Monday, August 8, 2011

UMass Football Preview

In today's post, we'll take a look at the University of Massachusetts football team.  The Minutemen will be the second CAA opponent the Monarchs face in conference play, and the game marks the first official conference game at S.B. Ballard Stadium. 

But first we have a couple updates.  The Monarchs started camp today and we fans got a letter from the desk of head coach Bobby Wilder.  Unfortunately we got a bit of bad news - RS Junior DE Andrew Turner will probably miss the season with an Achilles injury.  The injury occurred in spring practice but there was a setback recently.  He got significant playing time each of the last two seasons, so some younger guys will have to step up their performance this season.

We'll get into more detail on the Monarchs in about a week.  In fact we'll get more information on each opponent during the season.  My goal in August is simply to provide a high-level analysis for those who may not be familiar with our CAA football opponents. 

For now, though, our attention is turned to Old Dominion's October 1st opponent, the Minutemen of UMass.

Football History
UMass as an instituion was founded in 1863, and they have accumulated a record of 551-524-51 since starting football in 1879.  A member of D1-AA/FCS football circa 1978, they have won several conference championships and even the 1998 D1-AA national title.  The program has seen more than 25 players in the NFL, with Vladimir Ducasse being the most recent. 

A second round pick of the Jets, Ducasse is the latest pro from UMass.  (Photo credited to

In April 2011, it was announced that UMass would leave CAA Football to join the Mid-American Conference effective for the 2012 season.  Fans of the old Yankee Conference may find this sad, but I think the BCS is driving college athletics to this point for better or worse.  That's a discussion for another day. 

For 2011 the team will play its home games at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium but will play home games at Gillette Stadium in 2012.  Don't expect a rivalry to form between UMass and ODU - there are other FCS programs that FBS-UMass would schedule before scheduling the Monarchs.  (Side note - ODU is fortunate to have the financial support from donors to avoid throwing itself at the mercy of FBS teams for a big payday.  Keep the checks going, ODAF members!)

UMass...Gillette Stadium...Patriots...Tom Brady...gratuitous G-rated picture of his wife...
2010 Highlights
Massachusetts finished 2010 with a 6-5 record (4-4 in conference play).  It's difficult to go from examining Delaware's season to examining a 6-5 team while conveying that the former is nearly just as good as the latter.  But that's the reality of the CAA: a team that finished 6-5 opened the season with a 27-23 win over Co-CAA Champion William and Mary.  The team also battled the Michian Wolverines to the end but fell 42-37 in Ann Arbor.  This 2010 team was talented.

There were three Minutemen on the All-CAA First Team in 2010, led by LB Tyler Holmes.  The Co-CAA Defensive Player of the Year was also named the 2010 Phil Steele Defensive Player of the Year and a First Team All-American.  You could say he had a decent season with 110 tackles, 12 sacks and five INT's. 

Rising senior LB Tyler Holmes had quite the season in 2010. (Photo credited to

History with Old Dominion
This will be the first meeting between UMass and Old Dominion on the footbal field.  You should get used to me saying that in every preview going forward except The College of William and Mary.  A quick search of both Google and my memory failed to provide any basketball contests in the last couple decades, either.

2011 Outlook
The Minutemen bring back seven starters on offense, including WR Julian Talley, a 2011 Preseason All-CAA Team selection.  Running back Jonathan Hernandez returns for his senior season after finishing second in the CAA with 938 rushing yards.  I remember Hernandez specifically from the UMass/James Madison contest last season.  The Dukes' offense could not keep the defense off the field, and Hernandez had some pretty big plays.  This guy knows what to do with the ball.

Massachusetts loses its starting quarterback of last season, Kyle Havens, to graduation.  In eleven games he threw for 2,700 and 20 touchdowns.  Those are impressive numbers considering the defenses of the CAA.  As of the team's spring game in April they had not decided on a new starting quarterback, and I haven't found anything else definitive since then.

On defense, it doesn't get much better than Holmes.  Despite giving up more than 25 points per game as a unit, the fact that they return nine starters from 2010 lends to the conclusion that the team should improve in 2011.  The team gave up scores on 32 of 40 opponents' trips to the red zone, including 25 touchdown.  They must improve on that 80% clip of seeing the other team put points on the board within the 20 yard line.

The one thing I guarantee you without a doubt is that the Minutemen will finish their season with a conference record of 0-0.  In the preseason CAA poll, UMass was picked to finish fifth.  However, their wins and losses will count only for their opponents, since the Minutemen are ineligible for FCS playoffs during this transitional year to FBS.  I feel for the seniors but that's the hand life has dealt them. 

If the Minutemen's defense cannot correct its red zone deficiencies by the middle of 2011, we could see the Monarchs put some points on the scoreboard.  Will it be enough to overcome a solid CAA opponent?  We will see.  For further information on UMass football before the season starts, you should head over to the UMass Football Blog.  The gentleman behind that site updates it with regular posts, and I'm sure we'll visit them again as we get closer to October 1.

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