Date: Saturday, Nov. 10
Kickoff Time: 12 p.m. ET
Location: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA
Watch it here: Eleven Sports Network (NESN in New England), BYUtv
Line: BYU -13.5, O/U: 59
Battle of Independents
It may not have a fancy bowl sponsor or a sun-kissed, tropical location, but BYU vs. UMass have serious stakes on the line Saturday.
The suddenly resurgent Minutemen at 4-6 will travel to their home-away-from-home at Gillette to take on BYU, who at 4-5 is also looking to climb towards bowl eligibility.
A loss eliminates UMass from bowl contention. A loss for BYU does not do the same, but an end-of-the-season road game at rival Utah is not the place to “need” a win.
It’s a rematch of last year’s 16-10 UMass victory in Provo. The road win was the crown jewel in an impressive collection of second half achievements for UMass. It also marked another setback for a 2017 Cougar team plagues with injuries and inconsistent play.
It was also a defeat at home, on Senior Day, to a team who had yet to win a road contest all season.
Revenge on their minds?
So you’re saying there’s a chance?
Well, yeah, sure.
The Minutemen have won two straight and are exactly two more wins away from becoming bowl eligible for the first time since moving up to FBS.
That last win would have to be a win at Georgia, who will likely be playing to stay in the playoff conversation will not be taking the contest lightly. But stranger things have happened.
The challenge for UMass this week against BYU will be containing true freshman Cougar quarterback Zach Wilson, who unseated senior Tanner Mangum as the starter.
The Minutemen still have their deficiencies against the run to contend with. However, UMass has quietly improved over the last few games against the pass, now ranked a sneaky 43rd in FBS.
(And yes, I understand when you are sixth worst against the run, teams tend to attack that weakness, but watching the games, coverage has been better).
This game will be won on third downs. If UMass can disguise coverages against the freshman, it may be able to string together enough stops despite a pass rush that has only generated nine sacks all season.
BYU: Bring Your Umph
UMass wideout Andy Isabella will be the primary focus.
But the Minutemen offense
The Cougars rank 27th nationally in total defense and are around those ranks against both the run and pass. Despite a setback last week, the defense looked solid against a talented Boise State team and has seemed to turn a corner in the last couple weeks.
They will need to be fully around that corner defending the Minutemen air attack.
Putting up 62 points in last week’s win over Liberty, albeit in three overtimes to do so, UMass scorched the Flames for 777 yards of total offense with quarterback Ross Comis throwing for over 500 yards, Mr. Isabella topping 300 yards.
Marquis Young continues to be a solid contributor on the ground. Young will need to take care of the ball on kickoffs and ensure the Cougar pass rush stays honest.
The emergence of freshman Samuel Emilus has been the best surprise for UMass over the past month. Emilus caught five passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns.
Both scores were made in the first two overtimes to extend the game. Having Sadiq Palmer and Emilus continue to improve over the course of the season is key to giving Comis more options outside of Isabella.
BYU must get production from their front-four to make Comis uncomfortable in the pocket and disrupt the UMass passing game’s timing.
Go ahead and call it a playoff game.
It’s must-win Independent football.
Both team have been hard to pin down, especially BYU. They boast road win over then-No. 5 Wisconsin and Arizona, as well as a couple head-scratching losses (7-6 at home vs. Northern Illinois two weeks ago comes to mind).
Expect to see more up-and-down-the-field than last year’s defensive battle. The defensive playmakers have been trending upwards for UMass and I see a newly-inspired squad playing for something.