AMHERST — If Duquesne was going to pull off the upset Saturday, the Dukes would need their two best players, running back A.J. Hines and wide receiver Nehari Crawford, to go off.
Neither did, as Hines only caught fire once the outcome was pretty much decided, and Crawford only saw limited success, in part due to solid coverage by the Minutemen, in part from misfires by his quarterbacks.
Hines finished with 57 yards on nine carries, and Crawford caught five passes for 59 yards and a 5-yard score at the end of the first half. But neither was nearly effective enough to scare the UMass defense consistently, as the Minutemen cruised to a 63-15 win at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.
"Going into the game, Crawford and A.J. Hines were our two focus points of the defense," UMass safety Brice McAllister said. "If we were able to shut them down, we'd be pretty successful."
For the most part, the game plan worked, as Minutemen like defensive end Jake Byczko (seven tackles, one for loss) and linebacker Bryton Barr (five tackles, one for loss) dominated in the front seven. The Minutemen mostly played man coverage in the back, as cornerback Lee Moses was all over Crawford, even on plays where the Duquesne standout made plays.
"We want to challenge people," UMass coach Mark Whipple said of his team's confidence in man coverage. "We feel like we're recruiting to that level."
"I think it was an all-around defensive effort," said McAllister, who made two interceptions, including a 60-yard pick-six. "The d-line was getting great penetration, getting in the quarterback's face. So (Crawford) didn't have a lot of time to run his routes and get open."
The Dukes did finish with 130 yards rushing on 36 carries, but we won't get a true gauge of just how well the UMass run defense will hold up until next week at Boston College.
Safety Joseph Norwood was the first true freshman to get on the field for the Minutemen. The Chattanooga, Tenn. native made three tackles and recovered a fumble on one of the few UMass punts of the night.
McAlister liked the swagger he saw out of Norwood.
"What definitely stood out about him was his confidence," McAllister said. "Right from stretch lines, he was the one who broke us down when we went to team period.. His confidence was there. He had me and (fellow safety) Tyler (Hayes), he kept saying, 'Turn me up 2 (McAllister's number)! Turn me up, 3-0 (Hayes' number)!' He has a long way to go, but he's right there. He's going to help us a lot down the road."
Sound the Horn
With Adam Breneman as the only leading receiver gone from last year's team, tight end was a bit of a question mark coming into this game.
But Pembroke native Kyle Horn made five receptions for 49 yards, and acted as a solid replacement for Breneman on an offense that always values the position in the passing game.
"I think that's a really solid room with a lot of depth and a lot of guys that can make plays for us," quarterback Andrew Ford said. "Kyle kind of had the catches tonight. I think he had three or four third-down conversions that led to touchdown drives. Being able to move the sticks with the tight end in those situations, those third-and-short situations, is going to be huge for us."
UMass class of 1968 alum Martin Jacobson, who recently pledged $5.58 million to the athletic department and improvements for McGuirk, flipped the coin pregame.
Duquesne, which called heads, won it.
Joked Whipple: "That was probably the only thing that went wrong today, that Marty lost the coin flip, which never happens. And, crazily, it happened how we wanted it, because they took the ball, we got the wind, and they (threw an interception). So we did win."
The players rewarded Jacobson with a signed helmet, a decision that Whipple said he did not dictate.
"Martin Jacobson is a huge friend of this program," Ford said. "He's someone we all look up to. He was able to come to the locker room, and the boys thought it was only right. (We're) just glad to have him here, first and foremost, but then we signed a helmet that he can take with him. He's going to be with us every single week"
UMass media relations announced the attendance as 8,864. Expect those numbers to shoot up once students arrive on campus.
A few local recruits were among those watching, as Catholic Memorial lineman Hunter Salmon and defensive back Khari Johnson from the 2019 class were on hand, according to Twitter. Highly-touted class of 2022 linebacker Tyler Martin out of BB&N also stated on Twitter that he was at McGuirk. . . .
Linebacker Jarell Addo and cornerback Isaiah Rodgers were held out for disciplinary reasons, while Whipple said the team will have to see what injured linebacker Leon Flanagan, Jr. looks like on Monday.