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Minutemen look for second conference win Saturday

The No. 8 Massachusetts football team travels to Maryland to play Towson in its third straight road game, with a focus on remaining undefeated against Colonial Athletic Association opponents.

The Minutemen (3-1, 1-0 CAA) come off of a 26-21 win at Stony Brook last Saturday. UMass forced a late turnover to seal the win as their running backs led the way offensively.

UMass has climbed in the polls every week this season and is currently at its highest ranking since Sept. 8, 2008, when they were ranked No. 3. Five teams in the CAA join the Minutemen in the top eight.

UMass won both meetings all-time against the Tigers (1-3, 0-1 CAA), most recently in a 36-13 win at McGuirk Stadium in 2007.

After beginning the season with a win against William & Mary, then playing three out-of-conference games against Holy Cross, Michigan and Stony Brook, UMass coach Kevin Morris is noticing not only a shift in the schedule, but in his team’s focus as well.
“This is back into league play and every game is critical,” Morris said. “Every game in the league is going to be extremely difficult, especially on the road.”

UMass’ strength is its offense, which will matchup against a Towson defense ranking last in the confernce in scoring defense (40.8 points per game) as well as eighth in total defense (377.2 yards per game). The Tigers allow more first downs (80) than any team in the CAA and are last in the conference in rushing defense (200 yards per game).

Minutemen running backs John Griffin and Jonathan Hernandez are ranked third and fourth in the conference in rushing respectively, after combining to rush for 188 yards last Saturday. Griffin ran for 132 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries while Hernandez had 56 yards on 19 carries, scoring two touchdowns. It was the first game this season that the Minutemen have failed to reach 200 yards rushing.

The Minutemen enter Saturday’s game first in the CAA in total offense (461 yards per game) and tied for second in scoring offense (30.25). They are first in the NCAA in first downs gained (100) and second in time of possession (36:43 per game).

Morris has put an emphasis on stopping unforced errors. His team is seventh in the conference in penalties, averaging eight for over 70 yards per game.

In last week’s game, two touchdowns were called back on UMass penalties, as well as another which hindered a scoring opportunity.

“When you go on the road, it’s going to be hard to play and you can’t do things that are going to hurt,” Morris said. “That’s what happened on Saturday. They really get magnified and can cost [our team] a ballgame.”

Kyle Havens threw two interceptions against Stony Brook after throwing only one in his previous three starts this season. He finished the game 19-for-30 for 255 yards.

The Minutemen defense, led by the opportune Tyler Holmes, has forced six takeaways (two fumbles, four interceptions). Holmes has three-of-four UMass interceptions, including one to clinch last week’s win at Stony Brook and another that sealed the season opener against William & Mary. Holmes believes that his ability to make plays on defense has to do with luck and preparation.

“It has a little bit to do with both,” said Holmes in an interview with UMass Media Relations after the game against Stony Brook. “I guess I always seem to be in the right place at the right time. My saying is that, ‘When you work hard, you make your own luck and the good luck comes to the well-prepared.’”

The Minutemen face a Tiger offense that features a rotating quarterback system, with Chris Hart expected to be the starting signal-caller. He averages over 123 yards per game with seven touchdowns and is the team’s leading rusher with over 60 yards per game.

Bart Blanchard will spell Hart under center with over 116 yards per game passing, completing almost 70 percent of his throws for an efficiency rating of 127.4 in two games.

The Tigers come off of a 24-10 loss at Columbia for their second-straight loss. Towson’s leading receiver Hakeem Moore finished with five catches, 110 yards and a touchdown.

The game will be played under the lights at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson, Md. Kick-off is at 7:00 p.m.

Dan Gigliotti can be reached at dgigliot@student.umass.edu.

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