An Independent team from up north comes to the Classic City sporting over 33 points a game and the leading receiver in all of FBS. What, me worry?
Here is what I’m NOT worried about come Saturday afternoon’s kickoff:
1) This is not a daunting team. The Minutemen are 4-7 on the season, 0-5 against FBS opponents with winning records. They’ve only played in front of 20,000 fans twice this season – 24k versus UConn and 30k at Boston College. Rest assured, even if the Sanford Stadium seats are not at capacity, this will be an eye-opening experience for them.
But they score over 33 points a game!!! Yeah, and they give up about 40. They put up 63 on Duesquene and 62 on Liberty. But promptly surrendered 55 to Boston College, 63 to FIU, 58 in back to back weeks at Ohio and versus USF. And gave up 59 to Liberty. They’re getting gashed for 261 yards on the ground. They did complete 98 plays against Liberty (98!) and 777 yards of total offense, 540 through the air. They also needed overtime to win. UMass – they’re not, uh… they’re not … they’re not good.
2) Independence. Just like Hermey the Elf, the University of Massachusetts at Amhert is officially Independent. After winning a couple of FCS championships in the 90’s, also under Head Coach Mark Whipple (who soon left for greener pastures across the collegiate and NFL landscapes). Whipple returned a few years ago as UMass decided to make the jump to the big leagues. But they didn’t care for all that MAC-tion, and left the conference a couple of years ago to try it solo. We didn’t do too bad against another Independent team at the beginning of last season, so I like our chances.
3) Quarterback Rotation. But not what you’re thinking. The Minutemen have started 3 different quarterbacks. And here we thought we were the ones with the quarterback management problem. Okay, it is what you’re thinking.
I have alternately heard this week (from “respected” national media) that Kirby Smart and Co. are geniuses with the platooning of Fromm & Fields; or that no one has a clue what is going on with the substitution and situational use of Fields when Fromm is clearly the #1. I’m going with the latter – I am not a QB Whisperer, I haven’t seen enough of Fields to know that he is ready to take over a game completely, but I did see a couple of his HS games and I’ve seen enough tough runs and tight spirals to know he comes fully equipped. So I don’t agree whatsoever with how #1 and #11 sprint on and off the field, but I have to agree wholeheartedly with the results. Is it frustrating for me? Sure, at various moments, during the games, and for a few days back in October. But every other Saturday I have rested my weary head and slept soundly with no insomnia-inducing thoughts on our quarterback situation.
Even with a seemingly overmatched opponent, I am contractually bound to worry and to express such concern through the written word. Now forgive me, as I was weaned at the nipple of Larry Munson’s scratch on AM radio, so here’s what I am worried about this Saturday, still at home Between The Hedges:
1) Andy Isabella. The 5’10”, 190 lb. wideout has almost 1,500 yards receiving, more than 1,000 greater than the 2nd place UMass receiver, and he just so happens to be first in all of FBS. He recorded over 303 yards receiving against Liberty earlier this month. Even though the opponent was Liberty, 300 yards is still something special and it doesn’t happen every year. Isabella snagged 13 receptions versus a pretty good USF team. He is getting national recognition too, and he is a Biletnikoff Award semi-finalist.
If you remember our other (ahem) non-Power 5 opponents this season, they all were determined to have short drops and make quick throws. Expect plenty of that this week, and Isabella will indeed be a target. Even if they get crushed, I imagine Head Minuteman (is that a word?) Mark Whipple will try to get Isabella his. Having a score and double-digit receptions or over 100 yards against a premier program like UGA will carry a lot of weight for Isabella as he finishes up his season, and this is the last chance to impress the committee for post-season awards and a post-collegiate career. We’d better watch out for #5.
2) Bryton Barr. Remember that name. Barr has 137 tackles on the season, more than twice as many as 2nd place on the UMass defense. The 6’0”, 225 lbs linebacker had 17 total tackles (10 solo) against BC, 21 against UNC Charlotte, and double digits in every game except the opener. He has 4 of the teams 9 sacks, and 10.5 tackles for loss. Why is he so prolific? Never underestimate experience.
So the funny thing is a he’s a graduate student, but not just any grad transfer. Barr started playing college football in the fall of 2012. Do not adjust your screen – I said 2012. He was injured early in 2013, and suffered injuries again in 2014 and 2015. The NCAA, about the time they gave Kolton Houston some relief, decided this was a hard-luck case too. So they gave him 2 years of additional eligibility and he transferred to UMass. This is his 7th collegiate football season in all. So keep an eye out for #44.
3) Let’s be honest… this game shouldn’t pose a problem to the 2018 Georgia Bulldogs. So I’m not too concerned about the game’s outcome. What is my biggest concern? Traffic.
This will be the first game I’ve attended (in Athens) in several years. And because of life, I have to drive back to eastern NC after the game. The weather looks good, but I-85 is no casual mistress for the faint of heart. She beckons you with stretches of rolling hills and bucolic scenery, but then hits you with construction zones around Greenville (SC) and the seemingly endless zone just north of Charlotte. Then there is always the I-40/I-85 merge near Greensboro (NC). So periods of boredom sandwiched between frenetic chaos. And it will be late. I know, I know, #1stWorldProblems and all that.
What worries you about the penultimate Sanford Stadium home game of the 2018 season? Leave them in the comments below, and as always…