Date: Saturday, Nov. 3
Kickoff Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Location: McGuirk Alumni Stadium, Amherst, MA
Watch it here: Eleven Sports Network (NESN in New England)
Line: UMass -1.5, O/U: 72.5
Series: First ever matchup
UMass looks to continue momentum
Homecoming Weekend is upon Amherst and the fans of the maroon-and-white are ready for the 2018 McGuirk finale.
Quick aside: Liberty vs. Minutemen sounds like some sort of Revolutionary War-era squabble. If this series continues and gets juicy, this matchup will need a nickname and trophy that follows suit.
The Minutemen have much to be thankful at home this season, sporting a 2-2 record on campus. Although they are the home team the following Saturday at Gillette Stadium when UMass hosts BYU, their success playing at their actual home has been a huge lift.
Last week’s comeback win over rival UConn was the single most riveting moment for the Minutemen in 2018. Ross Comis and a determined running game behind Marquis Young and Jordan Fredericks were essential in bad conditions.
The offensive line must continue to open holes for these playmakers on Saturday. With the news this week that Bilal Ally is transferring, carries for Young and Fredericks will certainly increase a bit.
Defensively, it’s the same record-skipping message: stop the run to force opponents into long throwing downs. UConn had early success running the ball last week, but UMass clamped down, especially in the second half.
The Flames are a better passing team than they are running, which may work to the Minutemen’s advantage.
Not your average newcomer
It would be easy to take Liberty for granted (in life as well, but we’ll keep things not too deep for now).
The Flames are in their first season of FBS football. Typically, a transition year is filled with games against lower FCS opponents to fatten up the record to build hype for the coming years. This is not the case with Liberty.
Their 4-3 record is a product of an efficient offense and timely defense against a so far FBS-only slate of teams. Their win at Sun Belt power Troy two weeks ago might be one of the more underrated wins of the season.
If head coach Turner Gill, who also lifted the Buffalo football program a decade ago, stays for the long haul, Liberty will be a force to reckon with in the near future.
Quarterback Stephen Calvert, who seems to be going by his middle name, Buckshot quite a lot these days, leads a passing attack that is tied for ninth in all of FBS at 331.3 yards per game. Calvert’s 16-TDs-to-7-INTs ratio shows how careful with the ball Liberty has been, but also with an ability to move the ball with wideouts Antonio Gandy-Golden, DJ Stubbs and B.J. Farrow.
Gandy-Golden has had three straight 100-yard performances (if you include the fact he missed the Troy game when he came down with mono).
Their defense has been 122nd against the run and 93rd against the pass this season. That means they will need all hands on deck to try and contain the running game, as well as Andy Isabella, who is now the leading receiver by yardage in the entire country.
Despite their impressive inaugural FBS season, the Flames need to not look ahead as the next two weeks will include trips to No. 22 Virginia and Auburn, consecutively.
Liberty does have a secondary bowl possibility if certain conferences do not get enough schools to qualify for the postseason.
Let’s be honest: I have been erratic with picking how UMass will fare most of this season.
Disclaimer aside, the Minutemen have offered a glimpse of fight courtesy of their win last Saturday. And home is home is home.
Though the forecast will be soggy overnight, there should be better flow of game come 3:30 p.m. than last week’s storm.
With a bit of extra traction, expect Isabella to put on a show in his final game in front of a McGuirk crowd. I’m seeing 10 catches, 150 yards and a couple of scores.
Liberty will not be easily intimidated, but a rejuvenated effort on defense will be able to hold the Flames off.