If the University of Massachusetts had finished off a victory Saturday, the buzz surrounding the Minutemen might have been on Lorenzo Woodley’s performance on the final scoring drive instead of the failed 2-point conversion.
But even without a victory, the game appeared to be a glimpse of the freshman running back’s potential. Woodley arrived at UMass as the highest profile recruit in program history, but injuries have limited his availability and his impact.
Woodley had only 58 yards on 16 carries, but 38 yards came on nine carries on UMass’ final touchdown drive, that he completed with a 2-yard touchdown run. His 16 carries were almost as many as the 18 he had in four prior games.
“It’s very encouraging to see Lorenzo Woodley step up and play well for us,” UMass coach Charley Molnar said. “He’s young and hasn’t played a lot this year. It gives us a stable of three running backs of Stacey Bedell, Jamal Wilson and now Lorenzo. We feel very confident and comfortable with all three of them.
“Lorenzo would be the first to tell you that he wasn’t ready to assume a greater role offensively for us because his injury held him back in practice,” Molnar added. “There were things that he wasn’t ready to do consistently on a game-to-game basis. We felt coming into this game that he was as mentally sharp as he has ever been. He was really locked in during practice and was making decisions in all aspects of the game that he had not demonstrated previously.”
Woodley hasn’t been the only hobbled UMass back. Projected starter Jordan Broadnax has yet to play this season, while Bedell has been hampered at times. Both have undisclosed injuries. Jamal Wilson, who has been available in every game, was shaken up against Western Michigan, but is expected to play Saturday against Northern Illinois.
“I’m not sure even as we step on the field (Monday) afternoon (for practice) if all three are 100 percent healthy, so we haven’t had that luxury of determining where we can slot them,” Molnar said. “Our guys have to do it all: not only do they have to be the ball carrier for us most of the time in a one-back offense, but they have to be able to pass protect and catch to a degree. All three can do it, they have demonstrated that they can catch the ball and they have made some excellent decisions in blocking and the pass protection area.”
INJURIES — Senior tight end Ricardo Miller and Wilson were full participants at practice Monday. Kevin Byrne practiced, but was limited. Defensive lineman Daniel Maynes, Broadnax, Ricardo Nesmith and Steve Casali, all missed practice.
POLL POSITIONING — Northern Illinois, which visits Gillette Stadium at noon Saturday, moved up to No. 20 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 21 in the Associated Press Top 25, making the Huskies the highest-ranked Bowl Subdivision team UMass has ever hosted.
NIU moved up to No. 17 in the BCS standings.