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May 9, 2016

UMass football hosts Akron hoping for a win on Senior Day

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

Akron will always have a special place in Massachusetts football history.

It was the team the Minutemen beat on the road last season for their first-ever Football Bowl Subdivision victory, and marked UMass coach Charley Molnar’s first win as a head coach.

Now the Minutemen have a chance to make even more program history at the expense of the Zips.

On Saturday, UMass (1-8, 1-4 Mid-American Conference) hosts Akron on Senior Day for a 1 p.m. matchup at Gillette Stadium in pursuit of its first multiple-win season as a member of the FBS. And it might be its last good chance to achieve that feat.

The Zips (3-7, 2-4 MAC) are in the midst of another disappointing season under second-year coach Terry Bowden and present the Minutemen with a chance to send the seniors off on a high note with one last home win, even if it isn’t the same home field they stepped on four years ago.

“It’s gonna be different because, obviously it’s our home field, but to me McGuirk is my home field,” Brandon Potvin said. “We’ve been playing on it since my freshman year. But home is home. It’s never gonna feel exactly the same, but with your family there you make it work.”

UMass is expected to get back some reinforcements as well. Senior tight end Rob Blanchflower looks likely to return after he was placed atop the team’s depth chart this week, while quarterback A.J. Doyle could potentially make his return after sitting out with an ankle injury in the Minutemen’s 63-19 loss to Northern Illinois on Nov. 2.

Either way, UMass coach Charley Molnar expects a well-rested team coming off the bye week.

“Our team was so banged up, we needed a bye,” he said. “I can’t tell you what it would’ve been like if we had to play last Saturday. We’re not gonna be at 100 percent, no football team is. We’re gonna be better than the last two games.”

Akron comes into the contest as eight-point favorites, but it may not be the biggest challenge the Minutemen will face.

UMass has been battling frigid temperatures all week in practice. It’s an adjustment particularly for Justin Anderson, who came off the practice field with a sweat-soaked sweatshirt under his pads. A graduate student who transferred from Maryland, Anderson has spent the last four years practicing in the friendlier weather conditions in the south.

“It’s very cold,” Anderson said while rubbing his hands together.

The weather may increase the role of running back Lorenzo Woodley on Saturday coming off a 163-yard performance against NIU. The colder conditions make it more difficult to throw or kick the ball, and Molnar is prepared to make the necessary adjustments.

“I think part of playing football in this part of the country is being able to do well in the cold weather,” he said. “Your run game can work in all sorts of conditions and I can’t tell you that we found our run game the last game and the last half of the Western Michigan game, but we’ve certainly taken some steps forward.

“If the weather conditions get tough, I think our run game can carry us through right now and Lorenzo will hopefully be able to improve upon his performance.”

Despite all the emotions and celebrations that often come with Senior Day, senior defensive lineman Galen Clemons thinks the key is to not get too distracted and stay focused on the task at hand.

“Parents are coming, which is good, friends’ parents are coming, which is also excellent, but the thing is we don’t want anybody distracted,” he said. “It’s gonna be great to see the parents there, it’s gonna be great to have them at our side coming into the stadium, but everybody’s just gotta keep their focus on the game, game plan, everything that’s important and that’s it. We’re gonna go out there and we’re gonna play Akron like it’s the Super Bowl.”

Nick Canelas can be reached at ncanelas@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.

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