Flags flying, but UM winning

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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With two games in the books, the Massachusetts football team is a perfect 2-0. If the Minutemen hope to stay that way, they’ll have to put it together for four quarters – something they weren’t able to do against either Holy Cross or Colgate.

They’ll also have to cut down on the penalties. The Maroon and White have been flagged for 13 penalties in each game this season for a total of 268 yards. On the flip side, UMass opponents have only been called for 12 penalties totaling 91 yards.

In Saturday’s 35-17 victory over Colgate, the Minutemen were whistled for six different penalties – including six for holding and three for pass interference. They were penalized three times on two separate drives, once resulting in an almost-impossible first-and-28 situation for the offense in the second quarter.

The other drive came in the third quarter, as the Minuteman defense was penalized for 40 yards on three penalties (facemask, roughing the passer and pass interference). The Raiders failed to take advantage, fumbling the ball into the hands of linebacker Charles Walker on a third-and-goal at the 1-yard-line.

The penalties have been a major issue, but have yet to cost the Minutemen any games. If they continue to commit 13 penalties per game, that may change.

Off to a running start

The Maroon and White have dominated its opponents on the ground in more ways than one.

Colgate star running back Jordan Scott was completely shut down in the second half by the Minuteman defense – gaining just 11 yards on 13 carries after exploding for 92 yards in the first half. UMass starting tailback Matt Lawrence enjoyed another big day, rushing for 122 yards following his 153-yard performance in the opener.

Scott failed to cross the goal line despite having five touches inside the 5-yard line. His fumble in the third quarter all but ended any hope of a Raider comeback.

“We did a good job of pressuring them and fitting our gaps,” UMass coach Don Brown said after Saturday’s game. “There were no seams for him to go, and it was nice to see our guys rise up and get that stop.”

Backup UMass tailback Tony Nelson picked up where Lawrence left off in the second half, rushing for 67 yards after halftime. The duo has already amassed 400 rushing yards on just 58 carries – good for a 6.9 average. The starting running backs for Colgate (Scott) and Holy Cross (Terrance Gass) combined for 141 yards rushing on 43 carries, a 3.3-yard average. The Minutemen have only allowed nine rushing first downs thus far.

Punting around

One question mark entering the 2007 season was who would start at punter for the Minutemen, and could that person realistically replace perhaps the best punter in team history, Christian Koegel.

Brown answered that question before the season, announcing that junior Brett Arnold beat out red-shirt junior Ryan Logan for the starting job.

Arnold, a transfer from Lackawanna Junior College, is proving that was a wise decision. The 6-foot, 180-pound punter hasn’t made everyone completely forget about Koegel, but if he continues at his current pace, it’s only a matter of time before he will.

Arnold improved on his solid opening-game performance against Holy Cross (44.3-yard average on six punts) with five booming punts against Colgate – including three that traveled further than 50 yards.

Arnold has a 47.4 average on 11 punts this season, including two exceeding 60 yards (65 and 68) and four downed inside the 20. The special teams coverage has also been solid, as Arnold has a net punt average of 41.2.

News and Notes

UMass has played two games without star tight end Brad Listorti, who remains out with a back injury. Listorti had 38 receptions for 604 yards and three touchdowns last season. Backup Ian Jorgensen – who had two touchdowns in the playoffs in 2006 – has helped pick up the slack for the offense, as he caught his first-career regular season touchdown against the Raiders on Saturday.

Quarterback Liam Coen certainly misses Listorti, but has already thrown six touchdown passes. He’s hooked up with five different receivers in the end zone. J.J. Moore is the only player with multiple TD receptions and also leads the team with 203 receiving yards.

J.J. Moore’s 58-yard punt return for a touchdown against Colgate was the first for UMass since 1996. Kory Blackwell was the last Minuteman to turn the trick, doing so against Connecticut on a 67-yard scamper.

Place-kicker Chris Koepplin had a record-setting season in 2006 for the Minutemen. He tied the single-season record for most field goals made (16) and set the mark for most points in a season (99). Despite the stellar season, Koepplin entered training camp in a battle with Armando Cuko for kickoff duties.

Koepplin eventually won the job, and has shown vast improvements with his distances on kickoffs. His average has increased by five yards (64.8 from 59.8) and he already has two touchbacks in 11 attempts.

The Minutemen have already accumulated nine sacks and 15 tackles for a loss in two games. David Burris (three sacks and four tackles for a loss) leads the team in both categories.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]