Minutemen host Albany in 2009 home opener

By Jeffrey R. Larnard

No one can blame the Massachusetts football team’s loss to Kansas State on a lack of effort, and if it can replicate that effort, coach Kevin Morris likes the No. 17 Minutemen’s chances against Albany this Saturday.

“Effort is certainly an area where we can always get better with, but we had tremendous effort so maybe that is the area that if maybe we maintain our effort and intensity we’ll be in pretty good shape as a team,” Morris said.

But as Morris knows, effort alone can’t win football games, and UMass (0-1) can’t take the Great Danes lightly when they come to Amherst to play the first game under the lights this season at 6:30 p.m. This is the same Albany team that the Minutemen opened the 2008 season against and managed a shaky 28-16 win. In that game, the Great Danes jumped out to a 9-0 first quarter lead, and were down by five at the start of the fourth quarter.

Albany rode David McCarty last season against the Minutemen, and he piled up 197 all-purpose yards with 125 on the ground in 24 carries. This time around, UMass can expect much of the same. The senior is a 2009 Walter Payton Award Candidate – the top offensive honor in the Football Championship Subdivision and the same award UMass’ Tony Nelson is up for – and was the nation’s second leading rusher at 154.3 yards per game.

The Minutemen’s defense will need the same effort that it put forth against Kansas State to contain McCarty. UMass allowed 225 yards on the ground against the Wildcats, with 83 in the second half. After three runs of 16, 20 and 24 yards in the second half, the Minutemen defense clamped down with timely defense, not allowing another first down on all three drives.

The defense, which had its share of question marks heading into last week’s game, showed flashes of the defense that helped UMass reach the 2006 FCS National Championship Game. Those flashes came with four first-time starters on defense (Ke’Mon Bailey, Anthony Monette, D.J. Adeoba and Kurt Filler) and another three who had started fewer than five games prior to this season.

“I think a lot of younger guys really stepped up. There were a lot of question marks at corner and the other safety beside me,” All-American safety Jeromy Miles said of his secondary. “Shane Viveiros did a great job and made some big plays, I think he had three pass break ups and eight tackles. Ke’Mon bailey had a crazy game and Corey Davis had a solid game. Pretty much the whole secondary came in and filled the shoes for the All-Americans that left in Sean Smalls and Courtney Robinson.”

The offense came out of the loss to the Wildcats with the most questions marks, as it at times struggled to move the ball. In Kyle Haven’s first start at UMass, the junior went 10-for-34 for 102 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Haven’s performance was better than his numbers would indicate given his circumstances.

“That was a tough environment to run a squad in, it was loud with 51,000 people yelling and screaming every time we touched the ball,” Morris said. “So it was hard to communicate, and he did a great job leading the offense and we didn’t have a lot of hiccups in that regards and obviously we have to get better at throwing and catching.

Haven’s had the typical overthrows and underthrows that every quarterback has in a game, especially a new quarterback. But in addition, the junior college transfer had multiple passes that were on target, but dropped by his receivers. Nelson, who was solid on the ground (107 yards on 19 carries), had trouble catching the ball as he dropped four screen passes thrown his way.

But to Havens, it is only a matter of time before the offense finds some rhythm.

“I felt I made good decision’s [at Kansas State], I may have just been a little late or a little early,” Havens said. “Just with working with the receivers, that will all come.”

Jeffrey R. Larnard can be reached at [email protected]