Miami and UMass square off Saturday in a true battle of wits in MAC East play. Our resident experts Jordan Rinard and Michael Traini debated the game for their respective alma maters this week.
Jordan Rinard: So Miami makes the trip up to Amherst Saturday against UMass in their final game of the season and the final conference meeting between these two teams. The RedHawks are 2-1 in the series, but the last two games have been decided by a touchdown or less. What has made the series so close (other than the two teams not being very good at the sport of football)?
Michael Traini: That's really what it boils down to. Both these teams over the course of UMass' 4 years in the MAC have been bad or worse. UMass picked up its only win of the 2013 season over Miami, and Miami picked up one of their two victories in 2014 over UMass in that crazy game that the RedHawks trailed 41-14 at the half and came back to win 42-41. Nothing has changed this year, both teams are bad yet again, but at least one of them has to win on Saturday.
Jordan Rinard: Yes, they've been bad but Miami is starting to show signs of being a competent football team, downing Eastern Michigan and making some impressive plays in an Akron game that they would have won were it not for dumb mistakes from the young kids on both sides of the ball. But what about the Minutemen? Have they looked like a better team than the one that blown that huge lead last season? (Also, could somebody explain why UMass is a 10-point favorite in this game? I mean, Miami doesn't exactly inspire confidence, but UMass being favored by over a touchdown over anyone is whack).
Michael Traini: It's probably a stretch to say Miami is showing signs of competence by beating EMU. I mean if that were the only criteria it would apply to UMass and Army too and that simply isn't the case. Miami and UMass may be bad but at least they aren't EMU, but these teams could claim some positive steps if they win on Saturday. UMass hasn't really looked better at all this season then it did last year, and the results are a huge disappointment given the expectations and the relatively easy schedule they've had. But they buckled down and beat EMU last week utilizing a run game that has been MIA pretty much all season, and the hope is that it can also be a factor against Miami come this weekend. A balanced attack for UMass should lead to a win. The Minutemen are 10-point favorites I would guess because they're at home, coming off a win, have two FBS wins instead of Miami's one, and don't have an 8-game losing streak this season like Miami does.
What's Miami's game plan here in their season finale? What do they plan on doing to try and ruin UMass' Senior Day at McGuirk Stadium?
Jordan Rinard: The plan is to not bumble a winnable game away with dumb turnovers. Miami is -14 in turnover differential this season and gave it away four times against the Zips, with the two interceptions being dumb, late throws by true freshman Billy Bahl. They need to get more production out of their running backs too, since 65 of their 68 rushing yards last week came from back-up quarterback Gus Ragland. Defensively, they haven't been able to stop the run all year outside of EMU and the youth on the defense looks to be at a disadvantage against All-Universe wide receiver Tajae Sharpe and the exciting Jamal Wilson out of the backfield. Despite UMass' ability on offense, Blake Frohnapfel has been inconsistent all season long. What's wrong with him and the offense?
Michael Traini: Well, firstly, the exciting RB is Marquis Young. Wilson is a nice player, but Young can bring people out of their seats. Frohnapfel has not been the same guy he was last year, and UMass and its fans are at a loss to explain why. Could he be playing hurt? Possibly, but he's been out of sync the whole season. If he's been playing hurt the whole year I applaud his toughness but would seriously question the coaching staff's decision there; I don't think that's been the case. I think it's more along the lines of him feeling the pressure this year and trying to do too much.He more than anyone knew what was expected of UMass this year and it seems as though he's been trying to win games himself at certain points and all that's done is lead to more losses.
The play-calling from Mark Whipple hasn't helped at all, and it has all snowballed to the point where many people, myself included, were looking for Frohnapfel to be removed from the starting role. I stand by that, but fortunately Froh got a bit of a break last week when UMass was able to run all over EMU. The run game has been a non-factor for UMass this year, and last week's performance has people wondering why it ever disappeared. I guess were in luck this week as you yourself said Miami can't stop the run either. I'd look for a heavy does of Young and Wilson just like last week.
Who do Minutemen fans need to look out for on the RedHawks? Who could steal the show for Miami if they are on their game?
Jordan Rinard: Bahl could be poised for a big game against the Minutemen defense as he's coming off of 206 yards on 11 completions, including a 73 yard strike to Rokeem Williams last week. Defensively, Brison Burris has been making plays all over the field from his safety spot with four interceptions and being the team leader in tackles. Who is UMass' X-factor against the RedHawks Saturday? Who is an unheralded guy that can possibly make a difference?
Michael Traini: Most of the guys that can make a difference for UMass aren't unheralded anymore, but keep an eye on the UMass secondary. They'll be getting #1 corner Randall Jette back, and young guys Jordin Hamilton and Jesse Monterio played and played well last week in Ypsilanti. If Miami's turnover margin is -14, they could be in for a long day if they neglect to take care of the ball against UMass.
What's your guess for how this one turns out?
Jordan Rinard: I expect both teams to have some success moving the ball, since neither defense is particularly great. If the game comes down to quarterback play and taking care of the football, Froh and the Minutemen have a clear advantage over the young 'Hawks. Both defenses will have chances at turnovers so the game's going to come down to points off turnovers, which is another advantage for UMass' offense with its ability to actually run the ball with running backs. Everything points to UMass winning this game, so Miami is obviously going to win.
Michael Traini: I think for once, UMass is going to win a couple games in a row that they're supposed to win. A newfound running game to complement the pass which can be effectively managed, that's going to lead to some success. At home in Amherst, on Senior Day, UMass is going to come out on top in this one. The players want to end this season on a mini-streak, and they absolutely want to win their home finale. They won't let the chance get away.