UMass football looks for first victory of the season Saturday against Florida International

By Kyle DaLuz

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)
(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts football team has not gotten off to the start that it envisioned heading into the 2016 season.

The Minutemen have failed to score more than a touchdown in each of their first two games, and haven’t been able to keep teams out of the end zone either, allowing 25 points per game.

UMass is hoping that – given the circumstances – its season can follow the form of the year prior, when the Minutemen beat home opponent Florida International for their first win of the season, 24-14.

Faces and parts have changed since that meeting. UMass is no longer a member of the Mid-American Conference and it’s lost a plethora of starters since last season. Gone are the days of Tajae Sharpe, Blake Frohnapel and here are the times of new starters Ross Comis, Andy Isabella and Adam Breneman, along with a revamped defensive unit.

Minutemen coach Mark Whipple is looking for improvement out of his defense after the first two outings, but is also impressed with the advancements his unit has made from last season to present.

“Just squeeze the pocket a little more and obviously get some takeaways,” Whipple said following Wednesday’s practice. “They’re running to the ball hard, playing fast – we’re faster than we’ve been. Just kind of close those little seams. They’ve been good.”

Saturday would be an ideal time for the Minutemen to take the next step in front of their home crowd to secure their first victory of the season against the team they accomplished that same feat in beating last season.

Linebacker Teddy Lowery is ready for his team to take the next step.

“Everybody right now is forming together as a group – like a family,” Lowery said. “I like it. That would give us a lot of confidence. FIU is a pretty good team but for us, we really need this win right now to give us some confidence and boost (in) playing Mississippi State and South Carolina. This win is going to be an ultimate booster for us.”

The defensive unit has shown signs of improvement from past seasons. Despite allowing 21 fourth quarter points this season, the most of any quarter, defensive end Ali Ali-Musa says he believes his team is coming together, with their confidence at a season’s high in hoping to best the Golden Panthers.

“It’s going good, we’ve just had a little struggle here and there,” he said. “We’re coming together stronger and stronger every day and every practice. This week should be an interesting week because we feel more prepared than we were the first two games.”

FIU comes into Amherst in a similar position to UMass, failing to beat its first two opponents. The Golden Panthers fell to Indiana and Maryland at home, averaging just 13.5 points per game on offense and allowing 37.5 points to opponents.

Those statistics and prior experience the previous season leave the Minutemen inclined to believe they can pick up their first victory of the season Saturday.

“I believe we should beat them,” Ali-Musa said. “We’re going to beat them. We played Florida – Florida’s a pretty good team – we should’ve beat Florida too. We should’ve beat Boston College; things just didn’t click at the time. I really feel like this week we’re going to beat (FIU).”

The road after here won’t get much easier for UMass. The Minutemen next host Mississippi State at Gillette Stadium with a road trip to South Carolina (Oct. 22) on the horizon, leaving this weekend as an ideal time for UMass to win its first contest.

Kyle DaLuz can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Kyle_DaLuz.