Minutemen head south

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Saturday’s game between William ‘ Mary and No. 4 Massachusetts is a matchup of two very different football teams.

After last year’s 48-7 drubbing by the Minutemen, the Tribe are hoping for a very different score this time around in Williamsburg, Va.

UMass quarterback Liam Coen is listed as day-to-day with a sprained left knee, but is expected to be under center for the Minutemen (6-1, 4-0 Colonial Athletic Association) for the 1 p.m. kickoff at Zable Stadium. The knee has given him trouble for several weeks, after he initially tweaked it in the victory over Towson on Sept. 15.

“The reality is it is not going to go away,” said UMass coach Don Brown during this week’s CAA coaches conference call. “He rehabs it every day and I just know he will be back out on the practice field and be physical when Saturday comes.”

Coen needs just one touchdown pass and 316 yards passing to become the school’s all-time leader in both categories. Should Coen be unable to go Saturday, backup Scott Woodward – who has seen action in five games this season – would get the start. He is 13-of-24 for 143 yards in limited time in 2007.

The Tribe (4-3, 2-2 CAA) have alternated wins and losses for five consecutive games. They were off last weekend and defeated Maine, 21-20, the week before on Oct. 13. William ‘ Mary overcame 249 rushing yards from the Black Bears to escape with the victory, mainly due to not turning the ball over and an 8-of-17 performance on third downs.

William ‘ Mary coach Jimmy Laycock – in his 28th season – leads a Tribe team that is particularly one-dimensional on both sides of the ball. On defense, they rank first in passing defense in the CAA (allowing 169.4 yards per game) but last in the 12-team conference in rushing defense (220.1 yards). Current Tribe defensive coordinator Bob Shoop worked under Brown last season as the defensive backs coach of the Minutemen.

Offensively, the Tribe leads the CAA with 304.4 passing yards per game and are second-to-last in rushing yards per game at 120.7. Quarterback Jake Phillips (125-of-214, 1,978 yards, 14 TD and four interceptions) leads an offense with a number of talented pass catchers.

“Obviously he’s talented. He can throw the vertical pass down the field and he has the mobility to escape the rush and make plays,” Brown said. “He’s got great results from his receivers when he’s done that and he certainly presents some problems.”

The redshirt junior quarterback appeared in seven games last season, but did not appear in the Oct. 7 matchup last year against the Minutemen. He played well at times in 2006 (5 TDs, 3 INT and 49.6 percent passing), but has broke out this season for the Tribe.

Much like Brown’s compliments of Phillips, Laycock has a similar respect for the UMass signal-caller.

“Their scheme is very solid and with Coen in there he runs the show very, very well,” Laycock said during the same conference call. “He knows how to move the ball around to the open receivers, he gets good protection and they have such a good running game too.”

Stopping the opposing run game has been a major issue for Laycock and William ‘ Mary this season. In the past two games for the Tribe, they’ve allowed 482 yards rushing – 249 against Maine in the victory and 233 in a 63-24 loss to Villanova. Black Bears tailback Jhamal Fluellen exploded for 200 rushing yards on 31 carries, three weeks after gaining 50 yards on 12 rushes against UMass.

In four games against conference opponents, the Tribe have allowed 977 yards rushing (244.25 per game) but escaped with two wins. In addition to defeating Maine, they edged Towson, 27-22, despite allowing the Tigers to run for 214 yards. Delaware gained 281 yards rushing in the season-opening victory, 49-31, over the Tribe.

The Minutemen dominated on the ground in last year’s meeting, rushing for five touchdowns and 278 yards in the 48-7 victory at McGuirk Stadium. Backup tailback Tony Nelson ran for a career-high three scores. UMass racked up 596 yards of total offense, its most since 1999. It was the worst margin of defeat for the Tribe in a conference game since they joined the conference (then the Atlantic 10) in 1993. Strangely enough, William ‘ Mary led in time of possession in that game by nearly six minutes.

The UMass defense leads the CAA in scoring defense (17.4 points per game) and in pass defense efficiency (105.3). It will be challenged by the talented aerial attack of the Tribe – which has a triumvirate of play-making wideouts. R.J. Archer, Elliott Mack and Cameron Dohse have combined for 70 receptions, 1,168 yards and nine touchdowns. Tight end Drew Atchison has chipped in for 363 yards and three scores.

The UMass offense has been consistently solid this season, particularly starting running back Matt Lawrence. The redshirt senior has 797 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, and has rushed for over 100 yards in five games this season.

Lawrence ranks fourth in the CAA in rushing yards and 15th nationally.

Nelson has added 309 yards rushing in 2007, but has yet to find the end zone. He has averaged 5.5 yards per carry, while Lawrence has gained an average of 5.2.

With the struggles of the William ‘ Mary rush defense, UMass figures to make a concerted effort to run the ball with both Nelson and Lawrence.

The two running backs also figure to take the pressure off of Coen, who is still hampered with a left knee injury.

Game notes

Saturday’s matchup is homecoming for William ‘ Mary. The Tribe are 7-1 in their last eight homecoming games