Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass football hopes return to McGuirk Stadium will help in ‘must win’ game against FIU

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Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts football team hasn’t reached its goals to start the 2015 season.

UMass has lost its first three games, including blowouts against Colorado and Notre Dame and a blown fourth quarter lead against Temple. Now, with their backs against the wall, the Minutemen have forced themselves into a pivotal game against Florida International Saturday.

“Everyone knows this is a must win for us. We can’t lose in our house,” UMass senior safety Joe Colton said.

UMass (0-3) makes its return home to Amherst to face the Panthers (2-2) in its first game of the season at McGuirk Stadium. Last year, the Minutemen went 1-2 in games on campus, including a 24-10 win against Ball State in which quarterback Blake Frohnapfel suffered a leg injury that sidelined him for the rest of the year.

Now UMass makes its return to its actual home where it hopes to use Saturday’s game as a way to start fresh before heading into Mid-American Conference play.

“It’s a good experience being back home,” cornerback Randall Jette said. “It’s an actual college atmosphere. Gillette’s a great atmosphere, but I think it’s more of a family oriented one. Now you’re seeing a lot of your classmates and faculty supporting you so that’s a completely different vibe.”

Jette added: “We all understand that we are trying to start a new season. The first quarter of the season we didn’t do what we wanted to do or expected to do, so it’s important we protect our own field. We want the fans to come out win.”

After allowing 62 points and 681 yards of total offense last Saturday against Notre Dame, UMass has shifted its focus to tightening up its mental mistakes on defense. The Minutemen defense suffered a plethora of injuries highlighted by Whipple’s announcement Tuesday that starting safety Khary Bailey-Smith will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.

Defensive lineman Sha-Ki Holiness and linebacker Peter Ngobidi, who both suffered injuries against Notre Dame, did not practice Wednesday and their status for Saturday is unknown. Cornerback Kelton Brackett – who spent Wednesday’s practice trying on a series of knee braces to aid his ailing knee – has a chance of playing against FIU, according to Minutemen coach Mark Whipple.

Sliding into Bailey-Smith’s spot will likely be redshirt freshman Charan Singh, who dealt with an ankle sprain in training camp that limited his actions through the Minutemen’s first few weeks of the season. Singh saw his first action of the year against Notre Dame, where he registered four tackles.

“Charan’s doing really well. He’s had a great week of practice. He’s stepping up, and he has to step up, he has to play good at (free safety) because I sure didn’t last week,” Colton said.

Whipple praised Singh’s work ethic and said he did an excellent job of taking mental reps while he was dealing with the ankle injury earlier this season.

UMass has placed extra attention this week on dual threat-quarterback Alex McGough, who has thrown for 1,014 passing yards and nine touchdowns with only two interceptions. He’s coming off a performance against Indiana where he completed 21-of-37 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns.

“He makes a lot of good throws. He throws the deep ball really accurate,” Whipple said. “They have good timing (on routes). You watch Indiana and he makes a bunch of good throws. They got behind last week and brought them back a little.”

Saturday’s game at McGuirk is set to start at 3 p.m. and will take place during the University’s family weekend.

 

Andrew Cyr can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.

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