Alex Miller bringing UMass football team together ahead of senior day vs. Maine

  • Ellis Merriweather and the UMass football team look to get back on track when they host Maine on Saturday at noon. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/12/2021 4:31:10 PM
Modified: 11/12/2021 4:31:18 PM

AMHERST – Alex Miller gathered the UMass football team around him between practice sessions, bringing the Minutemen together.

He emphasized what the coaching staff needed from each drill. Loudly, often with enthusiastic expletives. His primary asks were effort and passion.

“Literally the only thing that matters to me is how tight this family is and how hard we play,” sadi Miller, named UMass’ interim head coach earlier this week. “That’s literally the only thing that matters to me. And if that’s the only thing I leave on these kids the next three weeks, then I’m going to be happy with that.”

He knows the Minutemen need better effort against Maine at noon Saturday in McGuirk Alumni Stadium than they showed last week against Rhode Island. The Black Bears (4-5) are another FCS program hungry for a shot at big game. UMass is celebrating senior day in its last of six home games.

“Our guys need to understand if we play good, sound football, we’re going to have a shot. But we’ve got to match their effort,” Miller said. “Because they’re coming. That’s the one thing we can learn from last Saturday, we’re going to get their best shot, and we’ve got to be ready to take it and give it back.”

Maine has won three of its past four games, including a 45-24 victory over Rhode Island on Oct. 30. Its schedule has included an FBS team already in Northern Illinois (41-14 loss) and two top-five FCS opponents in Delaware (lost 34-24 to open the season) and No. 3 James Madison (lost 55-7 in Week 2).

Saturday will be the 60th meeting between Maine and UMass, longtime conference rivals. The Minutemen lead the series 42-16-1 all-time, but the Black Bears have won three of the past five meetings.

Quarterback Dere Robertson has helmed Maine’s attack for eight games. He’s thrown for 1,505 yards and 12 touchdowns with just four interceptions, completing 50.84 percent of his passes. His top targets are receivers Andre Miller (548 yards, two scores) and Devin Young (477 yards, two touchdowns).

Running back Freddie Brock leads the Black Bears with three receiving touchdowns. The sophomore has also rushed for 553 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.

Defensively, Maine has only accumulated one sack this season and 11 tackles for loss in nine games. Ray Miller leads the way with 76 tackles. He’s also one of six Black Bears with an interception.

“They’re Maine, as usual. They play hard, they’ve got some speed. There’s talent at running back, good receivers,” Miller said. “As in all things, they’re tough up there.”

Miller knows them well. He coached against them every year for more than a decade at New Hampshire in the Battle for the Brice-Cowell Musket. Those Wildcats went 8-1 against the Black Bears during Miller’s tenure. Last year’s game was canceled amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Miller also went 4-0 against Maine as an All-American center at UMass.

“Very familiar with them,” Miller laughed.

The Minutemen will have questions at quarterback again. Colorado transfer Tyler Lytle returned last Saturday against the Rams after missing the previous seven contests with a wrist injury. Miller wouldn’t commit to him as a starter against the Black Bears.

Lytle wasn’t at practice Wednesday. Freshman Brady Olson started those intervening seven games and threw for 1,032 yards and seven touchdowns. Olson has completed 48.39 percent of his passes and thrown seven interceptions.

“We’ve got a couple guys that are still battling through treatment,” Miller said Wednesday. “The body’s a funny thing, so I’m going to give them maximum time and we’ll see where they are. We’ll know Saturday at noon who’s on the field and who’s not.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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