When the UMass Minutemen and Miami (Ohio) RedHawks take the field at Gillette Stadium on Saturday afternoon, anything is possible. We could be in for a shootout in the 30's or a slugfest in the teens, I'm not willing to rule anything out. The only thing that is certain is that one team will have to come out with a victory, if only because those are the rules in football.
The most interesting storyline headed into this week was dampened by the firing of Don Treadwell before this week could even find its footing. If Treadwell had survived the weekend, it was possible that we could have been treated to a true "loser goes home" contest with the losing coach losing his job. Instead, we only have the possibility of Charley Molnar getting canned while Mike Bath gets canonized -- although its hard to imagine either of those happening.
With Treadwell's fate sealed, Miami looks toward the horizon with the type of bliss reserved for those with nothing to lose. The RedHawks might not know where they're going, but it has to be better than where they've just come from.
Conversely, UMass has to see this game as the biggest in the program's brief FBS history. With a loss to Maine already on the resume this year, the Minutemen need a win in the worst way and they will surely be pulling out all the stops to get a win on Saturday.
What do you get when you mix a team with nothing to lose and a team with everything to lose? One word.
When UMass has the ball...
Avert your eyes. The Minutemen have been one of the least efficient offensive attacks in the country this year and with starting quarterback A.J. Doyle less than 100 percent and coming off a 4-for-17 performance against Bowling Green, it doesn't look to be on the upswing.
Stacey Bedell, one of the team's best players before he picked up an injury, returned to practice and the top of the depth chart this week and his presence should provide a nice lift. Jamal Wilson ran for 119 yards last week and if Molnar can actually figure out a good way to incorporate both players the offense could actually find a nice balance.
On the other end of Doyle's throws -- or Mike Wegzyn's at some point -- will be Tajae Sharpe and Rob Blanchflower. The two go-to receivers, Sharpe and Blanchflower have combined to catch 41 of the 89 completed passes this season, with 31 of those belonging to Sharpe.
Thankfully for the Minutemen, Miami's defense is one of just seven teams that give up more yards per game than UMass. The RedHawks 119th ranked unit gives up 506 yards per game, which means UMass should at least manage 300.
When Miami has the ball...
The RedHawks have had almost as much trouble with the ball in their hands as UMass. Through five games, Miami has scored 44 points and amassed 992 yards of total offense -- equivalent to about five quarters of Baylor's No. 1 unit.
If you go by efficiency rating, Austin Boucher and Doyle have been identical. Both have an efficiency rating of 96.6, both have a 1-to-1 INT-to-TD ratio, and both have failed to win a game in 2013. Boucher has been a bit better, averaging 104 yards per game, but his 44 percent completion rate is pretty rough.
Its hard to blame Boucher for the offense's issues though. The RedHawks were mixing and matching offensive schemes and nothing was working, leading to terrible numbers for both him and the team. Mike Bath should bring some continuity to the table since he will be serving as head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. If he can be on the same page with himself, Miami will already have upgraded its offense.
UMass' defense has been very good in the first half of games this year, but its lack of depth has done it in down the stretch. Miami won't dominate possession, but if it can put together a few solid first-half drives the Minutemen will inevitably wear down and points will become much easier to come by.
This is going to be a fun game to watch if only because it will be the most successful either team will be on both sides of the ball in the same game. These two teams are equals and they should treat each other as such, forcing each other to be the best version of themselves in order to come out victorious. There will be turnovers, there will be poor execution.
But there will be a winner.
UMass gets the win, 27-20.
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