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12 Up, 12 Down: UMass Minutemen

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Coming off a bye week, USF heads up to Amherst, MA, to face a UMass team anchored by a senior quarterback but hamstrung by an abysmal defense.

UMass v Florida International Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Opponent: UMass Minutemen

2018 Record: 2-4, FBS Independent

Head Coach: Mark Whipple* (Fifth year of second stint at UMass, 11th year overall)

Date/Time/Location: Saturday, Oct. 6 at 3:30 p.m., McGuirk Alumni Stadium, Amherst, MA.

Series History: First Meeting. The two teams were supposed to play in Tampa last year, but was postponed due to scheduling changes as a result of Hurricane Irma. That game has been rescheduled for 2022.

*Mark Whipple has been suspended for this game for comments he made following their 58-42 loss at Ohio last Saturday. Defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham will serve as the acting head coach on Saturday.

Background

USF will return from a desperately needed bye week on Saturday when traveling up to New England for their final non-conference game of the regular season at UMass.

A former FCS power (who will be donning throwback helmets from their 1998 national championship team), their move up to the FBS ranks this decade has been...interesting to say the least.

Spending four years in the MAC from 2012-2015 as a football-only member, UMass was effectively thrown out of the conference for not accepting full membership for its other sports, leaving the program as an FBS Independent.

After a 2-10 campaign in 2016, the Minutemen were a very salty 4-8 squad last season. Seven of their eight losses came by 11 points or less and if you remember, they gave Tennessee and Mississippi State hell well into the fourth quarter of both games.

This year, however, has been different. With their lone victories being over Duquesne and Coastal Carolina, the Minutemen have been blown out by Boston College (55-21), Georgia Southern (34-13), FIU (63-24), and Ohio (58-24), giving up roughly 483.8 yards per game on 6.5 yards per play.

Depth Chart

Let’s now dig into the advanced stats to see what we can learn about the Minutemen.

S&P+ Breakdown

Team S&P+ (Overall) S&P+ (USF O vs. UMass D) S&P+ (USF D vs. UMass O) S&P+ ST
Team S&P+ (Overall) S&P+ (USF O vs. UMass D) S&P+ (USF D vs. UMass O) S&P+ ST
USF 36 44 41 114
UMass 112 123 59 113

With half of their 2018 schedule already complete, S&P+ has UMass pegged as a bottom 20 team in FBS with a veteran offense that can put up points when needed coupled with one of the worst defensive units in the country.

They are barely beating USF in special teams, so there’s that...

When UMass Runs...

Team Rushing Effieciency Run Explosiveness Stuff Rate
Team Rushing Effieciency Run Explosiveness Stuff Rate
UMass Offense 50 82 66
USF Defense 93 53 65

Senior Marquis Young has been the main featured back for UMass this season, compiling 372 yards on 73 carries for 5.1 yards per rush and four touchdowns.

Juniors Jordan Fredericks and Bilal Ally have also gotten run this season while backup quarterback Ross Curtis and Ross Comis have each registered a combined six touchdowns on the ground this year.

Their stuff rate indicates that their offensive line have been decent at preventing tackles at or around the line of scrimmage, but they rank 80th in opportunity rate (percentage of carries where the line “does its job” and produces at least five yards for the rusher.)

The opportunity rate for USF’s rush defense (104) may still be a bit skewed from the Georgia Tech game, but as we’ve pointed out numerous times, they’ve been able to consistently make the necessary second half adjustments to prevent big plays on the ground.

When UMass Passes...

Team Passing Efficiency Passing Explosiveness Sack Rate
Team Passing Efficiency Passing Explosiveness Sack Rate
UMass Offense 50 42 79
USF Defense 17 24 24

Statistically a top-three quarterback in program history, senior Andrew Ford has thrown for over 6,000 yards and 54 touchdowns with a 62.3 career completion percentage in 27 games for UMass. He thew for 355 yards and four touchdowns in last week’s shootout with Ohio.

Fellow senior Andy Isabella is Ford’s primary weapon of choice, hauling in 41 catches on 58 targets for 648 yards and seven touchdowns on 15.8 yards per catch. You can bet they’re sticking Ronnie Hoggins on him when Isabella lines up in slot. USF doesnt’t shadow receivers with their cornerbacks, so expect Isabella to stay away from Mazzi Wilkins as much as possible.

There’s a heavy dropoff in production after him with Brendon Dingle, Sadiq Palmer, and Jessie Britt all having less receptions combined than Isabella.

Even with a unit that has been successful so far in limiting explosive plays through the air, the USF defense still hasn’t faced a competent passing attack this season. We’ll see how they perform on the road when tested with a veteran heavy offense.

When USF Runs...

Team Rushing Effieciency Run Explosiveness Stuff Rate
Team Rushing Effieciency Run Explosiveness Stuff Rate
USF Offense 43 90 17
UMass Defense 126 111 20

Banged up for the better part of the first two games, Jordan Cronkrite has come on for the USF offense, rushing for back-to-back 100-yard games and breaking off an 80-yard touchdown run to pull the team ahead of ECU two weeks ago.

He’s had to shoulder the load because the “season from hell” in terms of injuries has decimated the running back room so far. Trevon Sands and Dave Small should be good to go for Saturday while Elijah Mack and Duran Bell Jr. are still day-to-day with ankle injuries.

Blake Barnett’s elusiveness as a runner has been a pleasant surprise this season with 166 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, but they’d be smart to continue to pick and choose when he takes off.

Those injuries may not matter considering that UMass fields a bottom-30 rush defense in efficiency, explosiveness, and opportunity rate. Sophomore Jake Byczko has been able to generate some run stuffs with five this season along with three TFLs, so it’s probably not a good idea to run at him.

When USF Passes...

Team Passing Effieciency Passing Explosiveness Sack Rate
Team Passing Effieciency Passing Explosiveness Sack Rate
USF Offense 13 63 90
UMass Defense 121 114 116

Nate noted last week how ECU’s gameplan and use of a “Wide-9” technique was able to throw the USF passing game out of wack and limit Barnett to only 12 completions for 181 yards and a touchdown.

With a week off to regroup, the offensive line and the rest of the aerial attack should be able to get back on track against an abysmal UMass pass defense that ranks near the bottom of every advanced stat category in FBS.

USF will also see the return of Mitchell Wilcox, who sat out the second half of the ECU game with injury, so that helps.

Prediction

S&P+ projects USF as an 18.1 point favorite in this game and that sounds about right. As has been the case with some games over the past couple of years, this is a contest where the process is almost as important as the final score itself.

Ford and Isabella have proven to be an effective combo that can get points on the board for the Minutemen, but it hasn’t been enough to overcome their defense getting torched week after week.

The Bulls, however, aren’t a team that will completely destroy an opponent by 30+ points or anything like that. It’ll probably be 24-17 or something like that at halftime, Brian Jean-Mary will figure out what Ford and company are doing and adjust defensively, and the Bulls pull away for a respectable road victory that not everyone will be satisfied with. So you know, the usual.

I’ll say, USF wins 41-20.