Saturday marks the first meeting on the gridiron between the BYU Cougars and the University of Massachusetts Minutemen. UMass played at the FCS level until 2011 when they started the transition to FBS. As of now they are playing as a program under the umbrella of Independence and hoping they can find a conference before they are forced to drop back down to the FCS level.
Both the offense and defense looked quite good against a much inferior opponent in SUU, and the same should happen this Saturday. The Cougars put up 31 in the first half and then played keep away in the second. This led to only six second half points, although it should have been more regardless of the style of play. The Cougars shouldn't have any problems with the Minutemen and may face them with a number of starters sitting out.
One shining spot, and a nice surprise, was the play of freshman KJ Hall. Hall was forced into action due to injuries as Jamaal Williams walked the sideline with a boot and his backups, Squally Canada and Algernon Brown, both left due to injury. Hall took his role seriously and had a great opening performance as he finished with 127 all-purpose yards (59 rushing, 68 receiving). He was shifty and quick when he had the ball, and was the outlet pass for the quarterback on a number of occasions. The Cougar faithful should be excited to see more from him as he progresses in his career.
Losing the turnover battle to an FCS team is unacceptable and should never happen. The Cougars turned the ball over three times and all three were preventable. Hill lost a fumble in the first half, while trying to extend a play, and then threw an interception on a very ill advised throw across the field in the second half. Brown also lost a fumble in the second half while the offense was driving. The Cougars started off the second half with two drives that looked promising until the turnovers killed the drives. The defense also missed a chance to recover a fumble on the only SUU scoring drive. The Cougars need to clean this up as they move forward and progress or they will just make things more difficult in the weeks to come.
Once again the Cougars will face a team they are favored to beat by 31. That being said, there really shouldn't be a match-up that will be make or break for this game. The biggest matchup may be the Cougars verses consistency. The Cougars won't look at points scored or yardage to make this determination, they will look at ball control, time of possession, and quality of downs. If the Cougars can find the consistency they have been lacking, they could be tough to beat down the stretch.
The Keys to Watch
When the Minutemen have the ball:
Watch for sophomore quarterback Andrew Ford to carry the offensive load for the Minutemen. Ford has thrown for over 2,000 yards and spreads the ball out between two key receivers. Adam Breneman leads the team with 58 receptions, 699 yards, and seven touchdowns while Andy Isabella has 610 yards on 49 receptions and six touchdowns. The Minutemen running game falls on the shoulders of Marquis Young who has carried the ball 169 times for 741 yards and three touchdowns.
Watch for the Cougars to pressure Ford as they try to force bad passes as they give the secondary a chance to pick off Ford, who already has 12 interceptions on the year. The Cougars will play the run but won't put extended effort into stopping it, unless Young proves to be a thorn in their side.
When the Cougars have the ball:
Watch for the Cougars to have a similar game plan to SUU as they use the pass effectively. There are some question marks on which running backs will be available on Saturday and so the less depth required, the better off the offense is. The Cougars won't go away from the run game completely but watch for it to be geared towards the personnel available.
Watch for the Minutemen to play physical with the Cougars receivers as they try to disrupt the timing of the offense, and force Hill to be accurate with his passes. If they can add a bit of pressure to their physical play then it could result in poor decisions by Hill and possible turnovers. If UMass can win the turnover battle, this could keep them in the game for a little bit longer and give them a little confidence.
While playing in the FCS ranks the Minutemen have been to the FCS National Championship game three times, winning it in 1998. After moving to the FBS levels the Minutemen were part of the MAC conference but left as they searched for a better fit. At this point the better fit hasn't materialized and are now in danger of trying to sustain independence without the money or fan base of the Cougars.
The Cougars and Minutemen will meet three more times with the next meeting taking place in 2017, once again in Provo.
The Broadcasting Details
Time: 12:00 pm MT
Where: Lavell Edwards Stadium-Provo, UT
TV: BYUtv and ESPN3
Radio(BYU): KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM, BYU Radio-Sirius XM 143
Listen Live via Internet(KSL): Click Here