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Minutemen having trouble holding onto the ball
Last Saturday against Old Dominion, the Minutemen fumbled the ball seven times. Although they lost just two of those fumbles, it’s still too much to give away, especially against an ODU team who entered the contest at 3-1. Add in two interceptions by redshirt sophomore quarterback Kellen Pagel and it becomes nearly impossible to win.
Turnovers were also significant in UMass’ 45-17 loss to BC two weeks ago, as the Minutemen lost two fumbles and Pagel threw two interceptions.
UMass coach Kevin Morris understands that turnovers are becoming a glaring weakness for his team, which has let up 93 points in its last two games.
“The ball is on the ground way too often and we’re obviously not doing a great job of taking care of it,” said Morris in a caafootball.com interview.
“We’re addressing ball security and we’re spending a lot of time on stripping and turnover circuits and ball security circuits on the offensive side,” added Morris. “So we have to continue hammering that point home because when the ball is on the ground, it’s not in our hands [and] we don’t have a chance to score and win… That certainly plagued us in the last two games where we’re minus-five on the plus/minus takeaways.”
On Saturday, UMass will host Central Connecticut, which has had turnover problems of its own. Through six games, the Blue Devils have fumbled the ball nine times (and lost six). Senior quarterback Gunnar Jespersen has thrown six interceptions and backup Jake White has tossed two.
Jespersen is also responsible for three fumbles by himself, two of which he has lost to the opposing team. This not only hurts the Blue Devil offense, but helps the opponent’s offensive unit as well. Struggling like they have been, it could be just what the Minutemen need to get back to their winning ways.
The good news for CCSU is that when Jespersen does hold onto the ball and get into the hands of his receivers, they have been very sure-handed thus far. No wide receiver on the squad has fumbled the football this season. The only other fumbles have come in the running game, by Chris Tolbert and Xavier Gaddy.
Pagel hurt at ODU, expected to start Saturday
Pagel was hurt at the end of the third quarter during UMass’ loss against the Monarchs and he finished 25-of-40 passing for 245 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Redshirt freshman Brandon Hill entered the game to replace Pagel, completing seven-of-10 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. Still, Morris plans on giving Pagel the starts for the foreseeable future.
“Kellen’s going to be alright, he just got his bell rung a little bit,” said Morris. “He started out slow in that game and then came on strong with that 26-point swing there.”
Pagel was unable to engineer any sustained pressure early on, as the Minutemen fell behind, 25-0. The redshirt sophomore finally settled in, though, throwing three touchdowns during UMass’ 26-point run in which they took a 26-25 lead. It was a lead which was squandered in the decisive fourth quarter.
In four games this season, Pagel is 74-for-125 passing (59.2 percent), with six touchdowns and six interceptions. He has a pattern of taking more than a few plays to get comfortable in the pocket, but once he gets his feet set, his arm has been a good complement to tailback Jonathan Hernandez’s rushing efforts in the offensive attack.
Pagel and UMass’ offensive line can expect a strong pass rush from CCSU’s 4-3 defense which features various blitz packages. Count on the Blue Devils to test Pagel early and often, especially after getting injured a week ago.
“They’re a blitz-oriented team, they’ll move the front around a bunch. They’re very active on defense. They’re pretty strong at linebacker and [have] veterans up front.”
Band Day scheduled for this weekend’s game
Saturday’s game against Central Connecticut won’t just be a test for the football team, but also for dozens of high school bands from New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania which will participate in UMass’ 27th annual Band Day.
The day will start very early in the morning, when the bands will meet and rehearse with the Minuteman Marching Band for a performance that will take place during halftime of UMass’ game against CCSU.
By: Steve Levine, Daily Collegian