Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass football looks to get back on track with against Wagner Saturday

(Christina Yacono/ Daily Collegian)
(Christina Yacono/ Daily Collegian)

2016 was always going to be a tough season for the Massachusetts football team. From day one, there was no disputing that fact.

The season represented many things for UMass (1-7). From being the Minutemen’s first independent season to taking on three Southeastern Conference opponents to finding replacements for its two biggest offensive threats in Blake Frohnapfel and Tajae Sharpe; wins were going to be hard to come by.

UMass will be the first to admit the first eight games of the season haven’t gone the way it had planned, and will now look to salvage what is left of the season with four games remaining.

Marred in a five-game losing streak, the Minutemen hope to get back on track as they take on Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent Wagner (4-3, 2-1 Northeast Conference) Saturday at McGuirk Stadium.

The Seahawks come in with a strong defense led by an exceptional pass rush. Sophomore linebacker Quintin Hampton is tops on the team with five sacks, while defensive lineman Jordan Baskerville is close behind with three sacks.

UMass will need to have strong protection by the offensive line if it wants to find success Saturday. The Minutemen struggled with this earlier in the season, which was epitomized by allowing eight sacks against Boston College, but as the season progressed the results have been better. In last week’s 34-28 loss to South Carolina, the team allowed just one sack.

Right guard Michael Boland knows it will be important for the offensive line to keep up that play this week.

“Every week it’s important to prepare like we did for the last,” Boland said. “We need to get ready for their blitzes and the trouble they cause up front. They have a bunch of good guys on the defensive line, a bunch of 1-A transfers, so they’ll be ready to go for sure.”

UMass quarterback Andrew Ford has been impressed with the improvement of the unit protecting him and expects that to continue this weekend.

“I think this past weekend was our offensive line’s best game,” Ford said. “I think each and every week they are getting better [and] more comfortable, which is huge for our offense. So we are just going to keep going and I have high expectations for our offense and they’re going to come through.”

Ford has been impressive in his seven appearances throwing for 1,364 yards and 16 touchdowns. The man on the receiving end of many of those throws has been tight end Adam Breneman. Breneman has been strong during his first year in Amherst as he leads all Football Bowl Subdivision tight ends with 44 receptions.

Despite the fact that the Minutemen have had a tough season, most people would think a matchup against an FCS opponent would be a welcome sight for a struggling UMass team. The Minutemen are viewing this game as any other game on the schedule.

“Our guys looked at the tape. They’re [Wagner] tough,” UMass Coach Mark Whipple said. “We never really brought being [FCS] up. They’re pretty good, so we have to play and take care of our business and do whatever we can to get a win.”

Saturday will be Senior Day for UMass and the team is focused on making the last time the seniors suit up at McGuirk special.

“Getting a win in their last home game is definitely something Coach [Whipple] has been preaching to us,” Ford said. “That’s something, as underclassmen, what we are trying to do – send these seniors off on the right note.”

Kickoff is set for noon at McGuirk Stadium on Saturday.

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

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