MATT SUSSMAN TO MIKE PAQUETTE
1. In your midseason report you were looking at Akron and Buffalo as a possible win. Why did you omit Bowling Green as a possibility? (Thank you, by the way)
You're welcome? That was just a case of me looking at the schedule and seeing who is struggling enough to give UMass a decent shot at a win. Akron and Buffalo both have only one win - a blowout victory over the same Morgan State team - so they look to be the weakest opponents left on the UMass schedule. Bowling Green, on the other hand, is 4-3 and in the top half of the country in terms of rushing yards per game, an area UMass has had a lot of trouble with. They also played current BCS #2 Florida really tough on the road, which is very impressive. If you can go into the Swamp and keep a game close into the fourth quarter, you'll probably be fine at a nearly-empty Gillette against an inferior team. Basically, if UMass is going to be competitive in this game, they're going to have to be near-perfect, and Bowling Green is going to have to make a lot of mistakes.
2. I'm looking at all the units on the UMass team and am coming to the conclusion that the offensive line might be the best part. Their number of sacks allowed is right in the middle nationally. Is anyone playing better than them?
That's a pretty accurate observation. Coming into the season, the offensive line was touted as the most FBS-ready unit on the team. While there has been some shuffling around in the lineup, they have protected quarterback Mike Wegzyn fairly well, maybe better than we could have expected. The line has experienced quite a few injuries and is currently enduring the suspension of starting right guard Nick Speller for academic reasons. Given this inconsistency of personnel, it's nice to see that their level of play has not seen a significant drop the past couple games.
3. Two games in how's the Gillette Stadium experiment working from a fan perspective? Have you heard tales from anybody having to make the trip across the state and what their experiences have been?
It's great for people like me, living in or around Boston - the ride is shorter than it would be if they were still playing in Amherst. The stadium is of course much nicer than the on-campus facilities, and they serve booze in the stands. Hell yeah! I can see it from both sides, though. Having football games on campus was a big part of the college experience during my years at UMass, and it sucks that the current students have to drag themselves halfway across the state to watch their team play. I haven't spoken to anyone that made the trek down I-90, but there was a very noticeable drop in attendance in the student section last game. That will probably change this week, given that it's "homecoming," but until this team starts winning football games, I don't see the crowd growing by any significant amount.
I will say that I've heard many more "I wish they still played at McGuirk" comments than "I sure am glad they play in Foxboro."
4. I threw this question on the site last year but need to ask you specifically. Better eyebrows: Charley Molnar or Sam the Minuteman?
Are we sure that they aren't actually the same set? Take a look at this fine piece of memorabilia and tell me you couldn't put either of their names on it.
It's close, but I have to go with Sam. Those eyebrows give him a look that is all at once curious, confident, and conditioned - everything you'd want from the symbol of your team.
MIKE PAQUETTE TO MATT SUSSMAN
1) Despite a 4-3 record, Bowling Green is still very much in the race for the MAC Championship. They are sitting in third place in their division with both teams above them still on the schedule, and they hold the edge over Miami due to their head-to-head win last week. They will most likely gain control of this weekend's game at some point, so they may have some time for practice and experimentation. What do you expect them to focus on improving this week to be better prepared for the tough games ahead?
Continued focus on playing both halves. They saw what they did against Miami. They won by 25 and won every quarter. That's the first time they outscored or tied a MAC team in every quarter since ... well, at Miami in 2009. I'm not saying that'll happen again, but they saw up close the dividend of not taking a play, drive, quarter, half off, which can happen in college football and especially with this team over the years.
2) Along those lines, is there any chance that BGSU might get caught looking past the Minutemen to that tough back-to-back in a couple weeks?
I felt they did that last year against Kent State. The first half against Akron was also a wake-up call. The coachspeak line is that UMass is hungry for a win, and they almost beat Ohio, and everybody in the MAC is competitive. Many players are second-year starters so if they lose, it won't be because they're caught off-guard.
3) Taking a look at the team statistics, nothing jumps out as Bowling Green's major strength, except maybe their pass rush. As an uninitiated observer, does this mean they have no dominant aspects of their play, or is it a function of the Falcons being a very well-rounded team?
You're not wrong — it's the pass rush, but also the offensive line. They're second in sacks, third in tackles for loss and on the other side, second in yards per rushing attempt. Historically (the last 10 years) BGSU was a high-powered offense with video game quarterbacks, but they're not that anymore. Balance is really the key here, guided by the strength of Chris Jones and the D-line.
4) As we've seen all year, if a team can establish the run early against UMass, they will have little trouble putting points on the board. Talk briefly about the Bowling Green rushing attack and who we should expect to carry this burden on Saturday.
Jamel Martin is out for the year, so not him. Anthon Samuel might carry it 20 times, but John Pettigrew will get some red zone carries, and Jordan Hopgood might finally see some time with the Martin injury. Samuel is obviously the good one, and anytime I see a running back with a single-digit number I think scat back, but he might be the most powerful No. 6 in the country. He doesn't go down easily. He also gets dinged up a lot, so
5) Is it silly to call a football game "Homecoming" when the "home" that fans are coming to is 90 minutes from campus?
You're asking me? I should ask you! If you're only going to bring in 9,000 people, homecoming might as well be in Amherst. The whole point of homecoming is, yes, to go back to college and see everything again, and take a whiz in your old classroom buildings (the bathrooms, of course ... although I was tempted otherwise). Heck of a homecoming parade, though, if they go down the interstate.