). But to do so, UMass will have bust out of its recent slump, and there’s been no better place for the team to do that than on its home turf.

“It feels good, obviously, after that rough two game skid we hit,” senior wide receiver Victor Cruz said about playing at home this weekend. “But to be home, [and to] have our new jumbo-tron, it’s kind of a new energy out here. Hopefully we’ll come out strong against Northeastern on Saturday.”

At home, the Minutemen have been dominant, averaging 35.3 points per game on offense while allowing 12.8 on defense. On the road, though, it has been a different story. This season, UMass has averaged 15.5 points per contest while giving up 29.3.

  While the Minutemen have looked bad on paper on the road, UMass coach Kevin Morris said the team’s recent struggles have had more to do with turnover issues (13 turnovers in the last two games) than being on the road.

“It’s got nothing to do with being on the road,” Morris said. “If our team had held on to the ball for both of those games, I think they’re winnable, but we didn’t do that. We didn’t hold onto the ball, and we lost those games. Whether it’s on the road or we do those things at home, we’re going to lose that game too.”

Havens to start

Despite being pulled from the game during the past two games, junior quarterback Kyle Havens will start Saturday against Northeastern, according to Morris.

Havens, who was replaced by senior Scott Woodward, with whom Havens competed for the starting job at the beginning of the season, has struggled in his past two starts, going 17-of-37 for 177 yards and five interceptions between the two games. Woodward, meanwhile, went 25-of-50 for 271 yards, a touchdown and five interceptions.

During last week’s game against Maine, Havens aggravated an ankle injury, and was taken out of the game. He would return, but was eventually pulled in favor of Woodward. Morris said that the injury was something that Havens has been dealing with for the entire season, and that the junior will be ready for Saturday’s game.

Ranked no more

After starting the season unranked and climbing as high as No. 12 after opening their season at 3-1, the Minutemen are once again out of the national rankings following their loss to Maine.

UMass impressed in the polls early on, when it rattled off three straight wins after losing a tight contest to Football Bowl Subdivision opponent Kansas State. A road loss at Delaware dropped the Minutemen down to No. 18. But UMass bounced back the following week by moving up to No. 14 with an upset win against then-No. 4 UNH.

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

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