Kevin Doyle: After being selected to finish 8th in the CAA, UMASS went on to defeat William and Mary who was predicted to finish second in the league. Do you think the Minutemen felt disrespected by the rest of the league and had something to prove against The Tribe?
Matt Creedon: I’m not sure I would say disrespected. We had a very disappointing season last year considering the talent we had on our roster. We had guys like Vlad Ducasse (now on the Jets) and Victor Cruz (Giants) but still finished 5-6. With Kevin Morris in his second year, a shaky Kyle Havens at quarterback, and a young roster, expectations weren’t too high coming into the year. I do however think 8th place was a little low for UMass. We may have struggled in 09 but we always have a competitive football team. As for proving something, I don’t think UMass entered the game feeling they had to prove anything, but after the win I think they’ve proven we will be a force in the CAA this season.
KD: With Northeastern and Hofstra dropping their football programs, UMASS was the beneficiary of landing both John Griffin (Northeastern), and Anthony Nelson (Hofstra). What have these two players meant to the team thus far, and what impact will they have during the 2010 season?
MC: Both were fantastic in week one. Griffin got the start over Jonathan Hernandez and scored two touchdowns including the game winner. Nelson caught five passes for 78 yards and a touchdown while making some great catches. I personally would start Hernandez over Griffin, but Nelson is without a doubt our best wide receiver this season. We got some other transfers as well and they played great against William and Mary. They will be a big part of UMass’ success this year.
KD: What is the biggest question mark that UMASS fans had going into the season?
MC: Some would say head coach Kevin Morris, but I think it’s too early for that. It’s gotta be how quarterback Kyle Havens plays. Every game last year he’d show flashes of brilliance and then he’d throw two picks. I think the talent is there but the decision making is questionable. If opponents can get pressure on him, he will make bad throws which of course leads to turnovers.
KD: Rather than a question mark, what do fans feel most comfortable with in 2010?
MC: The offensive line is probably the position UMass fans feel most comfortable with. We lost Ducasse but we still have three upperclassmen on the line. The biggest strength of the line is just that, they are huge.
KD: Although Holy Cross lost their All-Everything quarterback in Dominic Randolph, new starter Ryan Taggart is still very capable behind center and runs the offense quite well. How will UMASS go about disrupting Taggart and the rhythm of the "O"?
MC: We have a great linebacking core led by Tyler Holmes who was named CAA defensive player of the week. The line got good pressure on Callahan and the Tribe last week and shut down one of the best running backs in the country in Jonathan Grimes. I’d expect them to put similar pressure on Taggart. If he can get the ball away, our pass defense looked a little weak last week.
KD: Everyone knows about the two-headed monster in John Griffin and Jonathan Hernandez running the ball, but what about the passing game? Has Kyle Havens improved since last year, and who are his primary targets?
MC: Havens seems to have improved from last year, but we only have one game under our belt. He didn’t throw any picks and completed 15 of his 24 passes for 223 yards and a TD. If you haven’t seen his now infamous 4th and 2 play, it’s a must watch. He had an open lane to the first down marker and even the endzone at the WM 7 but decided to throw the ball which was knocked down. Even worse, he threw it past the line of scrimmage. Like I said, if he picks the right target, he can make the throw. It’s just that he throws it into double coverage too often. There were a few passes for big gains that missed their open target but the receivers may have been to blame. Havens will look for Nelson first followed by TE Emil Igwenagu. Julian Talley and Hernandez are also threats.
KD: Aside from the big name players, who is one guy on the roster that does not get enough notoriety, and is a relatively unknown, but significant player?
MC: Most people who read my blog and your blog probably know him, but among the general UMass football fanbase, I’d say Junior linebacker Tyler Holmes is underrated. He led UMass in tackles last year with 110 which was also good for second in the CAA and eighth in the nation. He was named the CAA Defensive Player of the Week after his game sealing interception against William and Mary.
KD: Your prediction for the game?
MC: UMass, of course. In terms of score, UMass wins by at least a touchdown. I think we have a great team this season. On the other hand, nothing would surprise me with UMass athletics. No matter what sport it is, the Minutemen generally play down to the competition and can lose some bad games. I think we have this one though.
KD: Attendance for the game? Does McGuirk get between 15,000-20,000 for a Saturday night game?
MC: I think we can get close to 15,000 on Saturday night. We got 10,000 for William and Mary which was better than expected thanks to a large turnout by the students who moved in early. It’s the first game back for all the students, a night game, and our last home game until October 16th. Plus, I hope we get some visitors from Worcester. Best guess would be 11-13,000 but 15K isn’t out of the question.
Here are the questions I was asked, along with my responses:
MC: Despite winning the Patriot League last season and making the playoffs for the first time since 1983, the Crusaders were picked to finish fourth in the pre-season Patriot League coaches’ poll, and third in the Sports Network poll. Do you feel the team enters the season underrated?
KD: I'm not sure if "underrated" is the right term, but rather, they feel disrespected. They are out to prove to everyone in the Patriot League that they are more than just one player (Dominic Randolph), and they have the ability to have a very strong year. In a sense, however, "underrated" may be the right term because not many people are expecting a whole lot from this year's squad, but I believe the 2010 Crusaders enjoy that, to an extent. The "we will show you" mentality is something that the team has really taken to heart.
MC: Dominic Randolph had a fantastic career at Holy Cross and was a big loss for you guys. How confident are Holy Cross fans in senior QB Ryan Taggart who entered the season having only thrown two passes in his collegiate career?
KD: Before the Howard game, the confidence may not have been there as there were many questions surrounding the offense and quarterback position. Following the Howard game, however, I think many fans are very comfortable with Ryan Taggart as the starting QB. He beat out a talented Kevin Watson in summer camp (Watson was Randolph's back-up before getting injured last season), and runs the offense very well for a first-year starter. His knowledge of the offense and superb decision making makes him seem like a seasoned quarterback, rather than a QB who has only one game under his belt.
MC: What is the biggest concern Holy Cross fans have about this year’s team?
KD: It would be either the offensive line or quarterback position. After graduating three starting members from a stellar line last season, this part of the offense was certainly a concern for many. As previously mentioned, having a new quarterback lead the offense is a concern too, but I believe both of these concerns were addressed against Howard. With that being said, the UMASS Minutemen are an entirely different animal than the Bison after they recently defeated the #4 team in the nation in William and Mary, so we will see if the O-line or QB become a concern following the UMASS game.
MC: Our quarterback, Kyle Havens, doesn’t do well under pressure. I know you guys have a solid linebacking core and secondary…do you think you can get enough pressure up front to force Havens into making bad throws?
KD: The pressure, most likely, will not come from the secondary or linebackers, but rather the defensive line. A Tom Gilmore coached defense, customarily, does not heavily rely on the blitz, so it is up to the defensive line to apply the pressure on Havens. Fortunately, Holy Cross' D-Line this year should be one of the best in recent memory as they return the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year in Mude Ohimor. Alongside Ohimor is the big defensive tackle Jack Maliska who is poised to have a monster season for HC. To be honest, I am not worried in applying a whole lot of pressure on Havens, but simply stopping the vaunted UMASS running game. If Kyle Havens is going to single-handedly beat us, then so be it, but I'd rather contain John Griffin and Jonathan Hernandez than make Havens the focal point.
MC: UMass did a fantastic job shutting down one of the best running backs in the country in John Grimes from William and Mary last week. What’s Holy Cross’ running game like?
KD: Holy Cross' running game will be the same as last year, but with one more RB in the mix. Matt Bellomo and Eddie Houghton were the primary backs last season, with Francis Camara receiving carries sparingly, but now sophomore Sam Auffant has entered the picture. Auffant will not run anyone over, but he is a very shifty back with breakaway type speed. As many know, Holy Cross is a pass-first offense, but the running game is good enough this year to keep opposing defenses on their toes. A defense cannot simply drop back into pass coverage with the threat that this year's running backs possess.
MC: Who is the player to watch for on Holy Cross?
KD: When looking through your programs at McGuirk Stadium on Saturday evening and looking up and down the Holy Cross roster, I suggest stopping at #82. Bill Edger finished last season in an emphatic fashion by torching the Villanova secondary, and he did the same last week against Howard by reeling in 7 catches for 124 yards and 2 touchdowns. Edger appears to be the primary target for Ryan Taggart as he has arguably the best hands on the team and is great going up in the air and bringing down the ball. He is HC's best threat on the outside.
MC: Is there anything else UMass fans should know about the Crusaders?
KD: This is a very hungry football team. After losing to UMASS in their last two meetings by scores of 40-30 in 2007, and 45-42 in 2008, the seniors on the 2010 team are out for revenge. The team as a whole feels they were disrespected by their own league by being selected to finish fourth, and a victory against a top 20 team in the nation, a team that just defeated the fourth ranked team, would cause a lot of people to turn their heads and take the 2010 Holy Cross Crusaders a little more seriously.
MC: Prediction for the game? Does Holy Cross snap UMass’ seven game winning over you guys?
KD: On paper, UMASS probably has more talent, more team speed, more size, and the home field advantage. This may be the homer in me, but I truly feel that there is something special with the Crusader football squad, and there is no better place to show their talents than on a big stage in Amherst. I'll take HC by 6, 34-28.
MC: And finally, I just have to ask, who do Holy Cross fans like more: Lehigh or Lafayette?
KD: Well, they are both Patriot League opponents, and both fairly big rivals, so it is hard to "like" one of these football teams. But, if I had to pick a team, I guess I would go with the Lehigh Mountain Hawks. Playing against a Frank Tavani coached football team is a much more daunting task than an Andy Cohen coached team. Plus, I always enjoy traveling to Bethlehem to play Lehigh; Goodman Stadium is one of the very best places to watch a college football game.
I hope you enjoyed the interviews. Hopefully I can coordinate something similar to this format with other blogs of schools the Cross plays.
Kevin Doyle '11