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"OUR BIGGEST OPPONENT IS IN THE MIRROR"
No time for a letdown as Buffalo faces a UMass team with nothing to lose
Image from berkshireeagle.com
UMass—the University of Massachusetts Amherst—is The Flying Dutchman1 of Division 1 football. An FBS program since 2012, the Minutemen have compiled an inauspicious record of 21-97 and have been independent since spending four seasons (2012 to 2015) in the Mid-American Conference. In this stretch, they’ve never won more than four games in a season, and have won one game or less five times. They float like a ghost ship onto 12 schedules a season, get thumped, and disappear.
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UMass has one win this year, a 20-3 victory over FCS Stony Brook. In their five losses, four have been by 18 points or more, including a 55-10 drubbing by Toledo and a 42-10 season-opening beating by Tulane.
Massachusetts is 130th in offense, averaging just under 13 points per game. The team’s 129th in total offense (246.8 yards per game), 126th in first downs, and 125th in third down conversions. Quarterback Gino Campiotti (pictured above) completes 45 percent of his passes, and his 257 passing yards don’t even qualify among the top 130 quarterbacks in D1. The team’s leading rusher with 374 yards on the ground, Campiotti has two times as many interceptions—six—as he has touchdowns.
All of which is prelude to the twist: UMass, the University at Buffalo’s non-conference opponent on Saturday (1 p.m., McGuirk Alumni Stadium, ESPN3) is not to be taken lightly.
Image from recorder.com
Well, let’s not get crazy here. The numbers above weren’t pulled out of a hat.
With that in mind, Bulls head coach Maurice Linguist—riding a three-game winning streak that evened his team’s record at 3-3 on the season, and 3-0 in the MAC—had nothing but good things to say about the Minutemen and their head coach, longtime college football defensive guru Don “Dr. Blitz” Brown, at his Tuesday press conference.
Don Brown—so much respect. If you look at his coaching career—seasoned coach, tons of success, been successful at a bunch of places, and really one of, from a big picture perspective, one of the best coaches who has done it over a long period of time as a coordinator and a head coach. He’s won at UMass,2 he’s been at Michigan, UConn, Arizona State, and really known, especially in this part of the country, for all of the success he’s had over the course of his long coaching career.
If you look at their team over the last two weeks—Liberty and Eastern Michigan—they played their best football over the last two weeks. You can get caught up, wrapped up into an overall statistic, an overall record, but you really have to pay attention to trends, and I really think they are trending upwards. They’re playing better…We know nothing stays the same in this game.
…They have our full attention. They have 100% of our full, undivided attention. We have to have mental toughness and physical toughness. We know we have to have a chip on our shoulder, and have discipline and execution in the moment, and we’ve got to have poise. We’ve got to be us. We’ve got to play our game and be our best when our best is needed on Saturday at one o’clock so we can put ourselves in a position to win.
That’s what the coach has to say, right? Linguist can’t say, “Look, our defense has given up 30 points in the last 10 quarters, we’re averaging 36 points in our last three games, and we’ve got so many weapons on offense we can’t even figure out how to get all of our skill players enough touches. This is basically a glorified scrimmage for an absolutely massive game against Toledo here in Buffalo in two weeks.”
Let’s look at those Eastern Michigan and Liberty games.
Eastern Michigan 20, UMass 13
Image from umassathletics.com
This game put the Minutemen in a couple weird spots—they were playing with their first lead over an FBS team since they went up 16-10 in the the second quarter on Nov. 20, 2021 against Army (UMass lost, 33-17) and first double-digit lead since beating UConn, 27-13, on Oct. 9, 2021 for their lone win of the 2021 season.
Massachusetts jumped ahead, 13-0, after cashing in an EMU fumble for a Campiotti rushing touchdown and later adding a pair of Cameron Carson field goals before halftime. Eastern responded with 20 unanswered points in the second half, overcoming three turnovers in the game.
That’s the UMass forte—as the team website notes, “Massachusetts has forced opponents into 11 turnovers this season, including six interceptions and five fumbles lost. The 11 turnovers gained and five fumble recoveries each rank tied for 25th in FBS.”
Liberty 42, UMass 24
Image from gazettenet.com
The Minutemen had a shakeup at quarterback last week—literally and figuratively.
“In a surprise to many, Don Brown rolled out redshirt sophomore quarterback Garrett Dzuro last week against Liberty,” Ryan Barry of The New England Football Journal reports. “While he was removed midway through the game after taking an uncomfortable sack, he moved the ball somewhat well, offering a little more to the passing game than has been seen so far this season from redshirt junior Gino Campiotti. Dzuro needed assistance leaving the field, but Don Brown indicated he is day-to-day in his midweek press conference. No matter who gets the nod under center, the Minutemen need to do everything they can to move the ball better through the air, as they currently sit last in the FBS in passing offense with an average of just 70.8 yards per game.”
More on the game from UMassAthletics.com:
With 7:09 left in first, Liberty had a fourth-and-four at the 36 that Zukudo Ezewike stuffed at the 35 to force the turnover on downs. Two plays later, a 53-yard rushing touchdown by Greg Desrosiers, Jr. and a Cameron Carson PAT gave UMass a 7-0 lead with 6:13 left in the first quarter. It was Desrosiers, Jr.'s first career touchdown.
The Flames had a third-and-goal from the one-yard line to start the second quarter that UMass turned aside, and then Jordan Mahoney stopped the fourth and goal rush by Liberty.
But with 10:56 left in the second quarter, Dae Dae Hunter punched in a one-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7 following a successful PAT. Another one-yard touchdown, this time by Shedro Louis, put the Flames on top for the first time with 7:02 left in the second quarter, 14-7.
The first half came to an end with the Flames in front 21-10 with Carson adding a 28-yard field goal for the Minutemen but also included Liberty adding a four-yard touchdown pass with just 42 seconds left.
Trailing 35-10 to start the fourth, Jordan Mahoney picked up a Hunter fumble and scored his second touchdown of the season with a 22-yard fumble return. The forced fumble was caused by Javon Batten as the Minutemen narrowed the gap to 35-17.
Liberty answered with an eight play, 73-yard scoring drive. Desrosiers Jr. got UMass back on the board with 4:22 remaining for the game's final score.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Garett Dzuro made his first start of the season. Greg Desrosiers Jr. recorded his first career touchdowns (and) finished with a career-high 110 yards rushing, marking the second game in a row the Minutemen had a 100-yard rusher. Nahji Logan posted his first career sack. Jordan Mahoney collected his second fumble recovery of the season and scored his second touchdown of the season.
“It was good to play at home and we got off to a decent start playing a team on the brink of being in the top 25,” Brown said after the game. “Dzuro did a good job when he was in there. He was rewarded for his last two weeks of practice. …We're not doing enough on the offensive side of the ball, but there were some glimpses there. We have to have more consistency as a unit. That permeates our football team. …We're a very young team. We'd like to do better, but we're working at it.”
Classic Trap Game?
Image from ubbulls.com
So let’s recap. We have:
A road game
A rebuilding football program gaining confidence under a savvy, veteran coach who loves to dial up pressure with a defensive unit capable of forcing turnovers and has nothing to lose
A UB squad that’s swelling with confidence and a week away from an absolutely huge MAC matchup at home against West Division-leading Toledo
An opponent whose only real offensive weapon is running the ball
Take the UMass brand off that opponent and this game screams letdown.
Coach Mo isn’t having it.
“Our biggest opponent is in the mirror,” he said. “That’s not to take away from any opponent that we’re playing, but we can’t be our own worst enemies. We have to play disciplined and sound football, and we’ve got to continue to get the ball into the hands of our playmakers, and we have to be strong in all three phases in order to have success.”
Around the MAC, Week 7
Image from kentstatesports.com
Central Michigan (1-5, 0-2) vs. Akron (1-5, 0-2). New coach, same results (so far) for the Zips—while Joe Moorhead is considered one of the country’s offensive geniuses, he’s really building from the bottom up at Akron. Not the case at Central Michigan, where Jim McElwain’s Chippewas, a dark horse for the MAC title, are two full games behind in the West Division and in danger of posting their first losing record since the John Bonamego regime.
Miami (3-3, 1-1) at Bowling Green (2-4, 1-1). Check out these quotes from BGSU coach Scot Loeffler after last week’s loss to UB: “I wanted to be competitive in every single MAC game and where I’m disappointed is we were not competitive on Saturday. I’m beyond disappointed, like flabbergasted disappointed…I’ve never seen more crazier turnovers in my career. The short yardage played down here on the 90-yard touchdown, we’re in a bare front and they’re running inside zone. As an offensive coach, you’re jumping up and down for three to four yards, two yards versus a bare front, and we miss fit the gap and it goes for 90. They were in the right defense. The bare front, run an inside zone? Come on…Matt (McDonald’s) interception was a versus a three-man rush, three deep, five underneath, three-man go. He’s seen that defense 100 times and the ball should be on the check down.” IN HIS HEAD.
UConn (3-4) at Ball State (3-3). Another midseason non-conference game for a MAC squad. The Cardinals are on a little two-game winning streak with victories over Northern Illinois and CMU by a combined total of seven points. The Huskies’ three wins are already Connecticut’s most since 2017.
Northern Illinois (1-5, 0-2) at Eastern Michigan (4-2, 1-1). These Huskies—the defending MAC champs—are essentially cooked with a loss in Ypsilanti. Backup QB Ethan Hampton threw four INTs, including two pick-sixes. With Rocky Lombardi out and the 105th-ranked defense in the country, it’s not looking great for Thomas Hammock’s bunch.
Kent State (2-4, 1-1) at Toledo (4-2, 2-0). Another critical game—if the Golden Flashes lose, they fall two full games behind Buffalo in the East Division. A Toledo win gives them at least a one-game cushion over Ball State, Eastern Michigan, and Western Michigan, while a loss makes next week’s trip to East-leading Buffalo even more important.
Ohio (3-3, 1-1) at Western Michigan (2-4, 1-1). Ohio’s offense is absolutely fiery right now, while the Broncos’ offense is—what is the opposite of fiery? Vegas has this line as a pick ‘em. I’m taking the Bobcats without a second thought.
Horns up! Go Bulls.
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The Flying Dutchman is not actually a ship, but rather the captain of a ship who, according to NPR.org, “…once found himself struggling to round the Cape of Good Hope during a ferocious storm. He swore that he would succeed even if he had to sail until Judgment Day. The Devil heard his oath, and took him up on it; the Dutchman was condemned to stay at sea forever. His only hope for salvation was to find a woman who loved him enough to declare herself faithful to the Dutchman for life — no matter what.” Or, in the case of the Minutemen, a conference.