Minutemen take their show to College Station for matchup with struggling Texas A&M

  • Texas A&M quarterback Conner Weigman (15) carries the ball against Auburn last weekend in Auburn, Ala. AP FILE

  • Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher walks off the field after losing to Florida in College Station, Texas on Nov. 5. AP FILE

Staff Writer
Published: 11/17/2022 4:26:21 PM

AMHERST – Kyle Field and Texas A&M need no introduction for real football fans. The Midnight Yell. The largest military marching band in the United States. A yearly maroon-out that caused a national shortage of maroon T-shirts in the late ’90s.

The program carries traditions that are part of college football’s fabric. UMass will see many of them firsthand when they visit the Aggies at noon on Saturday (ESPN-Plus).

“Any real football player, somebody who loves football, you understand the environment there. Johnny Manziel. The 12th man. Myles Garrett. That’s for real football people,” UMass senior running back Ellis Merriweather said. “I’m ready for the stage. I’m ready for the opportunity.”

Kyle Field holds 102,733 fans, by far the largest stadium the Minutemen will visit and the fourth largest in the country.

“Our guys have played in some sophisticated environments in terms of crowd and noise and so forth,” UMass coach Don Brown said. “We’ll be just fine.”

It might not be full when UMass (1-9) takes the field, however. The Aggies (3-7) have lost six games in a row and are eliminated from bowl eligibility after starting the season ranked No. 6. They’ve lost four of those games by one score, including one against Alabama, and beat then-No. 13 Miami and then-No. 10 Arkansas before the slide.

“It’s not in disarray. We’ve got very good players, we’ve got good guys. We’re not in disarray in recruiting, we’re not in disarray in our team,” Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. “You’ve got your players in situations you had to fill in and key injuries. You’re always fighting for inches.”

The Aggies aren’t looking at the Minutemen as a comfortable win, either. Fisher is familiar with Brown when they were both in the ACC at Florida State and Boston College, respectively, and from his Michigan defense in the 2016 Orange Bowl.

UMass allows 184.5 yards in the air per game, up to 19th in the country. Its total defense ranks 51st (364.1).

“They cause a lot of problems. I’ve coached against him. He is a pain to go against,” Fisher said.  “These guys cause you all kinds of problems because of how they blitz and the fronts they do and the scheme in which he does it.”

Over the last two games, the Minutemen’s offense is starting to catch up. UMass posted consecutive games over 350 yards of offense, including a season-high 475 last week against Arkansas State. The Minutemen also put up a season-high 33 points.

“We’re starting to get even effort. The second week in a row from minute one to minute 60, we were in the foxhole together, we were competing as a group,” Brown said.

UMass owed much of that offensive production to the balance it finally found. Merriweather churned out 122 yards on the ground with two touchdowns, while Brady Olson threw for 178 yards and a score before Garrett Dzuro had to relieve him due to injury. Dzuro amassed 129 yards through the air and a touchdown, completing 10-of-14 passes.

It’s unclear whether Olson will be available in College Station, Texas.

“Remains to be seen. Those head things are funny,” Brown said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Texas A&M scores 21.5 points per game, 108th in the country and just ahead of UMass opponents Temple and UConn. The Aggies’ 350.4 yards per game ranks 96th. They’ve used three quarterbacks, most recently freshman Connor Weigman in their loss against Auburn.

“We’re waiting to see which guy we’ll get,” Brown said. “It doesn’t change their offensive flow, it’s just a different guy at the helm.”

Devon Achane has provided stability at the running back position with 929 yards and six touchdowns. The Aggies primarily run a spread scheme with three receivers and one tight end.

“You try to do a good job of giving them things they haven’t seen,” Brown said. “They’re a very talented football team. We’re going to have our hands full, but we’re excited about the challenge.”

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

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