Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass football considers upcoming bout with Ohio to be a big test

After snapping three-game losing streak last Saturday, Minutemen look for first road win

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(Caroline O'Connor/UMass Athletics)

(Caroline O'Connor/UMass Athletics)

(Caroline O'Connor/UMass Athletics)

By Mollie Walker, Assistant Sports Editor

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After a much-needed win at home that snapped a three-game losing streak, the Massachusetts football team is back on the road this upcoming weekend to take on Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

The Bobcats (1-2) are riding a two-game losing skid, dropping its most recent contest to Cincinnati by a slim four-point margin. It was a heart-breaking loss that saw Ohio jump out to a 21-0 lead and hold a 24-7 advantage going into halftime, before drowning in the Wildcats’ 27 second-half points.

“[The team] knows Ohio, Ohio is a really good football team,” coach Mark Whipple said following Tuesday’s practice. “I thought the Monday practice was good, the whole week was good.

“We’ll see what happens Saturday, that’s more important than what we did last week, that’s the most important factor.”

The Minutemen (2-3) fell to Ohio last season at McGuirk Alumni Stadium despite holding a 13-7 lead early in the second quarter. The Bobcats scored on three consecutive drives to make it 24-13 before UMass registered back-to-back touchdowns in one of its most seesaw-like games of the year.

In the end, Ohio handed UMass its sixth consecutive loss (58-50) that dated back to the start of the 2017 season. The last time the Minutemen traveled to Ohio resulted in a 51-23 loss to wrap up the 2013 season.

“Last year we just didn’t really come to play,” linebacker Bryton Barr said. “We didn’t do our assignment and we came out flat. They put up 50-something points on us and that’s not the brand of football that we’re used to playing.”

“We just need to make sure that we come prepared and come with a lot of energy like we did against Charlotte,” he added.

The one major memory Barr has from the matchup against Ohio last season was their versatile quarterback, Nathan Rourke. Whipple was sure that the Minutemen would remember Rourke, given the massive numbers he ran on UMass last season. As a result, practice has been geared toward the defense stopping the run.

The middle linebacker believes that the game after Ohio, Georgia Southern, was the turning point of last season. He hopes that the victory over Charlotte will act as that same turning point and will carry on for the rest of the season.

Barr registered 71 total tackles through five games so far this season, averaging 14.2 tackles per game to lead the NCAA FBS. In each of the last four contests, Barr has at least 10 tackles in each, including 21 tackles most recently against the 49ers.

“[Barr is] playing real good, I mean he made 21 tackles [last game],” Whipple said of Barr. “He’s all over the place and he brings unbelievable energy. He forces fumbles and sacks, he was the best defensive player on the field no question.”

Following its 49-31 win over Charlotte, UMass now ranks among the least penalized teams in the country this season. It is also 14th in fewest penalty yards per game (38.40) as well as 23rd in fewest penalties per game (5.00), accumulating the best numbers during coach Whipple’s four-year term.

Ohio head coach Frank Solich told the local media that he believes UMass is very offensively sound right now, alerting him that his team is going to have to score a lot of points. He said he hopes to force the Minutemen into “long yardage situations” and then be prepared to “play good long yardage defense.”

“The turnover battle will be extremely important in the game when both teams are capable of scoring points,” Solich said. “You start turning the ball over two or three times and give the other team the extra series or extra downs, and you’re putting yourself in a huge bind.”

Whipple believes that if a team has all its weapons, you’ll have a pretty good chance to be good. With the Minutemen having to turn to third-string quarterback Michael Curtis last contest, Whipple is hoping he will have all his weapons back.

“When we catch the football and throw it pretty good, I think it opens up everything,” Whipple said. “There’s got to be a sense of urgency, but like I said, today they were good.”

Mollie Walker can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter at @MWalker2019.

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