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November 30, 2016

Minutemen look to bounce back

It’s been a struggle on the road the past two weeks for the Massachusetts football team.

But when it returns home to McGuirk Stadium to face Northeastern on Saturday, UMass hopes to still remain perfect at home.

The Minutemen (4-4, 2-3 Colonial Athletic Association) will also look to get its offense back on track against the Huskies (1-7, 1-4 CAA), after scoring a combined 21 points in its past two games, road losses to Richmond and Maine.

In comparison, UMass has averaged over 35 points per game in Amherst.

“We just want to stay positive [and] keep the quarterbacks’ heads cool because we know they are getting kind of crazy right now,” senior wide out Victor Cruz said. “Just keep everything positive, keep going to meetings, keep doing what we’re doing, keep everything cool, and just have [the quarterbacks] do what they have been doing.”

A major reason for the lack of scoring in the last two games has been the quarterback play, where Kyle Havens and Scott Woodward have combined to throw 10 interceptions with Havens losing two fumbles. Without the turnovers, UMass coach Kevin Morris, who once coached at Northeastern, feels the last two outcomes could have been different, whether or not on the road.

“If we hold onto the ball in those two games, I think we’re in both of them, if not winning them,” Morris said before Tuesday’s practice. “If we [turn the ball over] here we’re going to lose this game as well.”

Cruz also noted the teams struggle to run the ball, which has added pressure on the quarterbacks.

“We can’t get the running game going,” Cruz said. “We try upfront, it’s been tough, but as a receiving corps, we just want to keep blocking and doing the things we’re doing just to get the running game going, because that will help the quarterbacks.”

With interceptions being the turnovers that have doomed the Minutemen the most, UMass has to be careful against the Huskies, who have picked off 10 passes this season, with seven different players grabbing at least one.

Not only does Northeastern pose a threat to force turnovers on defense, but the Huskies are a threat on offense, with its numerous weapons as well.

“Their running back is probably their first weapon offensively. He is fast and is having a really good year, [and] just rushed for 130 yards last weekend against New Hampshire,” Morris said. “That is probably the number one way they will go.”

John Griffin is the star back out of the backfield for Northeastern, averaging 82.1 yards per game. Rushing is not the only threat Griffin poses, as he has caught the second most passes on the team as well.

The Huskies play two different quarterbacks, Matt Carroll and Alex Dulski. Both have similar numbers, but it doesn’t matter who is throwing the ball at times with a receiver as talented as freshman Jordan Batts.

“[He’s] a very exciting player who leads their team in catches and is up for rookie of the year in the conference,” Morris said of Batts.

Batts’ leads Northeastern with 41 catches for 50.8 yards per game (ninth in the CAA) and five touchdowns (tied for first in the CAA).

Cruz and the rest of the offense hope to get on the board early, just as Northeastern did against UMass last year, to get the offense going and to control the tempo of the game.

“We know they are going to come out strong,” Cruz said. “Last year they came out strong on the first drive and actually put some points on the board, and we know this year, they’re not going to give up. We just have to come out strong, as we know they will and just try to get into the end zone on our first drive and take it from there.”

Jeffrey R. Larnard can be reached at jlarnard@dailycollegian.com.

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