Thank you to Jimmy Kelly who writes for Hustle Belt covering UMASS Minutemen football for taking the time to answer my questions. Also, watch Jimmy appear on the Last Bull In.
1. UMass comes off a nice win over Miami. This is a big MAC win for the team. How did UMASS beat Miami 17 - 10?
The Minutemen broke through against Miami behind a strong defensive effort and a serviceable performance from the offense. I say serviceable because despite putting up 17 points, they left at least another 10 on the field with a missed 44-yard field goal and an interception on the goal line. A.J. Doyle had his struggles, but found the end zone twice through the air. Jamal Wilson has given the offense life at the running back position. That said, the strength of the team was on defense where they forced three turnovers and recorded two sacks.
2. Does the win take some heat off Charley Molnar "progress" train especially after to losing to Maine? Your schedule is really difficult the second half of the season (Buffalo, N. Illinois, Akron, Central Michigan, Ohio.) If the team struggles to win again, especially a loss against Western Michigan and some upset with Molnar’s recent treatment of players whether fair or not, do you see Coach in UMASS next season? Can you expand on the backlash to the training video in snow?
The backlash on the training video was by a group of alumni who felt that Molnar had ignored the program’s rich history by taking down pictures and abandoning the run-first, hard-nosed approach that made them a New England powerhouse. Once the video and the petition came to light on a national level, the petition disappeared and the fire was quelled rather quickly. I do not see it being an issue moving forward. As for the progress under Molnar, a win is nice but they will need to beat WMU – and probably Akorn as well – to keep the seat from warming up over the offseason. He will definitely be around for at least next year, but if the team doesn't beat WMU and then fails to win three or four games next year, Molnar could be out of a job.
3. A super young team who won just one game last year, and could possibly win 2 or even 3. Do you see the players starting to grow?
In a word, yes. The roster is still being supported by older players like Rob Blanchflower, Anthony Dima, David Osei, Kevin Byrne and Justin Anderson, but the play of young players like Jamal Wilson, Tajae Sharpe, Trey Dudley-Giles, and A.J. Doyle is encouraging. The talented younger players are being afforded the opportunity to learn the ropes while not being forced into doing too much, which is often the case in programs like UMass. The coaching staff has been patient and the fan base has been as well – for the most part. The biggest part is that most of the sophomores haven’t regressed in their second season and most have actually improved by leaps and bounds.
4. UMASS comes to UB as a 20.5 early road underdog. Some in Buffalo may call this a trap game. What can UMASS do to win this game?
The biggest thing is keep the score low enough for the offense to compete. UMass’ strength since Day 1 has been its defense, as evidenced by nearly holding Wisconsin to 10 points in the first half of the first game. The offense has been dysfunctional, forcing the defense to play far too much. If the defense does its job and gives the offense the opportunity to compete on the scoreboard, UMass could be a play or two away from winning the game. The Minutemen left at least 10 points on the field last week. With their defense, 27 points could be enough to get a win.
5. How has playing games at Foxboro worked out for the fans? Are you able to attract non-students and alumni to the stadium?
The non-students and alumni are actually the target audience in Foxboro, so that hasn't been a problem. The issue is that the stadium is nearly two hours away from the campus in Amherst, making life difficult on the students and eliminating the tailgate atmosphere that makes college football so great. UMass drew over 20,000 people on Saturday for Marching Band Day and that was without any discernable student section. Add in a few thousand students and the situation is a win. Three games will be going back to campus next season and that should help attendance numbers, as well as fan engagement, a ton.
6. Who should Buffalo fans keep on eye one who may have a chance to play on Sundays?
Tight end Rob Blanchflower is the most NFL-ready player on the roster. Mel Kiper sees him as a Day 3 guy at the Draft in April and it’s easy to see why. He is a big, fast guy with good hands who can also block when asked. He is everything NFL teams are looking for in tight ends and even if he doesn’t make an impact right away, he will be on someone’s roster this time next year.
7. A very close vote (19-18) to possibly vote out football last year. Has that smoke cleared or could this still be an issue?
The reality of that vote is that the Faculty Senate really has no power to take down the football program. The smoke has somewhat cleared on that front, although there are always going to be opponents on the academic side. The Athletic Department is fully behind the program and UMass football is here to stay. Additionally, being a part of the MAC’s television and Bowl deals this year will see the sport actually generate some money for the school, which was not the case last year. Schools everywhere tolerate bad teams. UMass is no different.
8. What is your prediction for the game?
I think the offense has turned a corner, but not enough of one to win this game. I believe they score a few times, but at the end of the day Buffalo is just on too good of a roll right now to be derailed by the likes of UMass. It’s a fight all the way to the final whistle, but Buffalo wins 34-17.
Here are the questions that I answered for them:
1. Buffalo has been rolling lately, blowing out its last three opponents. What has been the biggest key to the Bulls' offense over that stretch?
First of all not going against Ohio State and Baylor sure helped. The biggest aspect was getting Bo Oliver going. Oliver was injured and did not appear against Stony Brook and that game could have gone either way. Bo has an outside shot of setting UB’s all-time rushing record this week if he carries the ball for 154 yards. Bo will pass Green Bay’s James Starks. With Bo going it has provided Buffalo QB Joe Licata time in the pocket to take shots. Licata has not put up gaudy numbers but more importantly is not turning the ball over. Right now UB is second in the NCAA with a +10 in turnovers. Licata did throw three TD’s last week against WMU. Secondly, UB is starting to get other players to step up to catch the ball besides Neutz. The team has a great balance right now lead by teams having to try to stop Oliver. Stack the box and Licata will find someone to catch the ball. Try to stop Neutz and Oliver will rip off a 60 yard TD.
2. We all know about Branden Oliver and Alex Neutz. Is there anyone flying under the radar that UMass should be on the look out for?
Free Lee is a senior WR who has not lived up to the expectations set for him. I put a good part of that blame on having four different QB’s start the season during his career and all struggled before the consistency UB has now with Licata. With teams focusing on stopping the run and placing extra cover on Neutz, Fred has stepped up. Caught a beautiful TD pass last week. Schreck a TE is starting to become a factor and watch the poise and patience of QB Licata. Licata has only started 10 games and is only a sophomore but is playing like a seasoned veteran.
On the defense, lineman and linebackers are bringing it. Johnson, DB, is a great corner cover who has three interceptions already this year. The linebackers are taking advantage of teams scheming to limit Mack and players like Bean (who missed last week due to injury) and this week’s MAC East defensive player of the week Colby Way have been playing lights out.
3. Khalil Mack is the best linebacker in the MAC at almost every facet of the game. Is there a way to contain him? Or is all hope lost?
All hope is lost. He really is a very special player and some draft boards have Khalil selected in the top ten. He may not go that high but he will be a first round selection. Some boards have Mack going to Buffalo at 14. He is just a hard working player who is technically proficient and a great drive to succeed. Interesting enough is that Mack did not have one Div. 1 offer until UB. A coach who was hired away from Liberty (ironic that past UB Coach Turner Gill who offered the scholarship is now at Liberty) said you may want to have a look at this guy as he planned on attending FCS Liberty. UB scooped him up and that was the best scholarship offer in UB’s history. Watch your team throw two and at times three players to help contain him. He is opening amazing mismatches for other UB players to make plays. You will be amazed how fast Khalil gets into the backfield. If you have not seen his interception again Ohio State, watch it here, http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=9619375.
4. Which individual player on UMass is Buffalo most concerned about?
Buffalo has been suspect on giving up yards through the air. I saw the great performance Tajae Sharp had against Kansas State and he can have a big game if you can contain UB’s pass rush. Who really scares me is Rob Blanchflower. Great size at 6-5 260 lbs, who can find space and he runs really well. I see that he is being projected to be selected in the third or fourth round this May. He needs to be more consistent catching the ball. UMASS should be able to move the ball in the air.
You have an emerging runner who reminds me of Bo Oliver in Wilson. Not the pure burner but hits the hole very fast, is elusive, and fights for additional yards. You have a nice combo in Bedell and Wilson. UB has great depth at running backs as well and even more impressive for UMASS is losing your starter Jordan Broadnax to injury.
5. What is your prediction for Saturday's game?
I was surprised to see UB a 20.5 point favorite. I do expect UMASS to have a better effort than Western Michigan last week as UB blanked them 33-0. This team is as balanced as any team UB has ever had. The offense is clicking, the defense is aggressive and dictating the game, and the special teams who has been a nightmare the past four years is working. UB has a kicker with a strong leg you can easily hit from past 50 but has not been consistent.
I see this game as UB 34 – UMASS 7. Sorry Charley.