UMass football picks up first win of the season topping Florida International Saturday

By Adam Aucoin

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(Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)

All eyes were on Ross Comis for the Massachusetts football team throughout the past week. With the quarterback needing medical attention after UMass’ 26-7 loss to Boston College and being limited in practice, the major buzz around the program was if he would start Saturday or sit out and nurse his injuries.

When quarterback Andrew Ford trotted onto the field for first collegiate start, we got our answer.  The redshirt sophomore made the most of his opportunity Saturday, throwing for 278 yards and three touchdowns as the Minutemen (1-2) picked up their first win of the season, topping Florida International 21-13 at McGuirk Stadium.

This is the second season in a row UMass won its first game by beating the Panthers (0-3), as they topped FIU at 24-14 last October.

Minutemen coach Mark Whipple was happy with the effort his team showed Saturday.

“It was a really good win,” Whipple said. “In all three phases we did a lot of good things. Credit FIU, they fought hard. I thought we gained some confidence and certainly going in the locker room.”

UMass continued the strong defensive play they had displayed during its previous two games against Florida and Boston College, holding the Panthers to just a field goal in the first half.  A big key was the Minutemen’s ability to cause fumbles as they forced three on the day.

“You saw it today. At Florida we got the ball out three times, but we didn’t get a turnover,” linebacker Da’Sean Downey said. “Today we finished the job. That was the focus going into today was turning the ball over.”

“During the week, we worked on running to the ball,” linebacker Steve Casali added. “When you run to the ball, big things happen and that’s when turnovers happen, so we had a good week of practice and it transferred over to the game.”

Strong defensive play has become somewhat of an expectation for UMass, but the other side of the ball has been a different story entirely. Coming into the day, the Minutemen averaged the least points per game (seven) in the country.

Saturday represented a major step forward for UMass on that side of the ball. The Minutemen had 394 yards of total offense on the day, which more than doubles UMass’ yardage outputs in the Florida and BC games.

Along with Ford, tight end Adam Breneman was the star on offense for the Minutemen. The Penn State transfer led the team with 10 receptions, one of which was a touchdown. Breneman seemed right at home catching passes from his old Cedar Cliff High School teammate.

Breneman has experienced numerous injuries in the past, most notably knee issues that almost caused his football career to be over, but the redshirt junior is feeling healthy now and that’s all he can ask for.

“For a while, I felt like things were just never going my way. I was getting banged up here and there. But that’s all behind me,” Breneman said. “My body feels great and I’ve been healthy. I just hope that I can contribute for the next nine games to our team and hopefully one more with a bowl game. That’s my goal, just to stay healthy and keep doing what coach Whipple asks me to do.”

FIU was led offensively by running back Alex Gardner, who gave the UMass defense trouble throughout. Gardner had 23 carries for 130 yards on the day. Saturday was the second consecutive game he went over 100 yards on the ground.

The game was not perfect for the Minutemen, but Whipple will take the positive result and build from there.

“You look at it, it puts us 3-4 at McGuirk. We are 3-3 in the last six games we’ve played here. We didn’t finish the game like I wanted to; certainly Dan (Jonah) bobbled the ball a little bit. We missed a field goal that ices it. We are a work in progress.”

UMass will be back in action next Saturday when they take on Mississippi State at 3:30 p.m. at Gillette Stadium.

Adam Aucoin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34.