Minutemen still struggling in homecoming games; turnovers hurt Hill

By Michael Wood

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Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Homecoming has long been a sacred tradition in college football across the nation, but the Massachusetts football team hasn’t enjoyed much success on its homecoming days in the past.

Last year against Richmond, UMass sat at 4-1 overall and 2-0 in Colonial Athletic Association play. After losing 11-10 on the final drive of the game, the Minutemen finished 1-3 in the CAA and lost out on playoffs in their final season of Football Championship Subdivision play.

The game represented both the low point of UMass’ season and the starting point of its struggles within the CAA.

In Saturday’s 35-17 loss to Villanova, the Minutemen didn’t fare much better.

UMass entered the game 5-3 overall and 3-2 in CAA play and fresh off a 28-7 victory over the same Richmond team that defeated them in last season’s homecoming game. The Wildcats came into the game dead last in the conference with a 1-8 record overall.

The Minutemen looked outmatched and outplayed and never got comfortable on offense. The squad showed glimpses of life in the passing game at times – especially when senior running back Jonathan Hernandez racked up 99 yards on the ground – but the Wildcats remained one step ahead of them for the entire game.

“We just had some bad execution on some plays,” said UMass coach Kevin Morris. “We certainly think we’re a good football team and we’re getting better and better but if you [turn the ball over], it’s not coming back.”

Homecoming at Gillette

Saturday’s loss to Villanova will be the last homecoming game in western Massachusetts for the foreseeable future, and for many alumni, that means traveling to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro rather than returning to campus in Amherst.

When UMass moves up to the Mid-American Conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision next season, all home games will be played at Gillette instead of McGuirk Stadium.

Morris said that while he and his team are sad to be leaving McGuirk Stadium and the friendly confines of playing on campus, they are excited to look ahead to next season and welcome in an even greater crowd of alumni for homecoming in the future.

Hill steps in

Redshirt freshman Brandon Hill got the start in place of sophomore Kellen Pagel in the game and enjoyed sporadic success. Hill finished 27-of-45 for 300 yards, one touchdown and tossed three interceptions.

Hill enjoyed plenty of protection from his offensive line as well, which left him with enough time to find open receivers down field. His longest pass of the day went for 23 yards.

“I thought the [offensive line] played very solid and handled their blitz packages,” said Morris. “[They used a] 3-3-stack, which is a different look for us, but we were certainly ready for us and I thought we handled it pretty well.”

“Still, as we always mention, it’s a team deal and as a team and a unit we didn’t get it done tonight,” he added.

Turnovers return

Over the last few weeks, UMass seemed to have cured the turnover woes that plagued the team early on this season. But against the Wildcats, the Minutemen gave the ball away six times, including two uncharacteristic fumbles by Hernandez.

Hill’s three interceptions, combined with the fumbles by Hernandez were the most turnovers UMass has recorded all season.

“We had five fumbles and we lost three and we obviously can’t do that in a ballgame,” said Morris. “With six turnovers on the day it’s going to be hard to win any CAA ballgames.”

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