After falling to Boston College, 45-17, last week, the Massachusetts football team is trying to leave its problems in the past as it takes on Old Dominion in its second Colonial Athletic Association game of the season.
The Minutemen (2-1, 1-0 CAA), are coming off a game where turnovers and big plays made the difference in the final score, as BC was able to move the ball without much difficulty against the UMass defense.
When quarterback Kellen Pagel threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage, it marked the beginning of a long afternoon for the Minutemen. He finished the day 18-of-37 for 195 yards and three costly turnovers.
UMass head coach Kevin Morris said that while he knows his team didn’t play up to the caliber it can, he wasn’t going to make too much out of the two interceptions Pagel threw.
“Both those throws, Kellen will tell you, were just bad throws,” said Morris. “On one he tried to force the ball in and get it by a guy and it didn’t get by him, and the other one was a little off-target and the safety made a nice play on it.”
Regardless of when they happened, one thing that Morris stressed was that turning the ball over four times is no way to win a game.
“We talk about ball security all the time,” said Morris. “Everyone [turns the ball over] and certainly we do as well. Unfortunately, [Kellen’s first one] was the first play of the ballgame so it put us in a hole right away.”
The Monarchs lost a week ago as well, but in a more dramatic fashion.
Riding an eight-game win streak dating back to last year, ODU (3-1, 0-1 CAA) was handed its first loss of the season by conference rival Delaware on Saturday.
Trailing by a touchdown with under 10 minutes left to play in the fourth quarter, the Monarchs had the ball and moved the chains on two occasions, but were unable to penetrate into Blue Hen territory as their comeback fell short.
The team is averaging almost 36 points-per-game and allowing just 25 as well as over 400 yards-per-game on the offensive attack. Such a high-flying attack will challenge UMass’ depleted secondary.
The Minutemen lost a few players to injury during last weekend’s game at BC, but Morris said there are already plans in place to plug the holes that need to be filled on defense.
“We’ve had a number of guys who have been playing already,” said Morris. “We’ve had kind of a three-way rotation at safety with Christian Birt and then at cornerback, [Antoine] Tharpe missed a game and now we’re excited to get him back. Kirk Nelms has stepped up and you saw him have a great game against Rhode Island.”
Old Dominion has also forced seven fumbles, four interceptions and sacked the opposing quarterback 12 times in four games. Early on in his career, Pagel will be tested early and often against a defense which is only giving up four-yards-per-play.
It’s family weekend and “blackout weekend” as well, so expect the S.B. Ballard Stadium to be full and loud.
“They’re really playing aggressively, and they’re really talented [on the defensive line],” said Morris. “Also, their linebackers are very solid and they’re very talented in the [secondary] as well. So, defensively you’ve got a lot going on.”
Make no mistake, the Minutemen are confident that they can go into ODU and come out with a victory, and if Morris is correct, the loss against BC last weekend only helped his team focus and get ready for the week ahead.
“We’re looking to play with a good swagger going into Old Dominion and we’re not going to let [the loss against BC] hang over us like a black cloud,” said Morris. “We’ve just got to get in, work on it and get better.”
Michael Wood can be reached at email@example.com.