Notes from the Sideline: UMass football winds down

  • UMass QB Ross Comis has been a spark plug off the bench this season. File Photo

For The Recorder
Friday, November 17, 2017

The UMass football team is a 4-point underdog this afternoon against Brigham Young University (3-8) at 63,000-seat LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah.

It took a while to get off the launch pad, but coach Mark Whipple has all systems go. Quarterback Andrew Ford is in sync with receivers Andy Isabella (51 catches; eight touchdowns) and tight end Adam Breneman (54 catches; three TDs), while running back Marquis Young needs 206 yards for his first 1,000-yard season.

Ford can check down to receivers Sadiq Palmer and Jessie Britt, or shovel off to Young, who has 26 catches for 224 yards.

If the offense sputters, spunky Ross Comis can provide the spark that’s sometimes lacking with Ford.

It seems like a different season that UMass squandered a big lead against Hawaii and gift-wrapped Coastal Carolina’s only win. After the dreadful 0-6 start, they’ve beaten winless (0-10) Georgia Southern, shocked an undisciplined and overconfident Appalachian State team in overtime, played 17th-ranked Mississippi State to a 34-23 game after being nearly 30-point underdogs, and pulled away from FCS foe Maine, 44-31.

The Minutemen are savoring three wins in its previous four games and it’s tempting to predict they’ll roll against BYU, but the Cougars beat UMass 51-9 last year without their all-time leading rusher Jamaal Williams (who’s now with Green Bay).

The Cougars are also on the upswing after seven straight losses, winning two of theie last three games, including last week’s 31-21 verdict against UNLV.

BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum blew out his Achilles tendon two weeks ago, and backup Beau Hoge was lost for the season with a toe injury.

Third-stringer Joe Critchlow started against UNLV and protected the ball, while BYU’s offensive line protected him. Critchlow passed for 160 yards and a touchdown, and tailback Squally Canada rushed for 213 yards and a TD.

The 31 points and zero turnovers were anomalous for a BYU team that’s in the bottom 10 in total offense and 100th in turnover margin.

UMass is winless (0-6) on the road this season and has been outscored 118-85. It’s BYU’s home finale and Senior Day, when graduating players are honored.

Whether any of that matters we won’t know until after the kickoff at 3 p.m.

CATCH 22: The Minutemen still have a slim chance of getting into a bowl game if they beat BYU today and FIU on Dec. 2.

The bowl lineup includes 40 matchups, meaning 80 of 129 teams are required for muster, even if two or three are 5-7. Last year, the NCAA used academic criteria to determine what teams made the cut, and who knows where that will lead.

Coaches crave playing in bowl games for the extra practice time it gives them to prepare for next season.

At this writing, 58 teams were bowl eligible, leaving 22 openings for any team that can get to six wins, or hopefully, five.

Mother Nature cooled off last week’s Gridiron Series at Fenway Park. “It was freezing!” exclaimed Northfield’s Matt Sheridan. “We left at halftime.”

Only 12,794 turned out at “America’s most beloved ballpark” to watch UMass beat Maine, nearly identical to the 12,297 who turned out the previous night to see Dartmouth beat Brown.

Tonight, Boston College seeks to become bowl eligible when it plays UConn, and the Huskies will struggle to stay under the 21½-point spread. 

BC lost a key player when freshman quarterback Anthony Brown left with a knee injury during last week’s loss to NC State. The UConn game will give Darrius Wade an easy opponent to prep for next week’s ACC tilt against Syracuse.

November plus football in New England equals kickoff at noon, or don’t bother. The Eagles drew 33,242 for a last week’s noontime kickoff against N.C. State, and in Williamstown over 7,000 fans (including George F. Bush) turned out at noon to watch the Ephs upset archrival Amherst in overtime.

QUICK HITS: ESPN’s Dick Vitale told the New York Post he thinks a team will take a chance on Rick Pitino. “If there was someone looking to make a big hit, he’d be a great hire.” Admit it, you’d love to see Pitino in Amherst. … UMass is third-from-last in FBS special teams, notably deficient on punt and kickoff returns and giving pylons a bad name. … The BYU men’s cross country team is favored to win the NCAA cross country championship today in Louisville. … BYU is ranked 49th in red zone defense. … Navy and Army are ranked 63rd and 64th, respectively, in Jeff Sagarin’s USA Today ratings. … Defending champion James Madison (10-0) and five-time champion North Dakota State (9-1) appear destined to duke it out for the FCS Championship on Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas. ... The UMass basketball team drew 1,372 fewer fans to their season opener against UMass-Lowell than they did for last year’s season opener that was also against the River Hawks. … Sunday against the Pats, Denver was a home ’dog of more than a touchdown (7½ points) for the first time since 1992, a span of 210 consecutive home games, and lost by 25. … UMass softball coach Kristi Stefanoni has recruited a promising catcher/first baseman from California named Danielle Ellis. “Dani is going to be a huge force for us,” said Stefanoni. “She’s 6 feet tall, powerful and vocal.” … UMass women’s hoops is 2-0 and plays a twinbill at the Mullins Center against Northeastern on Friday, and Liberty on Saturday. … Those three UCLA basketball players all had deer-in-the-headlights looks walking through the gauntlet of reporters and television lights to Tuesday’s presser. “I’d like to start off by saying sorry for stealing from the stores in China,” said LiAngelo Ball, who’s not getting thrown out because a great mind is a terrible thing to waste. … It’s hot stove season, so light the fire. The Post’s Joel Sherman reports the Red Sox are looking at power-hitting free agent first baseman Lucas Duda, who hit 30 home runs in 423 at-bats for the Rays and Mets. So long Mitch Moreland, we hardly knew ye.