OVERVIEW: The Minutemen are 0-6 overall and 0-3 in their first season in the Mid-American Conference. UMass is a “transitional” FBS school, and as such is not eligible for the MAC title or a bowl game. UMass played a tough non-conference schedule, losing road games at UConn (37-0) and at Michigan (63-13) as well as a home contest against Indiana (45-6). In league play the Minutemen lost at Miami by a 27-16 score, then extended Ohio at home before losing 37-34 and lost at Western Michigan 52-14 before getting a bye week the week before facing the Falcons.
OFFENSE: The Minutemen rank 13th (or last) in the MAC in scoring offense with their average of 13.8 points per game (the other 12 teams average more than 20 points per game), and their 297.0 yards of total offense per contest also ranks 13th in the league. UMass is young, with five freshman starters on its offensive two-deep, and 11 freshman (as well as four sophomores) among the 22 players listed. Freshman quarterback Mike Wegzyn has completed 99-of-187 passes (52.9 percent) for 1,022 yards and four touchdowns with four interceptions. His favorite targets include senior Deion Walker, a transfer from Notre Dame who has caught 31 passes for 411 yards and one touchdown; senior Alan Williams, who has 19 catches for 205 yards and three scores (and may be suspended; he did not play at WMU); and junior tight end Rob Blanchflower, who has 17 catches for 186 but is not expected to play because of injury. The rushing attack is led by senior Mike Cox, a Michigan transfer who has 400 yards and three touchdowns on 101 carries. The offensive line has just two seniors, center Quinton Sales and LT Stephane Milhim, but also includes a pair of “true” freshmen in LG Matt Sparks and RG Michael Boland. Despite its youth, the Minutemen’s offensive line has allowed just 12 sacks in six games this season.
DEFENSE: The UMass defensive numbers –- like their offensive totals –- are near the bottom of the MAC. Massachusetts ranks 13th in the MAC in scoring defense (43.5 points per game) and 12th in total defense (502.5 yards per game). Leading the defense is senior MLB Perry McIntyre, who has a team-best 65 tackles, including 2.5 per loss, as well as two passes broken up this season. The other probable starters at linebacker are a pair of freshmen in Kassan Messiah, who ranks fourth on the team with 28 tackles, and Jovan Santos-Knox, who has 10 stops. Two other linebackers to watch are junior brothers Tom Brandt, who is third on the team with 33 tackles, and Tim Brandt, who has 10 tackles. The defensive line is led by senior DT Hafis Williams, a Notre Dame transfer who has 24 tackles, including three tackles for loss, while senior DT Charles Thompson leads the team in tackles for loss with 4.5 this season among his 20 tackles. In the secondary, senior safety Darren Theilen who this year is second for the Minutemen with 41 tackles and leads the team with a pair of interceptions. Junior safety Christian Birt is fifth on the team with 25 tackles, but the cornerbacks are young; redshirt freshman Randall Jette has 22 tackles and three passes broken up, while true freshman Trey Dudley-Giles has 19 stops.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Minutemen are a mixed bag on special teams so far this season. The thing they do best is cover kickoffs; junior Brendon Levengood does the kicking and averages 61.2 yards per kick with four touchbacks on 20 kicks. UMass leads the MAC with a net average of 43.2 yards per kick. … Levengood also has done most of the place-kicking and has made 6-of-7 PAT kicks and is 3-of-5 on field goals, with a long of 32 yards. Freshman Blake Lucas has made 2-of-3 PATs and 2-of-3 field goals, none longer than 30 yards. … Junior Colter Johnson has handled the majority of the punting duties, averaging 42.1 yards per kick and nailing seven kicks of 50 yards or more and seven dropped inside the 20. … The Minutemen have returned just nine punts in six games this season, gaining just 18 yards in return to rank last in the MAC in that category. Freshman Trey Dudley-Giles is listed as the starter with sophomore Brian Dowling as the backup. … Sophomore Jordan Broadnax has handled all 29 of the Minutemen’s kickoff returns and averages 22.7 yards per return to rank fifth in the league in that category.
BG KEYS TO VICTORY: 1. Run, run, runaway. The Falcons have run the ball very effectively recently, averaging 249.7 yards per game in their last three contests, while UMass ranks near the bottom of the MAC in rush defense. Control the ball, control the clock, control the game. 2. Don’t let them get rolling. UMass QB Mike Wegzyn had a big game against Ohio, completing 27-of-51 passes for 373 yards and four touchdowns because he got on a roll early and never stopped. This is a contest where the Falcons need to jump on top of their opponent and never give them a chance to breathe –- or compete in the game. 3. Make the Minutemen one-dimensional. The Falcons defense used a similar formula against Miami, shutting down the running game and they pinning their ears back against the pass. That also would work well again this week.