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UMass football faces Temple Friday in crucial fourth game

(Daily Collegian Archive)

The Massachusetts football team is running out of options, and quickly at that.

After squandering yet another opportunity to get in the win column Saturday in its 17-7 loss to Old Dominion, the University of Massachusetts (0-3) is just about out of time to flip its season around.

Friday, the Minutemen travel to Philadelphia to face-off against Temple in a game that may very well be their last shot at a victory until November rolls around.

“Everybody’s trying to get prepared,” senior defensive end Ali Ali-Musa said. “We desperately need to win, so that’s what’s on everybody’s mind right now is to win.”

The 6-foot-3, 260-pounder was a spark plug defensively for UMass Saturday, recording 15 tackles, leading a defense that had its best game by a long shot.

“We played tough, we played outstandingly as a defense, but we could also get better,” Ali-Musa said. “That’s the plan this week is working on getting better and better. Hopefully [this week] we make sure the opponent has zero points on the board.”

The Minutemen have gone through an extensive reclamation project trying to rebuild its defense, bringing in former Western Michigan defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham to try and squeeze as much as possible out of a group that has struggled over the past few years.

Saturday was the first real improvement they’ve shown in stopping the opposition and they hope to continue that momentum heading into an important test Friday verse the Owls (1-1).

“Going into Temple, with them mainly being a passing team, it’s just a major test for the secondary,” sophomore cornerback Isaiah Rodgers said. “After Hawaii and Coastal, our main goal was to change the defense and help the offense. We improved way more from our first two games, we just got to make sure the offense comes together so the whole team can come together as one.”

Rodgers holds the only UMass interception of the year—coming in the season-opener against Hawaii—and has come close on a couple of other instances.

“We feel that the first one to lay the first blow will be the team that wins the game,” Rodgers said. “[We want to] come out there and let them know that we came to play.”

The good news for the Minutemen is Temple does not have much to be uplifted about after barely squeaking by Football Championship Subdivision member Villanova 16-13 last weekend. The win came a week after Notre Dame smacked the Owls 49-16.

Rather than coming out of the gates firing, UMass coach Mark Whipple would rather see a smooth ending in the upcoming affair.

“I’d probably just say finishing, we got to finish,” Whipple said. “We’ve had chances and we haven’t gotten it done in the fourth quarter.”

The Minutemen specifically have a hard time rounding out quarters, allowing six of the 12 total touchdowns they’ve given up with under three minutes remaining in the frame.

Logan Marchi has taken over the quarterback duties from former standout Philip Walker this season for the Owls, and has played well in his first two games under-center.

The redshirt sophomore out of Bristol, Connecticut has thrown for 519 yards, two touchdowns, good for a 56 percent passer rating.

Temple trots out three receivers with over 100 yards receiving in Keith Kirkwood (121), Isaiah Wright (111) and Adonis Jennings (105). Owls’ running back Ryquell Armstead is averaging 43 yards per game—he rushed for 69 yards in the first game, but only 17 in the second.

“I mean [Temple] was leading 13-0 going into the fourth quarter, and Villanova made a couple plays, and Notre Dame just hit a couple big plays on them,” Whipple said about the Owls’ first two contests. “They hung in there tough all the way through. They dropped a touchdown pass that would’ve gotten it closer at the end. They competed, they got some younger guys that can run, and they have a lot of pride on defense.”

Through two games, the Owls have averaged 341.5 total yards of offense, while surrendering 504 yards defensively. The Minutemen boast better numbers (395.3 offensive yards, combined with 423.3 defensive yards), but they’ve also played one additional game.

Still searching for that elusive first win, UMass will run the risk of even further damaging their season with another loss Friday.

“We know deep down that we let these games slip away from us,” Rodgers said. “The first three games, we let those slip from us, so we feel that after watching film on Temple, we feel that this could be our first win.”

“We know what we have to do, they know what they have to do, we just got to settle it on the field,” Ali-Musa added.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field.

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

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