Photo – ESPN
By Ryan Barry
Kickoff: UMass heads back on the road Saturday to take on the Temple Owls in Philadelphia. The quick flight to Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles, offers the Minutemen the chance to play in an NFL stadium, and square off against a fellow Northeast FBS college football team struggling to get its feet in recent years. While UMass sits 131st of 131 teams in CBS’ Weekly Full College Football rankings, Temple only sits just a bit north at 123rd. Unlike their first two FBS opponents, Temple poses a potentially more similar foe.
1st Down: Last week against FCS opponent Stony Brook, junior quarterback Gino Campiotti looked poised in the pocket, earning the lionshare of the snaps and helping the Minutemen to their first win of the season. While he was just 10 of 15 for 90-yards with a lone touchdown and interception, his 11 carries for 72 yards showed his dual threat ability. So far this season, Temple hasn’t faced a quarterback capable of running like Campiotti. In their opening loss to Duke, they surrendered 11 carries for 64 yards on the ground to sophomore Riley Leonard, though 30 of those yards came from broken coverage. The Minutemen could use Campiotti’s legs to their advantage if they choose to go with a run-heavy offense again.
2nd Down: The Minutemen rushing attack through three games has been the strong suit that fans thought it’d be coming into the season. While it feels like they’re still getting their legs at times, there have been positive signs thus far into the young season. For the UMass pass catchers, however, it’s been a different story. Just 170 yards receiving through three games is certainly discouraging, as has been the countless drops that have plagued this group. Junior tight end Josiah Johnson was named preseason second-team all-independent by Phil Steele coming into this season, and so far he’s registered just three catches for seven yards. Getting Johnson more involved in the offense could open up more options, and also allow for more RPO-type combinations. Whether it’s the offense not getting him the ball, Johnson not being able to get separation, or a little of both, someone needs to step up.
3rd Down: Defensively, UMass looked as good as they’ve been in recent years last week against Stony Brook, shutting them out in the second half. They’ll look to build on a strong performance against a Temple offense that hasn’t looked all impressive themselves so far this season. After a shutout in their opener against Duke, Owl’s Head Coach Stan Drayton turned to true freshman quarterback EJ Warner, son of Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner. Through two games, he’s 33 of 51 with 388-yards and three touchdowns, adding just one interception. Lucky for the Minutemen, who struggled against dual-threat quarterbacks who favored their feet in their first two FBS games, Warner is primarily a pocket passer. Surrendering an average of 184-yards through the air in their first three games, a solid core lead by sophomore defensive back Jordan Mahoney is certainly very encouraging for the Minutemen.
4th Down: After 21 penalties for 210-yards combined in the first two games of the season, UMass committed just three for 15 yards last week. Committing ill-time penalties has long been a struggle for the Minutemen in the FBS era, so cutting these out of their game is a massive point of practice for the development of this Don Brown-lead squad. Temple has been relatively disciplined so far this season, averaging around four penalties a game, and committing fewer than their opponent in each match-up. With both teams currently struggling to move the ball, UMass cannot afford to give up yards on offense or defense.
Extra Point: UMass and Temple will be squaring off for just the third time in program history on Saturday afternoon, with the Owls leading the series 2-0. Despite these two having a long history together in other sports, particularly basketball, their rivalry on the gridiron is relatively new. In their last meeting, a late Minutemen comeback in Philadelphia almost forced overtime in the final minutes of the game, before succumbing 29-21 on a Ross Comis fumble. In another early September matchup, this time at Gillette Stadium in 2015, a late blown extra point opened the door for a Temple comeback to win 25-23, a game Minutemen fans would rather “Men in Black” style erase from their memory.
Final Drive: Without a doubt this is a game that the MInutemen have to believe they can be competitive in. UMass has an opportunity to get a win against an FBS opponent, one that has been on the delivering end of two of the most painful losses in the FBS era, and not because they were blowouts like so many others have been. Even though Temple are coming off a two-point loss to Rutgers last week, this is a team that they should be able to hang with. Both programs have new head coaches, with new quarterbacks, implementing different systems, and have relatively younger rosters. The only difference between the two at the moment feels like the slightly different shades of maroon. If the Minutemen are blown out in this one, it might be incredibly difficult to pick up morale for the rest of the season knowing they’ll have similar struggling FBS opponents going forward. It’s imperative that this one stay close, or in the very least, competitive.
Betting: Temple -10, Over/Under 43.5
Broadcast Information: ESPN+
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