Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass football not overlooking FCS opponent Wagner in final home game Saturday

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Christina Yacono/Collegian

(Christina Yacono/Collegian)

As much as Massachusetts football coach Mark Whipple is installing a pro-style system for UMass on the field, he is equally doing so in the process of preparing for different opponents each week.

Despite, in theory, being favorites entering Saturday’s matchup against Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent Wagner—Vegas has yet to release a spread for the game—Whipple and the rest of UMass (1-7) are still not overlooking the Seahawks despite being a 1-AA program.

“We are treating this like every other week,” quarterback Andrew Ford said after Tuesday’s practice. “We know that this is a good football team. It’s going to take our best game to get a win on Saturday, so we just have to approach every day like we have the past couple of weeks.”

Ford added: “I don’t think we’re in a position to overlook anyone at this point—I don’t think any team is. I don’t think any team in the country can overlook anybody else because there are just so many talented teams that anybody can show up on Saturday and beat anyone else.”

Tight end Adam Breneman, who finished with nine receptions for 94 yards and a pair of touchdowns last Saturday against South Carolina, also stressed the importance of preparation as the Minutemen prepare to play their final home game of the season.

“It’s a big game for us. Wagner is a pretty good football team,” Breneman said. “We’ve been watching some tape on them and seeing their players. They have a lot of transfers that come in from 1-A down there. I’m not the kind of guy that likes to look at games different than other games. But I’d say if there’s a ‘must-win’ this is definitely it.”

Wagner (4-3. 2-1 Northeast Conference) features five different players from FBS schools: quarterback Aj Long (Syracuse), running back Franklin Labady (Cincinnati), defensive lineman Christian Gore (Western Michigan), linebacker Quintin Hampton (Central Florida) and defensive back Tim Hayes (Wyoming).

Of the Seahawks Division I transfers, it’s the defensive players who have had the biggest impact for them this season. Hampton currently leads the team in tackles for losses (seven) and sacks (five), and is second on the team with 54 total tackles. Hayes leads Wagner with three interceptions, while Gore has a pair of sacks.

Labady has only nine carries on the season for 96 yards, while Long has yet to see any action.

“[Wagner is] tough,” Whipple said. “We never really brought [being a FCS team] 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.”

“The quarterback is a good player—a really, really good player,” Whipple said of Alex Thomson, who has thrown for 1,402 yards this season with 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions. “The running backs, receivers, they have good defensive backs. They have good skill and their physical upfront on both sides of the ball.”

Ford said one of the biggest focal points in practice this week will be to eliminate miscues as UMass had four turnovers (two interceptions, two fumbles) against the Gamecocks despite only losing by six points.

“It shows us how critical every detail is,” Ford said. “We felt like there were a couple games where we really just beat ourselves. It makes it easy going out to practice knowing that you have to be sharp every single day and every single rep to make sure those things don’t happen again.”

“We’re just really focused this week,” Breneman added. “We had a good Tuesday practice. We have a good opportunity for us. We’ve been close a lot of times in a lot of big games and this kind of an opportunity where close isn’t going to be good enough this week.”

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

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