The Commonwealth Cup takes to the gridiron tomorrow as the UMass Minutemen, New England's second-best college football team, comes into town.
UMass will be a very tough foe for the Eagles, but they are not Appalachian State. While the Mountaineers run a complex spread offense that makes great use of their speed and presented considerable matchup issues for the Michigan defense, UMass takes more of a straightforward approach. Appalachian State's victory over the Wolverines did not mean that they were the superior team; nor, here, is UMass the superior team.
What UMass is is a disciplined, well-coached squad which will look at the BC game as a shot to prove themselves against a team knocking on the door of the nation's top 10. The Minutemen come in matching BC's record of 4-0, including a pair of wins over Colonial Athletic Association foes Towson and Maine (the Black Bears, who lost 22-0 in Chestnut Hill last season, fell 38-7 to UMass). While they boast a solid QB in Liam Coen, a Rhode Island native who was scouted but never offered a scholarship by BC, the focus of their attack is the ground game--primarily UConn transfer Matt Lawrence, who has racked up 517 yards and 5 TDs on just 82 to carries to date.
While the Minutemen offense is impressive, their defense is somewhat less so. The team has yielded 67 points in 4 games, certainly a respectable accomplishment but one which will need to be improved upon in order to have a chance against BC. The strength of UMass' defense is its ability to show multiple looks and confuse a QB; while this is effective against 1-AA quarterbacks, it is likely to be much less so against Matt Ryan. In fact, I would not be surprised to see UMass deviate somewhat from their usual gameplan and go with a more vanilla set, dropping guys back into coverage and challenging BC to beat them on the ground. With Steve Logan developing an offense that can run a "3 yards and a cloud of dust" power rushing game, a 5-wide spread, and just about anything in between (a subject I will discuss in detail in a future post), I expect BC to be able to handle anything UMass defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski can throw at them.
In years past, I would be concerned that a talented but under-the-radar team such as UMass would be able to come into Alumni and give BC a scare or even knock us off. Now that we have a coaching staff who actually knows how to motivate its players, I am not as concerned. After last week's lackluster performance against Army, the BC staff is not about to let its players rest on their laurels for this one; additionally, if any further motivation was needed, the team needs look no further back than the Appalachian State-Michigan game just 4 weeks ago. The BC locker room has been plastered with newspaper articles from the historical upset in the week leading up to the UMass game.
Unfortunately, Jeff Smith will not be able to make his season debut on Saturday; although the fact that it was even up for consideration indicates that his return is likely not far off, hopefully in time for Notre Dame. Also out with a knee injury will be starting fullback James McCluskey; true freshman Brad Newman will take his place in the starting lineup, with senior tight end Ryan Thompson also expected to see some time at the position. Defensive tackle Brady Smith, who has excelled this year, is also injured and not listed to start, but could see playing time if needed.
Despite the injuries, I expect UMass to hang close for about a quarter before the Eagles pull away.
Prediction: BC 38, UMass 13
More links from today's Globe:
Herzlich Leader of the Pack
Step Right Up and Give It a Shot
In other news this week, BC was voted to a tie for #1 in the Hockey East coach's poll along with UNH, with BU and Maine coming in 3rd and 4th respectively. While there is no doubt that BC is loaded with talented skaters, both returning and new, much will be asked of freshman goalies John Muse and Andrew Margolin and I think the poll reflects this. Had Cory Schneider returned this team would have been the odds-on favorite to win the national title; with Schneider gone, there is still a huge amount of talent, but question marks (albeit talented question marks) in the net.