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Minutemen: Out of Frying Pan, Into Fire
AMHERST – The Minutemen survived the frying pan, just in time to jump into the fire.
“The message we deliver from week to week is pretty much the same about how we want to practice and prepare for a game,” said University of Massachusetts football coach Kevin Morris, whose team plays at Richmond Saturday.
“We have a lot of plans. But now, we have to execute them.”
UMass (4-2, 2-1 Colonial Athletic Association) moved up four spots, and is now ranked 14th nationally in the Football Championship Subdivision poll after its inspired 23-17 home victory over No.4-ranked New Hampshire.
What awaits the Minutemen now is the nation’s defending champion and No. 1-ranked team. Richmond (6-0, 4-0) is riding a two-year, 15-game winning streak after last week’s 38-21 win at Maine.
Morris said it will all come down to execution, which was missing in UMass’ 43-27 loss at Delaware Oct. 10, but evident against New Hampshire.
“We are working on our ball control, and maintaining our daily execution level at practice,” he said.
“We can’t give Richmond the same defensive look, play after play. And you can’t let them control the line of scrimmage, or they will dominate you.”
UMass sophomore running back Jonathan Hernandez was named the CAA’s offensive player of the week after rushing for 166 yards.
Hernandez scored the winning touchdown on a 42-yard fourth-quarter run. He filled in more than ably for senior Tony Nelson, who played only one series before a thigh contusion sidelined him.
Morris thinks Nelson and safety Jeromy Miles, who was sidelined after being hit in the helmet, will be ready for Richmond.
“Tony is just trying to get some kinks out, and Jeromy probably could have played in the second half, according to him. We think both will be good to go,” Morris said.
A victory at Richmond would put UMass firmly on the inside track for a Football Championship Subdivision playoff berth. A loss would not spoil those hopes, but would push the Minutemen closer toward the playoff bubble.
Special teams could play a pivotal role Saturday.
Richmond’s Derek Hatcher, the son of former baseball major leaguer Billy Hatcher, won the CAA’s weekly special teams honor after returning a punt 90 yards for a touchdown at Maine.
The return was two yards shy of a Richmond school record set in 1938. The record for current CAA teams is held by UMass’ Ron Harris with a 93-yarder in 1974.
UMass has been receiving remarkable play from its special teams as well.
Armando Cuko has emerged as the nation’s most prolific kicker, with 14 field goal in five games. Cuko is 6 for 8 from 40 yards or further.
“Armando has been doing a great job, not just on field goals, but on kickoffs, too,” Morris said.
Before each game, Cuko gives Morris an idea of his estimated range, taking wind and field conditions into account. The coach considers that in making decisions.
Caleb Violette is averaging 43 yards per punt. Ten of his 21 punts have been downed inside the 20, and his first three last week were downed inside the New Hampshire 10.
Violette is a freshman who attended Virginia Tech last year, but did not play football. He is part of a growing list of true and redshirt freshmen making important contributions for the Minutemen.
Defensive back Kumar Davis had the game-clinching interception on the final play against New Hampshire.
Linebacker Perry McIntyre had 10 tackles. Defensive lineman Chas Thompson and offensive guard Stephane Milhim also played key roles.
The playing status of four UMass players who were reinstated after entering not-guilty pleas on drug charges is unlikely to be determined before the weekend.
The four players have missed two games each. They have been practicing, and were eligible to play against New Hampshire, but did not suit up, per Morris’ decision.
They are similarly eligible this week.
UMass, coming off upending New Hampshire, next visits top-ranked Richmond
By Ron Chimelis, The Republican