Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass football prepares for final game at McGuirk

Minutemen will try to keep up momentum against Liberty

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UMass football prepares for final game at McGuirk

(Eva Trainer/Collegian)

(Eva Trainer/Collegian)

(Eva Trainer/Collegian)

(Eva Trainer/Collegian)

By Thomas Haines, Assistant Sports Editor

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Coming off just its third win of the season, the Massachusetts football team returns to McGuirk Alumni Stadium for its final home game of the year.

UMass (3-6) takes on Liberty (4-3) this weekend after a narrow win over Connecticut last weekend in which the defense stepped up for arguably its best game of the year, limiting the Huskies to just 265 yards and 17 points.

One of the big leaders in that win was Marquis Young, who sparked the Minutemen on offense in his return from a concussion suffered against South Florida. Now four weeks removed from that injury, a healthy Young will be key against a Liberty defense that has allowed an average of 238 rushing yards per game.

“I help them out in the pass game, help them get open, make big plays in the air,” Young said. “Also, the offensive line, just staying motivated, doing the same things they’ve been doing throughout these past couple weeks. We’ve been practicing real hard. So hopefully we can bring that same momentum from Saturday into the game.”

The Minutemen have had their own struggles stopping the run. Of the 265 offensive yards allowed to UConn, 250 came on the ground, which was still better than UMass’ weekly average.

Liberty will challenge the UMass run defense with running back Frankie Hickson, who leads the team with 558 rushing yards on the season. Redshirt senior Kentory Matthews, who started the first two games of the season but has missed the last four games with a knee injury, is also expected to play against UMass.

On offense, Ross Comis will once again start, two weeks removed from the season-ending injury to Andrew Ford. After playing scattered series throughout the season, he went 8-of-15 with 197 yards and two touchdowns in the air, adding 63 yards with his legs.

“We believe in Ross, and we believe in Coach [Mark] Whipple, and we believe in Ford as well,” Young said. “Two guys that are very competitive and real good quarterbacks, well respected in the building. I think you’ll notice we’ve helped him a little bit with his confidence going forward.”

The return of Young diminished the UMass passing game against UConn, which recorded under 200 yards. Andy Isabella recorded 78 yards and a touchdown, his first game under 150 yards since Sept. 22 against Charlotte. Redshirt freshman Zak Simon gained 67 yards and scored on a single catch-and-run, while Sadiq Palmer and Brennon Dingle all but disappeared from the box score.

Despite the stats, Whipple praised the receiving corps for its role in blocking for Marquis on a day that was defined by the run game.

“They knew it wasn’t going to be a 40-pass game or something that way, and I was really proud of them,” Whipple said. “They had a lot to do with the win. Brennon went in and blocked, and Sadiq did a good job. The reason that Marquis got 156 wasn’t just because of the line. We’ve been harping on it a lot and Coach Hankerson’s done a good job.”

With three games left in the season, the Minutemen need to win out to reach .500 and have any shot at a bowl game. After facing Liberty, UMass will take on Brigham Young at Gillette Stadium and No. 3 Georgia on the road, making either a .500 record or a bowl game highly unlikely.

The Minutemen will start that stretch run with the final game of the season at McGuirk, where they have gone 2-2 on the season.

“Being back here, this is home,” Young said. “You always want to win the games at home, protect your land, and this is our land. This is our home.”

Thomas Haines can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @thainessports.

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