UMass set for road trip to No. 17 ranked Coastal Carolina

  • Coastal Carolina wide receiver Aaron Bedgood (3) runs into the end zone for a touchdown during the first half of a NCAA college football game against Buffalo in Buffalo, N.Y. on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex) Joshua Bessex

  • Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall (10) looks to pass during the first half of a NCAA college football game against Buffalo in Buffalo, N.Y. on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex) Joshua Bessex

  • Coastal Carolina running back Shermari Jones (5) runs for a first down during the second half of a NCAA college football game against Buffalo in Buffalo, N.Y. on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex) Joshua Bessex

Staff Writer
Published: 9/24/2021 6:49:20 PM

AMHERST — Playing Coastal Carolina won’t be a day at the beach.

The UMass football team’s first road trip in two weeks will take the Minutemen to the No. 17 team in the country’s home field, Brooks Stadium, where the Chanticleers have won nine games in a row. They haven’t lost on their teal turf since Nov. 7, 2019, against Louisiana (the Ragin’ Cajuns, not the Tigers of Louisiana State).

In fact, Coastal Carolina (3-0) is 15-1 in its last 16 games. The Chanticleers have appeared in 15 consecutive AP Top 25 polls dating back to last season. It’s a rapid ascent for a program that only joined the FBS in 2017.

“They have invested an unbelievable amount of money into their facilities, their recruiting operation, their graphics operation... they’re doing an unbelievable job investing and they’re seeing the fruits of it,” UMass coach Walt Bell said.

Former UMass offensive lineman Bill Durkin has been at Coastal Carolina since 2014 and witnessed the ascent. He noticed the beauty of the campus and how much construction was constantly ongoing.

“When I got here you look around at the place and you’re like, ‘this place is going to explode.’ I thought we had a good chance football-wise,” Durkin said. “Every day they were doing new construction, and it was growing and who knows where it’s going to go. I don’t know if anyone’s ever ready (to jump up a level). It’s been a fun ride.”

Coastal Carolina’s students and the Conway, S.C., community have hopped on. An average of 16,966 fans have filled Brooks Stadium (capacity 21,000) for the team’s first two games, wins over the Citadel and Kansas. While UMass’ road opener at Pittsburgh dwarfs that (41,000 announced attendance), Heinz Field wasn’t even 60 percent full. The Minutemen are staring down their first on-campus road environment against potentially the toughest competition they’ll see all year.

It’s also true freshman Brady Olson’s first road start after making his debut and encore appearance at McGuirk Alumni stadium. The Milford native hasn’t spent much energy worrying about the atmosphere.

“Home field energy definitely helps, but probably the best feeling in the world is silencing a crowd away,” Olson said. “So that will hopefully be fun.”

The best way to dilute raucous crowd’s impact is with a fast start. UMass (0-3) has struggled to open games this season, falling behind by at least two scores in the first quarter of all three contests. Bell and the offense have emphasized clicking early so they don’t have to fall behind and play catch up.

“We feel very confident. We’ve just got to go execute at the beginning of the game, and when we do that too, I feel like we’ve got one of the best offenses in the country,” UMass receiver Rico Arnold said. “We’ve been working on trying to get over the hump and start out fast so we can match whatever the other team puts up.”

If history is any indicator, the Chanticleers will put up a lot. They boast one of the nation’s top-20 offenses, averaging more than 500 yards of offense per game. Coastal Carolina scores 43 points per game, the 13th-most in the country.

The Chanticleers achieve that with a unique scheme that grafts triple option concepts onto spread formations and leaves room for traditional dropback passing.

“You’ve got to be more disciplined,” UMass corner Josh Wallace said. “Our eyes can’t get caught up with the eye candy.”

Quarterback Grayson McCall is the heart of the machine. Bell called him a triple threat because he can throw (739 yards), run (52 yards) and orchestrate the option elements with equal proficiency. The preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year was on the watch list for every major college football award that a quarterback can win.

“Nobody has done a very good job against him as of yet,” Bell said. “He’s an unbelievable competitor, really tough kid physically and mentally, so it’ll be a challenge.”

So will stopping Coastal Carolina on the ground. The Chanticleers average more than 230 yards on the ground per game, a top-20 mark nationally. They gain 7.2 yards per rush, the ninth most efficient attack in the country. Compare that to UMass, which has given up 220 yards per game, one of the 11 worst marks. The Minutemen are also giving up 46 points per game, tied for second worst in the country.

“It’s a lot, a lot of mental work. You have to lock in and work every single day, every minute of practice,” UMass senior Avien Peah said. “You can’t take a rep off, take a play off. The mental focus is key. It’s a difficult offense to stop.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.


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