March 3, 2015

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Minutemen host Blue Hens in pivotal CAA clash

The Massachusetts football team hosts Delaware on Saturday, as the No. 13 Minutemen (6-3, 4-2 Colonial Athletic Association) go for their third-straight conference win when they take on the No. 1 Blue Hens (8-1, 5-1 CAA) in a game that has major implications on the postseason.

UMass is tied with Villanova for third place in the conference standings with two league games remaining on its schedule and a win against Delaware gives them an advantage for one of two playoff spots guaranteed in the CAA.

Delaware is tied for first in the CAA with No. 2 William & Mary. The Minutemen beat the Tribe in their first game of the season on Sept. 2.

UMass co-captain linebacker Tyler Holmes enters this weekend’s game concerned only with winning, not with the implications a victory may have on the team’s postseason hopes.

“Right now, we have to worry about one game at a time, and the things that we can control,” Holmes said in a teleconference on Monday. “If we don’t take care of business, then the playoffs are not in sight. Every win is very vital to us, so we just concentrate on what we can do.”

The Minutemen beat Maine last week 39-24 as Holmes intercepted two passes for touchdowns for the first time in school history. It was 23rd time in the history of the Football Championship Subdivision and the first since 2004.

Two other players in league history have accomplished the feat and the most recent before Holmes was Towson’s Allonte Harris in 2004 in a non-conference game against Elon.

Holmes garnered several awards as a result of his play against the Black Bears. He was recognized as the National Defensive Player of the Week and National Linebacker of the Week by the College Football Performance Awards on Sunday. He is also the CAA Defensive Player of the Week for the second-straight week and third time this season.

Holmes leads a UMass defense which ranks sixth in the CAA in yards allowed (334) and ninth in rushing yards allowed (157.7). The Minutemen forced four turnovers last week, outscoring the Black Bears 32-10 in the first half. The previous week, UMass used an 18-0 second half run to rally in a win over James Madison.

Holmes feels that his team is excited by its play in the past two weeks. Facing the top-ranked rushing offense in the CAA and a nationally recognized quarterback on Saturday, he hopes the momentum it will carry over against a difficult Delaware team.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” Holmes said. “Pat Devlin is probably the best quarterback in the FCS, so we’re very excited as a defense for the challenge that’s coming up this Saturday and as a team for the Blue Hens.”

“It’s going to come down to reading our keys. They are a balanced team with a great running and offensive line.”

The Blue Hens travel to Amherst following a 48-0 win over the Tigers in which they gained 589 total yards of offense. The CAA’s top-ranked rushing offense (193.1) ran for five touchdowns, led by Leon Jackson (88 yards) and Andrew Pierce (79 yards), who broke the 1,000 mark and is the leagues top-rusher (112.7 yards per game).

A Walter Payton Award Candidate, Devlin was 29-38 for 318 yards and one touchdown, leading the Blue hens to its second shutout of the season (Sept. 2, West Chester 31-0). Devlin is third in the CAA in passing yards per game (201.6) and second in pass efficiency (145.52) with seven touchdowns and one interception.

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

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