High off its win against non-conference Central Connecticut last week, the Massachusetts football team hopes it can carry the momentum into the remainder of its Colonial Athletic Association schedule which starts Saturday against Delaware.
The Minutemen (3-2, 1-1 CAA) have six games left on their schedule, all of them coming against their CAA foes. Saturday marks the critical stretch of the season, and although UMass is ineligible for postseason play because of its move to the Mid-American Conference, UMass coach Kevin Morris remains dead-set on capturing the CAA’s best record.
“We better be ready to play, it’s a great environment for Delaware,” said Morris in a CaaFootball.com interview.
Delaware (4-2, 2-1 CAA) is coming off a convincing 21-0 home victory over William & Mary which extended the Blue Hens’ home winning streak to seven games. All-American sophomore running back Andrew Pierce ran for a season-high 143 yards and a touchdown in front of 17,808 fans. He also caught a game-high seven passes.
Much like UMass’ Jonathan Hernandez, Pierce is featured heavily in the Blue Hens’ offense. The Minutemen defense will certainly need to key on him, but without neglecting Delaware’s other threats.
UD sophomore quarterback Tim Donnelly has started five of six games and has complemented Pierce very well, throwing for eight touchdowns (six interceptions) while completing 67 percent of his passes.
“They’re a solid, solid football team,” said Morris. “The Donnelly kid has stepped in and done an excellent job at quarterback, he’s got the excellent wide receivers with [Nijha] White and [Rob] Jones and [Mark Schenauer]. We [have to] handle those guys.”
The Minutemen pass rush will be challenged as well, as it goes against a very strong offensive line.
“Their offensive line is really where their bread and butter is,” said Morris. “[It’s] a senior-laden [line] with some All-American candidates on it. Those guys can really push you around and push you off the ball.”
Delaware’s defense is formidable as well, allowing an average of 17.5 points per game, which is the second-lowest in the CAA. Its highlight player is sophomore linebacker Paul Worrilow, who leads the team with 60 tackles.
“It’s a great rivalry,” said Morris about UMass and Delaware. “It’s always a classic game [in] CAA football. It’s always been two teams that are in the upper part of the league and you’re going to get great football.”
UMass quarterback Brandon Hill will likely make the start over Kellen Pagel, who is recovering from a concussion. Hill will try to pick apart the Blue Hens’ secondary which employs man-to-man coverage. Hill’s main job, though, is to secure the football, which he did very well against CCSU last week in his second career start when he threw for 169 yards on 10-of-18 passing with one touchdown and no turnovers.
Despite Hill’s solid performance in his second-career start last week, the depth chart at quarterback remains unsettled as Morris will continue to evaluate both Hill and Pagel in games and practice.
As always, Hernandez will be the focal point of the UMass offense. Against CCSU, the senior tailback rushed for 75 yards and two touchdowns. On the season, Hernandez has a conference-leading 118.8 yards per game. Pierce is not far behind, with a 105.3 average that ranks third in the conference.
“Our motivation is to get better with every rep in practice and become a great practice team which we’ve done very well,” said Morris. “We’ve really practiced well and now we have to perform on the field and in the primetime starting with Delaware this week.”
“It’s about us not turning the ball over… going down to Delaware is certainly going to be a great challenge and one we’re looking forward to.”
Steve Levine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.