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UMass football hosts Old Dominion Saturday in most important game of season

(Jed Zuraw-Friedland/ Daily Collegian)

With game number three now on the docket for the Massachusetts football team, the importance of the outcome will only get greater.

Following a rough two-game stretch which featured two heart-wrenching losses, UMass (0-2) hosts Old Dominion on Saturday for a pivotal afternoon clash that could go a long way in defining the 2017 season.

Whether that script turns good or bad depends entirely on the Minutemen.

A season that started with optimism and hope has now swiftly been derailed after UMass dropped two winnable games in equally frustrating fashion.

On August 26 at McGuirk Alumni Stadium, the Minutemen were less than a minute away from victory, before Hawaii stormed back to snatch the win away from UMass. Fast forward seven days to September 2, and the Minutemen drop a contest to a team making their Football Bowl Subdivision debut in Coastal Carolina in rather ugly fashion.

The rear-view mirror hasn’t been an attractive glance for UMass football, especially recently. However, the team, led by redshirt junior quarterback Andrew Ford, seems keen on making sure struggles from the past aren’t as close as they appear.

“We’re obviously disappointed about what happened on Saturday, but we can’t dwell on that,” Ford said.  “We have a great team in Old Dominion coming into our place. We have to put last week behind us and just focus on them.”

Ford is coming off two good starts where he threw for a combined 64 percent (46-71), 593 yards, and three touchdowns.

Along with the quarterback position, for the most part, the offense hasn’t been a red flag for the Minutemen through this early portion of the year.

Ford, redshirt senior tight end Adam Breneman, junior running back Marquis Young and junior wide receiver Andy Isabella have all just about performed to their capabilities so far.

Isabella has 141 receiving yards, two touchdown receptions, and a rushing touchdown, Young’s rushed for 123 yards and four touchdowns, and Breneman boasts 305 reception yards as the runaway leader so far for UMass.

The Minutemen have scored at least four touchdowns in each match, and have also registered a score in all eight quarters of regulation to date.

While that’s been a consistency, the defense is still in a transition phase, surrendering 38 points on back to back occasions.

Even though UMass’ depth on offense doesn’t stretch far below the four names already listed, Ford is confident the offense could put up big totals if the defense struggles again this weekend.

“Our goal as an offense is to score points every time we get the ball,” Ford said. “We know that’s going to be tough this weekend against that Old Dominion defense; there’s talent all over the field. That’s our goal and we’re going to work hard to try and execute that goal.”

Stopping the run in particular has been problematic for the Minutemen, as they’ve allowed 436 yards on the ground in their initial two games.

The Big Blue (1-0) enter the matchup fresh off the highs of a solid 31-17 opening day victory over Albany.

ODU saw solid performances from quarterback Blake Larussa (161 passing yards and one touchdown), receiver Jonathan Duhart (five receptions, 97 yards, one touchdown) and running backs Ray Lawry and Gemonta Jackson (one rushing touchdown each) in the victory.

Despite the fact UMass is only almost a third of the way through the 2017 year, this early season test against Old Dominion is about as close to a must-win game as it gets.

“I think you go into every one thinking it’s a must-win game,” Ford said. “Obviously, we dug ourselves a hole here early, so [we] just have to focus on this week and hopefully come out with the win on Saturday.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

Ryan Ames can be reached at rames@umass.edu or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.

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