Minutemen return to McGuirk for Homecoming game

By Michael Wood

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The Massachusetts football team hasn’t played a home game since Oct. 8, but this Saturday the Minutemen will return to McGuirk Stadium to face Villanova in its annual homecoming game.

“For us, we’re very excited to get back in front of this home crowd at McGuirk and be able to rest a little bit,” said UMass head coach Kevin Morris.

“We’ve been traveling so much that we’ve kind of gotten into a routine,” added Morris.  “It will be nice to be back home, and it’s our homecoming game as well, so we should get a good number of folks back for the game.”

UMass is currently 5-3 on the season and 3-2 in conference play. As Morris noted, the team has gotten used to traveling this season, having only played one game on campus since Sept. 17 when the squad defeated Rhode Island.

Since that victory over URI, the Minutemen have stayed at .500, going 3-3 with victories over Central Connecticut, Delaware and, most recently, Richmond. Its losses have come against Boston College, Old Dominion and New Hampshire.

Morris said he feels comfortable with where the team stands at this point in the schedule, though he certainly notes places that need improvement.

“We’ve been talking about having a young team and getting better week-to-week,” said Morris. “We’ve still got a long way to go on some mistakes, but certainly the margins [on the scoreboard] are closing up a little bit.”

“We’re getting older, we’re getting more experience, and we’re making more plays in crunch time and we certainly saw that on Saturday.”

Quarterback Kellen Pagel had a solid game last week against Richmond, throwing for 192 yards and a touchdown without any turnovers. The team’s bruising running back, Jonathan Hernandez, posted his 10th-career 100-yard performance as the UMass running game accumulated 146 yards. Wide receiver Jesse Julmiste also went over the century mark, catching seven balls for 105 yards and a touchdown.

“[They played] really well and really played hard, physical football,” said Morris. “The kids came out ready to play and were focused. We were able to finish with some good tackling in the run game and [stop] their run game early.”

This week against the Wildcats, UMass faces a team in transition that is still trying to figure out its strengths. Villanova sits at 1-8 on the year, its only victory coming in Week 4 against Penn. With only 10 seniors on the roster, it’s no surprise that the Wildcats are in a bit of a rebuilding phase, but Morris said he doesn’t expect VU to lay down for anybody, especially following a difficult loss to Maine a week ago.

“When you look at their roster, they are very young overall,” said Morris. “They’ve made some young mistakes and have gotten outplayed at times, but we’re expecting their very best coming up here. They had a tough one against Maine in the snow and I’m sure they’re getting fired up and ready to do a great job.”

Regardless of the Wildcats’ record coming into the game, Morris said his team knows that it will have to execute on both sides of the ball as well as on special teams if it hopes to be successful.

With the game falling on homecoming weekend, there will certainly be plenty of fans on hand,and you can bet UMass will feed off its energy throughout the contest.

Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and the game will be televised on Comcast SportsNet New England.

Michael Wood can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @MDC_Wood.