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UMass starts new season with Mid-American Conference slate

Tajae Sharpe, left, and the University of Massachusetts open Mid-American Conference play at Bowling Green Saturday .

Tajae Sharpe, left, and the University of Massachusetts open Mid-American Conference play at Bowling Green Saturday . Purchase photo reprints »

AMHERST — If there’s a silver lining for the University of Massachusetts football team after an 0-4 start, it’s that none of the losses have come in the Mid-American Conference.

After a bye last week, UMass heads into Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game at Bowling Green with all its conference aspirations intact.

“Our goals are still the same, to win a MAC championship. Our season is really now just beginning,” UMass sophomore wide receiver Tajae Sharpe said. “I feel like those games prepared us for the MAC. I think we’ll definitely be ready.”

Sophomore cornerback Randall Jette agreed.

“We know this is the start of our real season,” Jette said. “This is where our prize is, the MAC championship. This is where it really begins. We know this is the start of our real season. This is where our prize is, the MAC championship. This is where it really begins.”

UMass coach Charley Molnar said motivation hasn’t changed switching from nonconference to conference games, but the stakes have.

“There’s plenty to play for every single week, regardless of where we’re at. No different from last year, we’re coming out to win every single game we play regardless if it’s a league game or a nonleague game,” Molnar said. “We’re going to be judged at the end of the day by how we compete in league play so this is the beginning of that.”

Jette said despite the slow start the Minutemen haven’t lost any desire.

“Our work ethic hasn’t changed,” he said. “Our work ethic is getting even better.”

Molnar thought MAC play offered a barometer to measure the program’s improvement from last year.

“We’ve definitely improved. I can look at the Vanderbilt game and see we’re a much better football team than we were a year ago, with our first common opponent from last year’s schedule,” Molnar said. “I expect to see the same thing each and every week.”

Sharpe agreed.

“Conference play definitely sets that bar,” he said. “It’ll give us a look at how we are compared to last year.”

UMass, Ohio, Buffalo, Miami (Ohio) and Northern Illinois have yet to play a conference game this season.

Saturday’s game will be the third MAC game for Bowling Green. The Falcons beat Akron and Kent State.

FOCUS ON HEALING — Molnar said the Minutemen didn’t use the bye week to expand their play book or add formations.

“We just really healed up. We didn’t practice long or add a lot of things,” Molnar said. “We just made sure our guys got healthy and went back and self-reviewed and gave them a head start on Bowling Green.”

MISCELLANEOUS — Sharpe is tied for second in the MAC with 7.0 receptions per game. Ed Saint-Vil is fourth in tackles at 10.3 per game. UMass is tied for first in the MAC in fewest sacks allowed with three.

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

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