Football: Accolades, praise follow UMass quarterback

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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KINGSTON, R.I. – Last season against Rhode Island, Massachusetts quarterback Liam Coen could barely see his own receivers on the field, let alone his friends and family in the crowd.

But the Rhode Island native had little problem finding his receivers this time around, treating his contingency with a typical Coen-like performance and a 49-0 UMass victory over the Rams.

The URI defense probably hoped for the same horrendous weather that these teams played in last year. They sure could have used it. Coen was 15-for-17 passing, throwing for 241 yards and three touchdowns. Heavy rain and gusts of 50 miles-per-hour last season resulted in 22 yards and two interceptions through the air on 7-for-22 passing.

In a career full of memorable performances and record-breaking numbers, Saturday’s game was extra-special for Coen.

“My dad was behind me so I sort of had to wave, give a little fist pump,” Coen said, talking about the temptations of acknowledging his friends and family in the stands.

Both coaches acknowledged his accomplishments on the field after the game.

“I have a hunch that he’s going to get the chance to play beyond this year,” UMass coach Don Brown said. “He’s going to leave behind a great legacy but more importantly, great character.”

“I got nothing but great things to say about him,” said Rhode Island coach Darren Rizzi, who recruited Coen to play at Rutgers. “He plays like a coach’s son. He manages what they do, he’s efficient and the ball is on the money. He’s just a fantastic player.”

Coen, who holds nearly every single-season and career record at UMass, nearly added another one Saturday. His 88.2 completion percentage against the Rams was just shy of Tim Day’s 89.4 set back in 2004.

“You and Tim Day can have that yuck-fest when you’re in arguments,” Brown joked during the postgame press conference with Coen sitting right next to him. “He was special today and I’ll also add less than 100 percent.”

Entering 2008, only one active quarterback in the entire country has thrown for more touchdown passes than Coen – Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell. But not even Harrell had a better passing efficiency than Coen’s 151.88.

That number is on pace to go up even higher, as the senior quarterback has 19 touchdown passes and 2,259 yards for a rating of 163.82 this season. In the last two games, Coen has 630 yards and eight touchdown passes on 26-of-35 passing. That came in a little over four quarters of football, as Coen was taken out of both games early in the second half.

“He was mad at me when I took him out,” Brown said after Saturday’s game.

“He’s smart enough though, I’ll listen to him,” Coen chimed in afterwards.

Coen has stepped up at the perfect time, as UMass (6-3, 3-2 Colonial Athletic Association) has been virtually in a must-win situation since its third loss of the season on Oct. 18 against Richmond.

Since taking over as the full-time starter early in his freshman season, Coen is 36-11 in 47 starts – leading the Minutemen to two NCAA tournament berths and a national championship game appearance in 2006.

After some struggles earlier this season, Coen and the offense have been almost impossible to stop. UMass will need to keep that going with very tough upcoming conference games against Maine and No. 9 New Hampshire.

Both teams will be praying for rain.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]