At the unofficial midway point of the season, the Massachusetts football team has been a modest surprise.
After losing multiple seniors and starters from last year's squad, UMass has had a successful first half en route to a 4-1 record entering its bye week.
The Minutemen are climbing in the rankings, despite staying put at No. 8 in the latest polls following a 27-14 victory over Towson on Saturday.
Other than UMass, six Colonial Athletic Association teams are ranked, including No. 2 Delaware, No. 4 William & Mary, No. 6 Villanova, No. 7 James Madison, No. 11 Richmond and No. 22 New Hampshire.
Though UMass coach Kevin Morris isn't completely satisfied with his team's performance up to this point, he is glad to see them getting better week-by-week.
"For us, it's all been about just evolving as a squad and maturing as a team," Morris said in a teleconference earlier in the week. "Am I happy at this point? Yeah. We've played well enough to win games. We obviously didn't win the Michigan game, but had some good positives come out of that game."
The Minutemen will look to continue their strong play when they return to action for homecoming against Richmond on Oct. 16. The contest will mark the first of six-consecutive CAA matchups for UMass to close out the regular season.
Holmes earning praise
Following a career-game against Towson, linebacker Tyler Holmes garnered more national attention, building upon the recognition he received in the preseason.
In addition to being named the UMass Co-Athlete of the Week, the junior earned the FCS National Linebacker of the Week award and was added to the 2010 Buck Buchanan Award Watch List. The honor is awarded to the top FCS defensive player and will be announced at the national awards banquet on Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas.
Against the Tigers, Holmes recorded a career-high 18 tackles, including three for losses, while adding a sack to lead the Minutemen defense.
"Another great job by Tyler and he's the leader of our defense and he's playing that way throughout the season and the first five games, whether he's catching tipped balls for interceptions," Morris said. "Tyler's just being Tyler and having a lot of fun playing great football and again, we're certainly relying on him to do that."
So far this season, the Blacksburg, Va. native is averaging just over 10 tackles per game, ranking him second in the CAA with 51 total tackles. Holmes is also the only linebacker tied with the conference lead in interceptions with three.
Securing the ball
Coming into the year, Morris emphasized the need to hold on to the ball and control the possession.
"As we've talked about in the preseason, based on our issues from last year, 2009 and 2010, we've been all about the ball," Morris said. "That's been our focal point with everything that we do. Still the ball is going to pop loose and we just have to continue to focus on it and get better with it because that will cost us and it almost did on [Saturday], but the kids fought back and overcame it."
Last season, UMass had a poor turnover margin at minus 11, second to last in the CAA only ahead of Towson. Through five games this year, the Minutemen are once again only ahead of the Tigers in the turnover margin at minus two.
Quarterback Kyle Havens hasn't been as big of a detriment to the margin with three interceptions, compared to a total of 15 in 2009.
Regardless, UMass will try to improve retaining the possession in its final six games, including fixing a conference-worst five fumbles lost.