Line of scrimmage battle could determine UMass-Old Dominion winner

  • Ali Ali-Musa, right, and the UMass defensive line will try to impact a game where line play could be critical Saturday against Old Dominion. AP

Friday, September 08, 2017

AMHERST — The UMass offensive and defensive lines, which have struggled to find continuity in the Minutemen’s two losses, figure to be challenged again against an Old Dominion team strong on both sides.

The Monarchs offensive line returns four starters from a group that helped ODU lead Conference USA in rushing.

All three starters return on the defensive line, including Bunmi Rotimi, who has 15.5 career sacks. The Monarchs, who averaged 2.61 sacks per game last year, had seven sacks last week.

“Defensively their front four or front eight guys can play anywhere in the country. They’re really, really good,” UMass coach Mark Whipple said. “They have a veteran offensive line. We have to see who wins the line of scrimmage. We have to improve on that.”

Time & location: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., McGuirk Stadium.

Records: UMass is 0-2, Old Dominion is 1-0.

Last week: UMass lost to Coastal Carolina, 38-28; ODU beat Albany, 31-17.

All-time series: ODU leads 2-0.

TV/Internet: NESNplus; Streaming on UMass website outside of New England only.

Radio: 560 AM

When Old Dominion has the ball: Running back Ray Lawry, the school’s all-time leading rusher and a preseason all-Conference USA selection, is a game-time decision after suffering an injury last week against Albany.

Jeremy Cox, who rushed for 162 yards against UMass and 733 overall last year, would likely start if Lawry isn’t available.

Quarterback Blake LaRussa was 14-for-20 last week with 161 yards. He threw one touchdown and was intercepted twice in his debut as the Monarchs’ No. 1 passer.

The Minutemen could benefit from the return of Da’Sean Downey, who is expected to return after missing Saturday’s loss at Coastal.

Lineman Sha-Ki Holines is a game-time decision.

When UMass has the ball: The status of tight end Adam Breneman, who suffered an ankle injury in Saturday’s loss to Coastal Carolina, won’t be determined until game time. He’s been quarterback Andrew Ford’s favorite target over the last two seasons. If he doesn’t play, that will likely open up targets for other Minutemen.

In addition to keeping Albany’s quarterback under pressure, ODU allowed just 2.8 yards per carry last week. ODU junior linebacker Marvin Branch stepped into the starting lineup last week and had eight tackles and an interception.

NOTES: Old Dominion won’t be an easy team for UMass to end its struggles in close games against. Since 2014, ODU is one of the best in the nation with an 8-2 record in games decided by one score. The Minutemen are 2-13 over the same time frame.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage