Last chat with UMass coach Mark Whipple before Duquesne game

Wednesday night, MassVarsity caught up with UMass coach Mark Whipple one last time before the Minutemen set to open with Duquesne Saturday.

Here's an edited version of that conversation.

MV: You're rounding into form here. You've only got a couple days left before the game. Do you like the team's focus? Do you like their energy?

MW: Yeah, I thought we had a good day today. We had a full-pad day. I thought we practiced fast, and eliminated some mistakes. They were focused, and had some physical periods against speed-work again: 1s-on-1s, 2s-on-2s. It was a good practice.

MV: How do you think their grasp is of what Duquesne likes to do on both sides of the ball?

MW: Well, we've been watching them. We started preparing Sunday, and gave them some things, really Thursday. So the thing on defense is we've got to take care of the running back (A.J. Hines) and wide receiver (Nehari Crawford). We're not sure who's going to be back there at quarterback, but both of those guys are talented. Their defense has got some . . . guys up front and in the back end (to contend with). So, we'll see how our speed will match up against their speed. We're hoping being at home is going to help us.

MV: How's your health coming into this week?

MW: We've got a couple guys nicked and I'm not sure what we're going to do (with them). I'll know a little more tomorrow. . . . We've got a little more depth, so that should help us. We'll know a little bit more. But . . . pretty much, we're pretty healthy.

MV: How much does Duquesne like to feed this Hines kid? I know every year is different, but it seems like he is a tremendous player. What do you see in terms of how they use him?

MW: They're a big zone-(blocking) team, but he's a physical guy. He makes a lot of yards on his own. Big, physical guy, that, a lot of times, (acts as) his own blocker. He's physical and strong, and he's got breakaway speed. . . . So he's a guy who can play a lot of places.

MV: It's been a long camp with the heat and the weather. How have the kids held up?

MW: We've had to move some things around. We probably would have practiced in the morning, but there's been some rain and thunderstorms, so we went in the afternoon. I thought we ended practice well. We've been in some competition in practice. I thought we were really competitive both sides of the ball. We put some pressure on the kickers, and they handled that well. I think they're excited. I think they're tired of playing one another. I think they want to play together and be on the same sidelines. I got that feeling in the locker room afterwards. . . . We've got some things to clean up tomorrow, look at some red zone things on both sides, some two-minute, those things tomorrow on Thursday's plan. And then we'll walk through Friday and get ready to go. But I think they'll be ready to play, I'm pretty sure.

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