If numbers ever could be deceiving, Massachusetts football fans have to hope it is this week, when the Minutemen travel to Huntington, W.Va., to face No. 16 Marshall on Saturday.
After all, the Thundering Herd (5-0, 3-0 Conference USA) are allowing an average of only 9.4 points and 265 yards per game this season, both in the nation’s top five.
Marshall has continued its run despite having three coronavirus-induced holes in its schedule. Not that the Herd will get any sympathy from UMass (0-1).
An FBS independent, UMass canceled its football season in mid-August, only to announce a month later there would be a limited slate. By then, its opponents had booked conference-only games.
In their only game so far this season, the Minutemen were walloped 41-0 at Georgia Southern on Oct. 17. After facing Marshall, the only other game on the Minutemen schedule is Nov. 27 against another ranked opponent in No. 25 Liberty.
With just one UMass game to reference, Thundering Herd coach Doc Holliday said his staff has resorted to studying the tendencies of the Minutemen coaching staff when they were elsewhere, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
A lack of information about an opponent only makes it that much more important to look inward, Holliday said.
“When you get into a situation like this, you have to worry about yourself,” he said. “Us as a football team, we have a standard that we have to play up to, and we’ve got to get better as a team.”
Marshall’s defense has 17 sacks this season, led by five from Darius Hodge. Abraham Beauplan has two forced fumbles, and fellow linebacker Tavante Beckett has three fumble recoveries, including one for a score.
The Herd’s offense is averaging 33.8 points and 427.4 yards per game, enough to apply pressure on that side of the ball as well.
“When you are playing the kind of defense we’re playing, you want to get down in that red zone and you want to walk away with points,” Holliday said.
Freshman quarterback Grant Wells has completed 64 percent of his passes for 1,110 yards and eight touchdowns this season, although he has thrown four interceptions.
Junior Brenden Knox has 556 yards rushing, averaging 4.7 yards per carry, with seven touchdowns.
UMass fell behind Georgia Southern quickly, giving up two touchdowns before seven minutes had expired off the clock. The Eagles finished with 436 total yards to 191 for the Minutemen.
UMass quarterbacks Mike Fallon and Josiah Johnson combined to go 13-of-21 passing for 80 yards and two interceptions. The leading UMass rusher was Will Koch with 41 yards on four carries, including a long of 25 yards.
UMass coach Walt Bell had higher expectations despite the COVID-19 hardships.
“Even though we’ve only had 16 or 17 practices and haven’t been able to kind of have a full camp, I honestly, in my heart, felt we would run the football better,” he said.
When the Minutemen returned from Georgia, the state of Massachusetts’ COVID-19 protocols mandated a two-week quarantine.
“We basically had that quarantine, had to suspend football activities for a week, per our campus. We were able to get back out there in earnest a little bit [last] Saturday, but really in earnest on Sunday. It’s been good,” Bell said. “The kids were kind of itching to get out of their rooms a little bit, which I can understand. I don’t know how well I would have handled doing that as an 18- to 22-year-old.”
–Field Level Media