Minutemen head to Ann Arbor looking for upset

By Dan Gigliotti

The Massachusetts football team travels to Ann Arbor, Mich., this weekend to play in the largest stadium in the country against one of the best teams in the nation.

No. 20 Michigan (2-0) hosts the Minutemen (2-0, 1-0 Colonial Athletic Association) for the teams’ first ever meeting on Saturday, in what is projected to be the largest crowd ever to see a UMass sporting event.

“This is incredibly exciting,” Minutemen quarterback Kyle Havens said in an interview with Michigan media members on Monday. “I’m pretty sure any kid who grows up playing football pretty much dreams of playing at Michigan. It’s the biggest stage in the country, so it’s really exciting.”

2010 marks the 10th consecutive season that No. 16 UMass faces an Football Bowl Subdivision opponent, with the most recent being a 21-14 loss at Kansas State to open the season last year.

The Minutemen have not beaten a FBS opponent in 16 years, since a victory over Ball State on Sept. 1, 1984 at McGuirk Stadium. They are 8-21 all-time against the FBS.

Michigan is one of the most accomplished football programs in the country. The Wolverines have won 11 NCAA championships, made 39 bowl appearances and have produced three Heisman Trophy winners in its history.

As fabled a football program as they are, Minutemen coach Kevin Morris does not expect his team to go into this game with less expectations.

“We’re going to win,” Morris said. “We’re not going there as a show team.”

“We will be in front of a lot of people,” Havens said, “but in reality it is just a football game. We’re not playing against the New England Patriots. It is just another college football team and they happen to have a good team and a bigger stadium than anyone we play.”

Michigan goes into this weekend’s game after rallying to beat Notre Dame 28-24 last Saturday. Wolverine quarterback Denard Robinson ran for a game-winning 2-yard touchdown with 27 seconds left in the game.

He finished with 502 all-purpose yards, including 28 carries for 258 yards.

Robinson, a sophomore, is the current Walter Camp Foundation National Offensive Player of the Week and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for the second consecutive time.

He is the focus of national attention for his play in the first two weeks of the season and demands attention as Morris prepares his defensive strategy.

“They’re a [shotgun] team with a quarterback who can play,” Morris said. “They use a lot of gun-run. [Robinson] can throw the ball well and he’s basically a Heisman Trophy candidate right now.”

UMass won its last game handily, beating Holy Cross 31-7 Saturday at home. The Minutemen offense gained 525 total yards, including over 300 yards by halftime.

Havens completed passes to seven different receivers, throwing for 293 yards and two touchdowns.
Tailbacks John Griffin and Jonathan Hernandez combined to lead a rushing unit that ran for 232 total yards. In two games this season, the duo has 358 yards rushing and five touchdowns.

Morris is not surprised by the effectiveness of his running game in the Minutemen’s first two games. He hopes to continue making the running tandem the focal point of the offense while maintaining a balanced attack.

“It was expected,” Morris said. “They are two quality backs. We’re going to put the load on them and expect them to produce.

“We always want to establish the run. We want to be a balanced team and in order to do that we need to run the ball effectively.”

The UMass defense was stifling in its last game, shutting out Holy Cross in the first half. Led by junior captain Tyler Holmes, the Minutemen have allowed less than 200 yards per game and 15 points so far this season.

Holmes won Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Week honors after his play in Week 1 and registered a sack, a forced fumble, and an interception in Week 2.

“It’s an exciting opportunity, but it still comes down to 11-on-11 and playing the game,” Morris said. “Fortunately, we’re going out and having a great opportunity to play a fantastic team in Michigan. Unfortunately, it’s a fantastic team in Michigan. They are really rolling now.”

Six FCS schools have beaten FBS teams thus far in the 2010 season, highlighted by James Madison’s upset win over No. 13 Virginia Tech last week.

The historic Michigan stadium, known as The Big House, set an NCAA record for attendance on Sept. 4, seating 113,090 fans. The previous attendance record for a Minutemen sporting event was 53, 190 at Texas Tech in 2008.

Dan Gigliotti can be reached at [email protected]