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March 22, 2017

Minutemen to play Boston College this weekend

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

The Massachusetts football team will head to Chestnut Hill on Saturday expecting Boston College’s best game.

The Eagles (0-3, 0-1 ACC) have gotten off to a precarious start, most recently losing at home to Duke, 20-19, in both teams’ conference opener. Prior to the game, Duke had won just two of its previous 11 conference openers.

UMass coach Kevin Morris expects the Eagles to come out strong Saturday.

“They’re not happy about being 0-3,” said Morris. “They’ll certainly be geared up. One thing that’s not going to happen is they’re not going to overlook us. We’re going to get their best game. Records aside, it’s Boston College [and] UMass so everyone’s going to be ready.”

“If they’re going to overlook us, great,” added Morris. “But they’re not going to. I think they’re going to be more than ready for us especially since we made the announcement that we’re going to the FBS.”

The Minutemen (2-0, 0-0 CAA) have been perfect thus far, and will play their first game in an FBS stadium since announcing their entrance into the division last year.

UMass has played well against FBS teams in recent years, most notably last year’s game at Michigan and the game against Kansas State the year before that. Against Michigan, the Minutemen lost, 42-37. It was even closer against Kansas State, when UMass lost, 21-17.

Morris knew how close his team was to winning those games, and he’s confident that his players will go into Boston College with something to prove.

“The [hype] will come more Friday when we get out, get to the hotel and start thinking about playing in an FBS stadium,” said Morris. “There’s nothing to temper. We want [our players] excited, we want them to play their best ball in these big venues and they have against Michigan last year and Kansas State [the year before].”

The last time the state rivals met was Sept. 29, 2007, when the Minutemen fell, 24-14, behind Matt Ryan’s 204 passing yards and a touchdown and Andre Callender’s 115 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

But with Matt Ryan currently enjoying his fourth year as the starting quarterback for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and the Eagles struggling to find a win, the 2007 game seems far in the past.

Saturday’s game is a glowing opportunity for the Minutemen to beat an FBS team, something they haven’t done since Sept. 1, 1984 when UMass defeated Ball State, 26-10, at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

In their two wins in 2011, the Minutemen have used a balanced offense which is averaging around 200 yards on the ground as well as in the air. Leading the way on offense is senior tailback Jonathan Hernandez, who is averaging 159 rushing yards per game.

Morris will continue to lean on his star back. Hernandez has 61 rushing attempts in two games, and Morris believes he can handle the workload.

“He’s a tough guy,” Morris said of Hernandez. “If it takes that to win then we know Jon’s going to handle it and he’ll take us over the top … We talked to him over the course of the game [against Rhode Island] and we took him out for a couple of plays and he didn’t want to come out.”

While Hernandez continues to dominate on the ground, redshirt sophomore quarterback Kellen Pagel is still getting comfortable with the offense. Against Rhode Island on Saturday, Pagel had a shaky first half, but settled in during the second half, completing 11-of-12 passes.

“[Pagel has to work on] everything from his cadence, to getting in and out of the huddle, to reading the defenses, to making the right calls on the line of scrimmage,” said Morris. “We’re taking some baby steps right now but we’re taking a giant step going into this game this weekend.”

Steve Levine can be reached at slevine@student.umass.edu.

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