UMass great against Danes
Havens submits breakout game
AMHERST - Last night’s 44-7 victory over Albany had a certain Oedipal symmetry for University of Massachusetts coach Kevin Morris.
Back in 1986, Morris was fresh out of Williams College when he landed his first coaching job as a graduate assistant at the University of Albany. The guy who hired him was veteran Great Danes coach Bob Ford. Morris talks about Ford as if he were a surrogate father.
Last night, Morris’s first win as a Division 1 head coach came against none other than Albany, where the 71-year-old Ford still holds the reins. While father might know best, the symbolic son had the horses last night as UMass rolled to an overwhelming win in its home opener before 13,215 fans.
“Coach Ford is a legend in the game,’’ said Morris. “He got me into coaching. He offered me my first position. He’s a guy I respect to no end.’’
“Kevin was a fierce, fierce competitor when he coached for us,’’ recalled Ford. “A brilliant young kid, a Williams graduate, very intelligent. I used to bust him about what the hell he was doing in this business when he could have gone down to Wall Street and made a lot of money, but he’s doing all right for himself.’’
UMass excelled in all facets. On offense, the Minutemen (1-1) got a breakout game from quarterback Kyle Havens (20 of 32, 284 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception). Havens, a junior college transfer from California, assumed the starter’s role this season, and knew he had his detractors following record-setting Liam Coen, particularly after a 10-for-34 showing in a tight season-opening loss at Kansas State, a Big 12 team UMass was not expected to beat. Last night, though, he showed lots of poise, elusiveness, and a good passing touch on a wide variety of throws. He hopes that was enough to win over the fans.
“They hadn’t seen me play,’’ Havens said. “They saw the numbers from Kansas State. That was it, so I’m sure they had their doubts. But I feel like I came out and played well tonight. The offense played well as a whole. Receivers were making plays. I think after tonight’s performance, we have to give a little faith back to the fans, that everything’s going to be all right without Liam. We’ll live.’’
Havens had plenty of help. There was some electric play from wideout Victor Cruz (six grabs, 121 yards, two TDs). Throw in a balanced running attack good for 189 yards (88 for Jon Hernandez with two touchdowns, and 77 for Tony Nelson with one score), and UMass had Albany back on its heels all night.
The defense was, if anything, more impressive. The Minutemen forced five turnovers in a dominating effort.
Special teams play also contributed, including three field goals from Armando Cuko (though he did miss two). Cuko gave UMass a lead on the game’s opening possession, dropping a career-best 47-yarder just over the crossbar.
UMass then went to work on the defensive end. On Albany’s first play from scrimmage, Brandon Collier busted through the line and leveled Great Danes quarterback Vinny Esposito, sending the ball flying backward. After a moment’s pause, Collier pounced on the ball and put UMass in great shape at the Albany 18.
“When I hit him I kind of blacked out,’’ said Collier. “I wished I had seen it sooner, I could have scooped and scored.’’
No matter. Nelson slammed in from the 2-yard line a few plays later, and it was quickly 10-0.
“I think they got 10 points while we were still listening to ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ ’’ quipped Ford.
Albany (0-2) did regroup and got a good surge together after getting great field position on a shanked UMass punt early in the second quarter. Andrew Smith ultimately rambled over from the 3-yard line to cut the gap to 10-7.
UMass, though, reclaimed the momentum right away on a two-play drive consisting of a pair of passes from Havens to Cruz. The first one went for 11 yards and a first down. The next one was a gorgeous play-action in which Havens threaded the ball through traffic and hit Cruz on the run. The senior wideout caught the ball at full extension, and then accelerated down the right sideline for a 67-yard score.
After that, the Minutemen thoroughly dominated. UMass now turns its attention to a Colonial Athletic Association game Saturday at home against Rhode Island.