They have a funny sense of values at the University of Massachusetts. One gets the impression people in Amherst think the future of their university will be largely determined by today's football game with Harvard in the Stadium.
Coach Victor Fusia, who was hired two years ago as part of a move to emphasize football, occasionally admits that the Yankee Conference championship might be as important as a win over Harvard, but it is certain that he thinks the latter feat a pre-requisite for respectability.
Massachusetts seems to be trying everything to win today. They have made fierce statements, posed for fierce pictures, beaten Maine 14-7, slaughtered Colgate in a scrimmage, made fierce statements, exhorted alumni to root and pray, pushed pins into voodoo dolls, practiced inordinately hard, and made fierce statements.
There is a pretty good football team behind the press releases, the Harvard coaches report. The main problem at Maine last week was first-day butterflys, and those should have flown away by today.
Jerry Whelchel has been widely applauded as one of the best quarterbacks east of the Mississippi, an accolade that ranks him with Roger Staubach and Gary Wood, to name a couple. Yovicsin, who has studied Welchel closely through films and at Maine last week, is as impressed with his running skill as with his more highly publicized passing potential.
The pro-type offense employed by UMass gives Whelchel many opportunities to display his talents. Yovicsin reports that he can pass efficiently from a drop-back, roll-out, or partial roll-out play, and always present the problem of a run option when he rolls out to his strong side.
UMass likes to send its end wide frequently and sophomore Bob Meers is usually the lonely man. Effective as either a decoy or a real target, he confused Maine's secondary quite a bit last week while catching four passes for 82 yards.
One formation that could cause trouble today is the tight slot, a ploy which spreads the end a few yards and puts a half- back in the slot. With this set up Whelchel can either pass to the end or the back, hand-off to the other half or the fullback for a slash off-tackle, or keep the ball himself and test his luck.
UMass's habit of using a lot of backfield motion, shifts to new formations, and other tricks compound the defensive difficulties. Halfback Fred Lewis, a 210-pound cannonball with speed, presents the defense with plenty of problems no matter what the formation. His particular specialty is the end run, a play which is fraught with touchdown potential every time it is called.
Whelchel, Lewis, halfback Phil DeRose, and fullback Mike Ross work behind a two-unit line with both bulk and speed. Last week at Maine Fusia used both lines interchangeably, and seemed equally satisfied with both.
This year's Massachusetts team may be the most impressive opening day opponent the Crimson has playod since 1960, when UMass beat Harvard 27-12. But John Yovicsin has worked especially hard to prepare his team for an early start, and the Crimson that ran through a quick, spirited light drill last night at the Stadium is probably more ready for its first game that any of its predecessors. In fact, it is probably good enough to win by a point or two, if not more.
Captain Bill Southmayd, though, was correctly cautious: "We just don't know how good this squad is." Yovicsin backed up Southmayd's estimate, noting that it was difficult to predict how well the line would hold in a game and that sophomore halfbacks can't be judged before the season begins.
The danger point in the line, as it has been for the past two years, is tackle. Jeff Pochop on the left side is more than adequate, but Joe Jurek, who will start at right tackle, is yet to be tested under full fire.
Wally Grant, a sophomore, will start today at left half, and he is supposed to do much more than keep the position filled until Tom Bilodeau returns. Yovicsin hopes he will add some speed to what is otherwise a rather slow backfield.
With Bilodeau playing on defense for most of the afternoon, Harvard probably will not try much in the way of passing from the halfback position. Don't be surprised to see Mike Bassett at least cock his arm now and then, however, Bassett, for all the stories to the contrary, is not too bad when he actually throws, and he is supposedly gaining confidence in this part of his game.
Harvard won't break its neck to win this game, and it just can not take it as seriously as the boys from Amherst. Still, what with the thrill of the opening day and all, the Crimson should be sufficiently aroused to avenge that 1960 setback.