UMass Four Down Preview: Buffalo Bulls (3-3) at UMass Minutemen (1-5)

Image courtesy of ESPN

By Ryan Barry
NEFJ Correspondent

Kickoff: For a second straight week the UMass Minutemen will defend McGuirk Alumni Stadium against a team that also resides in a town of Amherst, the Buffalo Bulls. Suffering a 42-24 defeat to Liberty last weekend, the Minutemen lacked consistency on offense and committed too many penalties, something that’ll be crucial to fix against an opponent that is definitely beatable.

First Down: In a surprise to many, Head Coach Don Brown rolled out redshirt sophomore quarterback Garrett Dzuro last week against Liberty. While he was removed midway through the game after taking an uncomfortable sack, he moved the ball somewhat well, offering a little more to the passing game than has been seen so far this season from redshirt junior Gino Campiotti. Dzuro needed assistance leaving the field, but Don Brown indicated he is day-to-day in his midweek press conference. No matter who gets the nod under center, the Minutemen need to do everything they can to move the ball better through the air, as they currently sit last in the FBS in passing offense with an average of just 70.8 yards per game.

Second Down: A bright spot in last week’s loss on offense was redshirt freshman Cam Desroisiers Jr. (7 CAR, 110 YDS, 2 TDS). The Louisville transfer from Lawrence, Mass saw minimal action in his first five games, but showed some impressive speed in his first collegiate start. Redshirt senior Ellis Merriweather and sophomore Tim Baldwin were sidelined for a second straight game for undisclosed injuries, so getting them back to add to an impressive Desrosiers would be huge. The Minutemen have been run heavy this season, even so at quarterback with Gino Campiotti leading the team in carries. Much of this is due to a solid running back room and a stout offensive line, but limitations under center and at pass catcher have also played a large role.

Third Down: Despite an impressive recent form, the UMass defense allowed 453 total yards last week against Liberty, their most so far this season. Their 49th ranking in total defense took a bit of a hit, dropping to 62nd overall, but there were still several aspects of their game to build on. For a fourth straight week the defense forced a turnover, and their second of which resulted in a touchdown. The defense ranks 35th in the nation in third down defense, with opponents completing just 22 of 68 attempts. The secondary has continued to shine as well, ranking 26th in the nation in passing yards allowed. If the run defense improves they can build on being a more complete eleven, as they currently rank 106th overall in total rushing defense.

Fourth Down: The Bulls dropped three straight games to start the year, but a closer look at their schedule tells a different story. After losing to the Big Ten’s Maryland in week one, they were nationally exposed by FCS opponent Holy Cross in a 37-31 home loss, but for those around college football, the Crusaders are one of the best teams at that level. A week three loss to Coastal Carolina also doesn’t look as bad, especially considering their perfect 6-0 start and receiving of votes in the AP Top 25 poll. So far in conference play the Bulls have rattled off three straight wins, including a 50-31 away win over Eastern Michigan who UMass lost to. Led by Rutgers sophomore transfer quarterback Cole Snyder (121/200, 1,385 YDS, 8 TDS, 3 INTS), the Minutemen defense face arguably one of the better signal callers they’ll face all season.

Extra Point: Before the Minutemen departed the Mid-American in 2015, this match-up looked to be what the conference would market as its “newest rivalry.” Given the schools relatively closer distance from one another, and the competitiveness of the series history, this once budding game was surprisingly never scheduled after their MAC exit. The Bulls lead the series 7-6, with a 2-1 mark in the FBS era, but UMass got the last laugh with a 31-21 win in 2015. Minutemen fans may remember this as Marquis Young’s breakout party where the freshman carried the ball 35 times for 240 yards and three touchdowns.

Final Drive: When the Bulls went from the FCS to FBS in 1999, they wouldn’t secure their first winning season until 2008. In the nine seasons leading up to that MAC-winning 8-6 campaign and International Bowl loss, they’d only win 17 games. For the Minutemen, now in year 11 of the FBS experiment, their first nine seasons delivered 19 wins and featured a COVID-shortened season. While of course year ten for the Minutemen saw their head coach Walt Bell dismissed midway through a 1-11 season, it’s important to step back and look at what UMass could be. Since 2008 the Bulls have been to four bowl games, had an unforgettable 2018 run that saw them finish 10-4, and have produced solid NFL talent like running back James Starks, linebacker Steven Means, wide receiver K.J. Osbourne, and megastar linebacker Khalil Mack. While dredging through the muck it can be easy to get tunnel vision and think UMass is in a unique situation, but other teams have been through similar. Don Brown expressed confidence that his team is moving in the right direction, and at the halfway point of the season it’s clear to see as much. If the Minutemen can emulate their opponents on Saturday in more ways than just on the field, they may be working themselves in the right direction. Still, a close game should still be within sight for this one, with a blowout being wildly disappointing.