FBS newcomer Coastal Carolina awaits Minutemen

  • UMass QB Andrew Ford will look to lead the Minutemen into the win column for the first time this season when they travel to FBS newcomer Coastal Carolina Saturday. FOR THE RECORDER/CAROLINE O’CONNOR

For The Recorder
Thursday, August 31, 2017

AMHERST — For Coastal Carolina, Saturday’s game is a milestone, a piece of history. For UMass, the 7 p.m. road game against the Chanticleers is an opportunity to get things on track.

Coastal will be playing its first game of the season and its first as a Bowl Subdivision program against the Minutemen. It’s the newest member of the Sun Belt Conference and the school just outside of Myrtle Beach is treating the night as a celebration of its future.

“We’re excited about transitioning to the FBS, and I think our guys have approached it well,” coach Jamey Chadwell told the Charlteston Post and Courier. “I think they understand the challenge and we’re growing together as a team.”

Chadwell wasn’t supposed to be the one shepherding this change. The former coach at Charleston Southern was hired by coach Joe Moglia to be the offensive coordinator. But when Moglia was forced to take a medical leave of absence, Chadwell took over.

That’s made preparing for Coastal a challenge for UMass, which has had to study personnel on film of CCU while watching Chadwell’s plays on Charleston Southern video and trying to extrapolate how it will blend together.

“I don’t know if they’ll change from what they did at Charleston Southern,” UMass coach Mark Whipple said. “We’ll just make adjustments and go from there. ... You just prepare the best you can. You read their keys and eliminate the mental mistakes.”

On top of that, the UMass defense doesn’t know who it’s preparing for at quarterback. Tyler Keane, who started seven games last year, is competing with Josh Stilley, who started the first three games before a season-ending injury. Two graduate transfers – Dalton Demos (Northern Iowa) and Austin Wilson (Syracuse) – are also in the mix, as is Chance Thrasher, who missed the last two seasons with injuries.

Chadwell has been aided by some familiar faces. CCU’s running backs coach is former UMass standout offensive lineman Bill Durkin.

The defensive coordinator is Mickey Matthews, the ex-James Madison coach who had many memorable games against the Minutemen in the Atlantic 10 and CAA.

Coastal Carolina is 0-7 against FBS opponents, but the Chanticleers were very good in the FCS in recent years. After going 10-2 in 2016, the Chanticleers were picked 12th in their first season in the Sun Belt.

Brooks Stadium is in the midst of planned expansion that will eventually bring the teal “Surf Turf” stadium to 20,000. It currently holds 15,000 and is expected to be close to full.

Whipple hoped his team would handle the environment well.

“I’m more concerned with us dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s and taking care of the little things. We were lax on some of the details and it cost us in the end against Hawaii,” he said. “Sometimes you come together on the road. It’s a little more tight-knit. You only have 70 guys, and you’re going some place. You’re focused without all the other stuff.”

Junior running back Marquis Young agreed.

“Maybe a business trip to get away from school is what we need to get the ball rolling,” he said.

After Saturday’s loss, Whipple expressed frustration at the way his team had practiced during game week. He felt better about this week’s preparation.

“It was much more businesslike. They’ve been energized, but there’s been more focus on the details,” Whipple said. “The young guys really get a lot better from game one to game two. You can see those guys practicing harder. They realize they have to practice more at game speed.”