|| Massachusetts Game Notes
UMass Begins Final FCS Season At Holy Cross
The 2011 season officially gets underway on Thursday, Sept. 1 as the No. 25 UMass football team heads to Holy Cross for the first-ever night game at Fitton Field. The 50th all-time meeting between the two Bay State foes will be nationally televised on the CBS Sports Network.
UMass begins its final Football Championship Subdivision season as this past spring the Minutemen announced their transition to the Football Bowl Division after being invited to the Mid-American Conference.
UMass has won eight straight games in the Holy Cross series which dates back to 1897 including last years 31-7 win in Amherst and 2008's 45-42 shootout in Worcester.
Statewide Radio Coverage
Josh Maurer in his fourth season as "Voice of the Minutemen." He will be joined by color analyst and former Minuteman Matt Goldstein. Cody Chrusciel will man the sidelines. John Hennessy and Adam Frenier will host pregame, halftime and postgame shows as well.
The game will be carried statewide on flagship 100.9 FM WRNX and 91.1 FM WMUA in Western Mass., and 95.9 FM WATD on the South Shore. The game can also be listened to online at UMassAthletics.com.
UMass vs. Holy Cross: The Series
In-state foes Holy Cross and UMass meet for the fourth time in five seasons in a renewed rivalry. The Minutemen rolled to a 31-7 win last season at McGuirk Stadium in front of 16,352 fans. Kyle Havens was 25-of-38 for 293 yards with two touchdowns, while Jonathan Hernandez (75 yds, TD) and John Griffin (71 yds, TD) combined for an effective ground attack. Anthony Nelson had 8 catches for 103 yards. UMass led 31-0 at halftime, while the Crusaders managed a touchdown in the third quarter to finish the game scoring.
The Minutemen pulled out a thrilling 45-42 last-second win on Sept. 6, 2008 in Worcester - the most recent meeting in Worcester. Armando Cuko kicked a game-winning 42-yard field goal as time expired for the shootout victory.
The Minutemen lead the all-time series, 23-21-5, winning the last eight games in a row dating to 1992. In the last eight meetings, all Minuteman wins, UMass has won by a composite score of 271-99, including a stretch of 120 consecutive points from 1993 through 1996. The average score since 1992 is 33-11 in UMass' favor.
Holy Cross' last win came in 1991, a 22-20 victory at McGuirk. That finished a four-game unbeaten span for Holy Cross.
Prior to this 11-year hiatus that ended in 2007, the teams played every season from 1990-95 and every year from 1970 through 1987.
UMass and Holy Cross Connections
UMass has plenty of connections to Worcester and Central Mass. Head coach Kevin Morris served as the head coach at Worcester Polytech Institute for six years from 1993-98.
Offensive coordinator Brian Picucci is a native of nearby Leominster, Mass.
The Minutemen have many players from Central Mass including starters and key reserves: TE Rob Blanchflower (St. John's Shrewsbury H.S.), TB Jonathan Hernandez (Leominster H.S.), TE Emil Igwenagu (Holy Name Catholic), DL Brandon Potvin (Holy Name Catholic), WR Dominique Price (Holy Name Catholic).
Wide receiver and special teamer James Lizotte attended Holy Cross before transferring to UMass prior to 2010. He is a native of West Boylston and attened St. John's Shrewsbury H.S.). Lizotte sat out last season due to transferring. In 2009 as a freshman at Holy Cross he played in three games making one tackle as a defensive back.
UMass Moving TO FBS; Joins The MAC
The 2011 season will be the final one in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) for the UMass football program as the Minutemen have begun the two-year transition period to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). In 2012, UMass will become a football-only member of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) playing a complete FBS schedule. The new home of the Minutemen will be Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. - also home to the NFL's New England Patriots.
UMass will become a eligible for the MAC Championship and will be Bowl-Eligible in 2013. UMass will not be eligible for the CAA Championship or the FCS NCAA Play-offs in 2011. Players, however, will be eligible for postseason awards.
UMass joins UConn (Big East) and Boston College (ACC) as the only New England FBS schools.
UMass To Host Indiana In 2012 Home Opener
UMass' first home opener in Gillette Stadium with be Big Ten foe Indiana on Sept. 8, 2012. The Minutemen will make a return trip to Bloomington in 2017. Gillette Stadium is a world class facility seating nearly 69,000 fans. UMass will play all of its 2012 and 2013 games there during the transition to FBS and the Mid-American Conference.
Together We're One Tour Heads East On Sept. 8
Over the past summer, head coach Kevin Morris was busy all over the New England region promoting UMass football to fans. Dubbed the "Together We're One Tour", Morris spoke in New York, Boston, and several other locations in Massachusetts to engage with fans excited about UMass' transition to the FBS Level. On Sept. 8, the tour will continue with a stop in Tewksbury to speak to the Merrimack Valley Alumni Club along with other fans. The event will begin at 6 PM at the 99 Restaurant in Tewksbury.
Colonial Clash Tickets On Sale Now
UMass and New Hampshire will meet once more in the Colonial Clash on Oct. 22 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Last year's event, the first-ever college football game in Gillette, drew a crowd of 32,848 - the largest in the history of the rivalry.
Tickets are now on sale by calling 800-745-3000 or by going to TicketMaster.com. Kick-off is set for 3:30 PM with the parking lots opening at 11:30 a.m. for tailgating.
The two teams have played every year since 1952 in a series that almost always has a direct bearing on postseason play as the two teams have either captured or shared the conference title in four of the last five years.
UMass History Thumbnail
This is the 129th season of UMass football. UMass has an all-time record of 551-520-51 (.514) in 1,122 all-time games. The Minutemen have won two of the last five conference championships (2006 and 2007). In 2008, UMass posted its seventh winning season in a row with a 7-5 record. Over the last nine years, UMass has made three NCAA Tournament appearances. In 2007, UMass went 10-3, going 7-1 in the inaugural season of the CAA.
UMass was the winningest program in the CAA a 10-year span from 1998-2008. UMass had an 83-44 record with a 65.7 win percentage.
The Minutemen have won 22 conference championships the last two coming in 2007 and 2008. All-time UMass has eight NCAA Tournament appearances winning the 1998 title and also playing in the championship game in 2006 and 1978.
UMass Picked 5th In CAA Preseason Poll
The Minutemen were picked to finish fifth in the CAA Preseason Poll, however, UMass will not be eligible to win the conference championship due to the FBS Transition. William & Mary was picked to win the league. Newcomer Old Dominion was picked to finish 10th.
UMass Tabbed 25th In Sports Network Poll
Nationally, UMass enters the season with a No. 25 ranking in the Sports Network Preseason Poll. UMass is effectively picked 26th as the first team receiving votes in the FCS Coaches Poll as well. Last season, UMass was unranked to start the season, but jumped to No. 18 following its season opening win over No. 4 William & Mary.
UMass was ranked No. 8 for three-straight weeks in 2010 (Sept. 27-Oct. 11), its highest ranking since Sept. 8, 2008 when the it was ranked No. 3.
UMass has now been ranked for 74 of the last 78 weeks dating to 2005. UMass was not ranked the final three weeks of the regular-season in 2009 and the last regular-season week of 2008.
The Minutemen have posted a 60-57-11 record in season openers in their previous 128 years. UMass has won eight of the last nine season openers after last season's 27-23 win over #4 William & Mary at McGuirk Stadium. The Minutemen have also won 10 of the past 12 openers, downing New Hampshire in 1999, William & Mary in 2000, Central Connecticut State in 2002 and 2003, Delaware State in 2004, winning at Richmond in 2005, beating Colgate in 2006, downing Holy Cross in 2007 and Albany in 2008. That streak ended last season as the Minutemen lost at FBS foe Kansas State, 21-17. Prior to that, the last loss came to William & Mary to open up the 2001 season.
Whopping Wins To Begin Campaigns
UMass has dominated opponents in seven of the last eight winning openers combining to pound Central Connecticut (twice), Delaware State, Richmond, Colgate and Albany by a combined score of 269-79, an average score of 38-10. In three games of those games, UMass scored more than 50 points, beating CCSU (52-3 in 2002 and 51-7 in 2003) and DSU (51-0 in 2004). Four times they scored 40, including 2007's 40-30 win over Holy Cross.
UMass has been a high-scoring team in season openers over the last 13 years, scoring more than 30 points on seven occasions. Since 1998, UMass has scored an average of 29 points in its season openers with a high of 52 vs. CCSU in 2002.
10 Former Minutemen On NFL Rosters
A school record nine former UMass football players are currently on NFL rosters for 2011. That includes three players from the 2009 team: lineman Vladimir Ducasse, drafted in the second round by the the New York Jets; receiver Victor Cruz an undrafted free agent with the New York Giants and receiver Jeremy Horne, with the Kansas City Chiefs, also after going undrafted. They join James Ihedigbo (Patriots), Jeremy Cain (Jaguars), Jeromy Miles (Bengals), Chris Koepplin (Patriots) and Matt Lawrence (Ravens). John Griffin who played for UMass in 2010 after transferring to Amherst when Northeastern dropped football is still currently with Cincinnati, while offensive lineman Greg Niland was just recently cut from the Detroit Lions.
Former Head Coach Mark Whipple is currently the quarterbacks coach in Cleveland after a stint at the University of Miami as offensive coordinator and with Pittsburgh where he coached Ben Rothlisberger.
The previous high mark for UMass products in the pros came in 1968, when UMass had five players combined between the NFL and AFL, prior to the leagues' merger in 1970. That year, tight end Milt Morin played for the Cleveland Browns, quarterback Greg Landry was a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions, quarterback John McCormick played for the Denver Broncos and halfback Terry Swanson and lineman Ed Toner suited up for the then-Boston Patriots.
Cruz burst on the scene in the first-ever game at the New Meadowlands Stadium as he scored three touchdowns and had six catches for 145 yards for the New York Giants. Even NBA star LeBron James was wowed by Cruz, sending out a tweet about Cruz and UMass. Cruz had four of the Giants' seven touchdowns this preseason.
Ducasse has been battling for time between guard and tackle, but the potential starter was hurt by missing valuable training time this past summer due to the lockout. He was the Jets' second round pick and 61st overall this past April. He became the highest UMass product to be drafted in 40 years, since Landry was a first-rounder in 1968. 2006 grad James Ihedigbo is in his first season with the Patriots after earning praise for his special teams/nickle package play for the New York Jets over four seasons.
Holmes One Of Best Defensive Players In The Country
UMass linebacker Tyler Holmes is one of the top returning defensive players in FCS football and he has the hardware to prove it.
In 2010, the senior co-captain earned multiple All-American honors, was the Colonial Athletic Association Co-Defensive Player of the Year, and was named the National Defensive Player of the Year.
For the second consecutive year, Holmes is also on the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List which honors the top FCS defensive player. He was also named the 2011 CAA Preseason Defensive Player of the Year on top of multiple preseason All-American honors.
The native of Blacksburg, Va., led UMass with 110 tackles, five interceptions (including two returned for touchdowns), 12 tackles for loss, and five sacks. He enters 2011 with 243 career tackles and 10 interceptions. He needs 20 more tackles to crack to top-10 career list at UMass.
One of his most memorable performances came against Maine on Nov. 6 last season when he became the first player in program history to return two interceptions for touchdowns in the same game. The returns were for 18 and 50 yards.
Defense Gets A New Look For 2011
Under new defensive coordinator Frank Forcucci, the UMass defense will be sporting a 3-4 scheme instead of the usual 4-3 look. The defense will highlight the Minutemen's speed and athleticism allowing UMass to increase pressure on opposing offenses.
For Forcucci, this is his second stint with UMass after serving as director of operations, defensive line coach and outside linebackers coach from 1999-2003. Current NFLer Jeremy Cain was a product of Forcucci's. In 2000, he helped UMass post the top defense in the Atlantic 10.
Last season, UMass allowed offenses to gain 355.5 yards per game on offense including 184 through the air and 171 on the ground. The Minutemen picked up 11 sacks, forced seven fumbles and posted eight interceptions.
Talented LInebacker Corps Lead The Way
Paced by All-American Tyler Holmes, the UMass linebackers are a veteran, fast, and hard-hitting group. D.J. Adeoba, Stanley Andre, Chad Hunte and Perry McIntyre are all athletic and experienced. Added to the group this year is Courtney Jackson who transitions from defensive end to outside linebacker. Adeoba, Andre and Hunte played in all 11 games last season, while McIntyre started all nine games he played. McIntyre was the fifth leading tackler last season with 42 including 12 against Delaware.
Secondary Looking To Build On Experience
The leader of the defensive secondary is safety Darren Thellen who posted 53 tackles including 36 solo last season as a redshirt sophomore in 2010. Thellen has started 17 of 22 career games with a career-high eight tackles at Michigan (9/18/10).
Redshirt sophomores Christian Birt and Mike Lee along with true sophomore Antoine Tharpe all played in 11 games last season. Lee made nine starts, while Tharpe had eight.
The secondary averages 6-foot-0 in height and nearly 200 pounds with Thellen and Birt among the tallest at 6-foot-2.
Hernandez Keeps The Ground Game Going
Jonathan Hernandez is UMass' top returning tailback and is expected to take a feature role in the offense this season. Last year, he posted a career-high 219 carries for 938 yards and nine touchdowns. He also had 16 receptions for 211 yards and a score including a long of 64 yards in the season-opener against William & Mary (9/4/10).
For his career, Hernandez has 346 carries for 1,535 yards and 17 touchdowns. His career best effort was 166 yards against New Hampshire on Oct. 17, 2009.
As a team, UMass averaged 168.4 yards per game on the ground which was fourth-best in the CAA. The UMass offense ranked 12th in the NCAA in total offense with 413 yards per game.
Big Men On Campus
The UMass offensive line averages 6-foot-4 and just over 300 pounds per lineman. Nick Speller (6-5, 334), Josh Samuda (6-4, 302) and Stephane Milhim (6-5, 315) are the returning starters from last year. Brian Ostaszewski (6-5, 304) earned starts in three games at right guard and right tackle when Samuda and Milhim were unable to start. Quinton Sales (6-2, 290) started five times last season at center as well making the left guard the only spot without a returning starter.
Talley Top Returning Receiver In CAA
Not only is redshirt senior Julian Talley the top returning wideout for the Minutemen, he is also the top returning threat in the CAA. Talley ranked second in the league last year with 67.9 yards per game. He ranked third with 5.09 catches per game as well.
For the year, he hauled in 56 receptions for a career-best 747 yards and six touchdowns. Talley also returned nine punts for 120 yards (13.3 yds/return).
In 34 career games, he has 102 catches for 1,331 yards and seven scores.
New Face Calling The Plays In The Huddle
It was a neck-and-neck battle throughout the 2011 preseason training camp between quarterbacks Brandon Hill and Kellen Pagel. Hill redshirted the 2010 season behind Kyle Havens, while Pagel was at Bowling Green before transferring to UMass in the spring semester. The Minutemen will have to replace Havens who led the CAA in passing with 244.7 yards per game completing 219-of-345 attempts for 2,692 yards. Havens ranked 14th in the NCAA last year in pass efficiency and 25th in total offense.
Hill missed much of the spring offseason as he recovered from a broken foot. Pagel is the son for former NFLer Mike Pagel who played quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts and L.A. Rams.
Talented Tight Ends Add Offensive Flexibility
Returning co-captain Emil Igwenagu and Rob Blanchflower are a pair of top-shelf tight ends for the UMass offense. At 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, Igwenagu has fully recovered from an injury that caused him to miss several games in 2010. Blanchflower, a redshirt sophomore, earned valuable playing time in place of Igwenagu last season. At 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, he also presents a sizable target while being an asset to the offensive line. Both players can line-up on the line of scrimmage, in the back field or split out allowing for a multitude of formations.
For Gilson, Perseverance Pays Off
From scout team player to special teamer to one of UMass' top wide receivers heading into 2011, Tom Gilson has continually impressed the coaching staff with his work and effort over the last five years. He's even punted twice (both at Rhode Island for 78 yards - 39.0 average and along of 42).
Gilson's tattoo sums up his effort: "Blessed is he who perseveres through the trial"
Special Teams Note
Inclumbent kicker/punter Caleb Violette will miss the year due to a reinjured foot suffered prior to camp. Brendon Levengood, who handled kick-offs last year, and Rice transfer Brandon Yelovich will handle the kicking duties, while Jeff Strait will handle punting.
Dyanamic Two-Sport Duo
UMass has a pair of two-sport athletes on the team in 2011.
Travis Tripucka, a member of the men's lacrosse team as a defender, is the team's fourth-year starting long-snapper. His father is former NBA sharpshooter and current TV analyst Kelly Tripucka.
Gary Correia is in his first year as a corner back on the football team. He spent the last four years as a point guard on the basketball team including as a starter last year. He is working on his final six credits to graduate and decided to tryout for the football team after having not played in four years.
Leading UMass' special teams units in 2010 was been the punt return team. The Minutemen rank 10th in the nation in punt return average at 14.75 yards per return.
Julian Talley handled most of the punt return duties in 2010, averaging 13.3 yards on nine returns.
UMass ranked 21st in the country and second in the CAA in time of possession with an average of 32:06 per game.
UMass' average of 21.64 first downs per game was 15th-best in the country and was second in the CAA.
UMass had won the time of possession battle in every game last season up until the UNH loss on Oct. 23 when it had the ball for 27 minutes, 24 seconds. The Minutemen's high of 39 minutes, 13 seconds came vs. Holy Cross.
The strength of last season's team offense was the ground game balanced with a strong passing attack. The Minutemen are averaged 168.4 rushing yards per game (41st nationally, fourth in CAA) and 244.8 yards per game through the air (22nd nationally, first in CAA), combining for the 14th-best nationally and top CAA ranking in total offense (413.1 yards per game).
Go For It!
After leading the nation in fourth-down conversion percentage for the first six weeks of the season, converting 10 of their first 11, the Minutemen finished 2010 ranked eighth at 66.67 percent (22-of-33).
UMass' 22 fourth-down conversions was tied for the most in FCS alongside Murray State and Georgia Southern.
UMass more than doubled its total number of fourth-down conversions and attempts from 2009 when it was 8-for-14.
On third downs, UMass is sixth in the CAA and 46th in the NCAA at 38.41 percent (63-of-164).
Don't Go For It!
While UMass' offensive was among the nation's best on fourth downs, the Minutemen's defense was just as good on fourth downs. UMass' fourth down defense was the fifth-best in the country as opponents converted just 25 percent of the time (4-of-16).
CAA RECORD CROWD AT GILLETTE
Last season's Colonial Clash against New Hampshire in the first-ever college football game at Gillette Stadium set a record for attendance at a CAA conference game (32,848). It broke the previous record that lasted for just a week. Delaware drew 22,567 on Oct. 16 against Rhode Island to set the previous CAA mark.
The Colonial Clash was also the largest crowd to ever watch a UMass game against an FCS opponent. The previous high was in the 2006 NCAA Semifinals at Montana. A crowd of 23,454 watched UMass upset the Grizzlies, 19-17 and advance to the National Championship Game.
The previous largest regular-season crowds to watch UMass in FCS action had all come at Delaware, with Oct. 22, 1988, when 22,301 watch UMass lose at Delaware, 10-7, being the largest.
Overall, the largest crowd to ever watch UMass also came last season at Michigan, when 110,187 watched UMass narrowly fall at Michigan Stadium on Sept. 18, 2010.