Old Dominion expects an improved, prepared UMass football team

  • Quarterback Andrew Ford and the UMass football team host Old Dominion on Saturday. Despite being 0-2, ODU expects the Minutemen to be ready. AP

Thursday, September 07, 2017

AMHERST — Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder thinks UMass will be better this week after starting the season with two losses. Minuteman coach Mark Whipple hopes he’s right.

“They’re 0-2 with two tough losses. They were up two touchdowns and ended up losing late in that game two weeks ago (against Hawaii). They lost to a good Coastal Carolina team this past weekend,” Wilder said. “Like I said to our team, they could easily be 2-0 with a couple breaks in the game. They have a good staff. Mark Whipple, their head coach, calls their offense, has won a National Championship in college, he won a Super Bowl championship with the Steelers as Ben Roethlisberger’s coach. They’ll be a well-coached team.”

Whipple said he challenged his players’ approach going into Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game at McGuirk Stadium.

“Effort. Competitive character,” he said when asked what he hoped to see this week. “We’ve had that for three days (in practice). We’ve been focused. It’s been good.”

This is a battle of former conference foes, although it’s forgivable not to remember that was ever the case. The teams played one game, a 48-33 loss for UMass, that counted in the Colonial Athletic Association standings in 2011 before both teams moved up the FBS.

Last week, Old Dominion beat Albany, 31-17, but it didn’t look like the team that went 10-3 and won the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl last year. Its 285 yards of total offense was the lowest the program had in a win since 2011. The Monarchs only ran the ball for 98 yards, 41 of which came on a 41-yard touchdown run by Ray Lawry, ODU’s preseason all-conference tailback who rushed for 1,255 yards and 11 touchdowns last year.

ODU routed the Minutemen, 36-16 last year in Norfolk, Virginia in a game moved up a day to avoid Hurricane Matthew. It was Jeremy Cox not Lawry who ran all over UMass. He had 162 yards and two touchdowns in that game.

“They have the two best running backs we may face all year. They’re a great tandem. They make people miss. They’re physical and fast. We have to make sure we take care of them,” Whipple said. “They’ve won nine out of 10. They’ve handled people. We went down there and got hit in the mouth and didn’t respond. We’ve got to take the first punch.”

Both teams could be without their top offensive player. Lawry had 44 yards on five carries before leaving with an injury against Albany. He’s questionable to play Saturday. UMass tight end Adam Breneman’s status might not be determined until game time. He hasn’t practiced this week. Junior Travis Reynolds would start if Breneman can’t go.

UMass will get senior defensive end Da’Sean Downey back after missing last week’s game for a one-game team rules violation suspension. Like Breneman, defensive tackle Sha-Ki Holines’ availability won’t be determined until game time. Holines has yet to play this season with an undisclosed leg injury. Rod Jones Jr. has been starting in place of Holines in a reshuffled line.

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