Miami takes on UMass today in the first MAC matchup for the Minutemen. Your humble Miami and UMass bloggers preview the game in Q&A fashion.
Neither Miami nor UMass have gotten off to a good start this season. The RedHawks are 1-2, with a blowout loss to a Boise State team that looked offensively inept against BYU on Thursday. The Minutemen, meanwhile, stand at 0-3, with a big loss to an Indiana team that Ball State just beat. (Again. You Cardinal fans really need to start rubbing that in at work.) So who has the upper hand for today's matchup in Oxford, UMass's first in the MAC? Chuck, Hustle Belt's Miami blogger, and Mike, our UMass blogger, offer their takes in response to each other's questions.
We'll open with Chuck's questions about UMass:
1) UMass has looked completely overmatched so far this season. Obviously the transition from 1-AA was going to be a bit rocky, but did you expect it to go quite like this?
To put it simply, no. I had tempered my expectations coming into this season, expecting them to maybe pick up a win or two but at least remain competitive in most of their games. It has not gone that way so far to say the least. I'm sure you've heard of how tough the team had played FBS schools over the past few seasons, and I assumed we would see something similar play out. A combination of things are contributing to the poor play, and I think we are seeing how important recruiting strategies and consistent style of play are to a winning football program.
2) Miami and UMass both have among the worst rushing offenses and worst rushing defenses in the country, unfortunately. It seems something has to give this weekend. Which team do you think is more likely to pull off a 250-yard rushing performance, and why?
This is a great question, and mostly because there isn't a good answer. If I had to bet my life on it, I'd go with UMass. Both teams have given up an almost identical amount of rushing yards after three games (743 vs. 746), both have been tortured by mobile quarterbacks, and neither have established a consistent ground attack. I give the edge to UMass because they have yet to let up a 100+ yard rushing performance to a non-quarterback, and I wouldn't classify Zac Dysert as fleet of foot. Meanwhile, the Minutemen seem to have finally found the ability to open up holes for their feature back Michael Cox, who managed 76 yards last week in the Big House. Quarterback Mike Wegzyn has also shown he can get upfield when he needs to, and I assume that need will be frequent this weekend.
3) Who are the Minutemen that Miami fans should keep an eye on this weekend?
On defense, I'd point to Darren Thellen. You might remember him from SportsCenter's Top Play of opening weekend when he tipped in a throwaway against UConn to an open teammate for an interception. Thellen has a knack for creating big plays, and with all the passing Miami will be doing, I wouldn't be surprised to see him make an impact.
Offensively, pay attention to Cox. While his success depends greatly on the play of the offensive line, UMass will be looking to run him early and often. If he gets a rhythm going, it could be enough to keep the offense clicking through the rest of the game, something we haven't seen yet this season.
4) This is the MAC opener for UMass, and most of us MAC folk only know about the basketball program. A full history and background on the school would take up more space than we have in a game preview, so I'll keep it short: what one song best describes the University of Massachusetts? (And no fair using "UMass" by The Pixies.)
Well, you just stole my perfect answer. I thought about going with one of those strangely professional-looking rap videos made by a current student that talks about "the Zoo" as we call it, or maybe "I Predict A Riot" by the Kaiser Chiefs, given the student population's tendency to do so after any big New England sports game. Instead, let's go with an all-time classic: Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody".
Beginning humbly and without fanfare, the songs builds to a chaotic second movement before exploding into a nuclear fireball, the whole time encouraging everyone to join in the fun. And then at the end, everyone is looking back, wondering what happened. Yeah, sounds a lot like Amherst, Massachusetts.
And now Mike's questions about Miami:
1) Zac Dysert is the star of the Miami football team. By all accounts, he is at worst the second-best quarterback to ever come through the program. Dysert's 2012 has not started off the way he or the Redhawk fanbase hoped, however, as he's thrown for only two touchdowns and as many interceptions. Is this a product of the competition, or is there another factor contributing to this that Miami can recognize and overcome?
It's part competition -- Ohio State and Boise State are obviously no slouches, though Dysert did throw for more yards against Ohio State than anyone has in years, even if he had nothing to show for it -- and part things entirely beyond his control. When Ben Roethlisberger was setting records, Miami had an excellent running game. (In that storied 2003 season, Cal Murray rushed for 1000 yards.) There's just no running game for Miami now. But rather than going all-vertical-all-the-time, our offensive coordinator John Klacik (long may his name be associated with evil) seems to think that bubble screens can replace the run. It hasn't worked out well. And as our blog overlord Sussman has said, it's never good when a MAC team's fans are intimately familiar with the offensive coordinator's full name.
2) Miami has been doing the MAC dance since 1947, so they've seen how a lot of different programs handle their first year in the conference. Is there a typical period of adjustment to the conference's style of play that UMass should expect, and do you think this is one of Miami's biggest advantages this Saturday?
I don't think the MAC really has a "style." The idea of MACtion caught on last season, but that was limited to three or four teams playing each other to high scores. Maybe the most you can say is that the MAC is a spread-focused league, because that offense allows teams to exploit weaknesses and differences based on athleticism that you can't do with a standard pro-style. Nor do I think there's really an adjustment period, unless you're just a bad team (which, for example, Buffalo was when it moved up).
3) Other than Dysert, what Miami players should UMass fans expect to hear a lot about this weekend?
The name you're most likely to hear is Nick Harwell, and he won't even play. Harwell is Miami's best receiver -- a legit NFL prospect -- but he's injured and stuck on the bench. In terms of the defensive side, Dayonne Nunley is the guy to look out for. He was a first-team all-MAC corner in 2011, and he's definitely the star of our defensive backfield. He's #4 among active I-A players for interceptions per game. Expect Nunley to be paired against the best Minuteman receiver on every play.
4) What kind of atmosphere should traveling UMass fans expect at Yager Stadium in their first MACtchup?
4a) Has there been a petition to rename the venue Jäger Stadium? If not, should there be?
Attendance tends to be low. Miami fans -- especially the students -- are known for not showing unless it's a winner, and a big winner at that. But the people you meet should be quite friendly. If you happen to know people down in Hannon Park, the reserved tailgating area in the woods by Fourmile Creek, I recommend going there. Very pretty spot for pregame festivities. In fact, the stadium itself is set in a beautiful area -- right on the edge of campus (and the edge of Oxford), with woods in the background. Not as momentous as those stadiums in the Rockies with mountains rising out of the end zone, but attractive nonetheless.
And Fred Yager was a good guy, so I say keep the name what it is.