Andrew Ford ready to face challenge of playing in hostile environment when UMass football plays South Carolina this Saturday
As the Massachusetts football team continues its journey as an FBS independent school, the amount of road games against power five opponents in hostile environments will continue to pile up as the Minutemen continue through their schedule.
But for UMass (1-6), playing in front of sell-out crowds in some of college football’s most historic stadiums isn’t something the Minutemen are unfamiliar with.
Dating back to 2014 when Minutemen coach Mark Whipple rejoined the program, UMass has made trips to Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, South Bend’s Notre Dame Stadium as well as a trip to “The Swamp” when it opened up this season with a matchup against, at the time, No. 25 Florida in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Come Saturday, the Minutemen can add South Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium to their list of monumental venues they’ve played at throughout the country.
“I don’t think it’s just any other game when you are playing in front of 80 or 90 thousand. It’s different than here,” UMass coach Mark Whipple said after Tuesday’s practice. “It’s on the road so on offense you have to deal with some silent counts and some elements, and Andrew [Ford] hasn’t done that.”
It’s almost certain that Saturday will likely be Andrew Ford’s first career road start, as Ross Comis didn’t dress in the Minutemen’s loss to Louisiana Tech over the weekend. Whipple said Comis was doing “better” on Tuesday, but having him healthy enough to play against Gamecocks (2-4, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) seems like an unlikely scenario.
“It’s one of those powerhouse traditional schools and it’s going to be a really neat experience come Saturday,” Ford said after Tuesday’s practice. “I have a lot of friends from back home that play at South Carolina and go to school there, so it will be a neat atmosphere. We’re looking forward to it.”
Comis was the starter when UMass opened up the season with a 24-7 loss against the Gators, as Ford didn’t make an appearance in the game. Having played only home games and at Old Dominion, Ford has turned to Comis for advice on dealing with the uncontrollable noise factor the Minutemen will face against South Carolina.
“Ross has been giving me lots of advice on how to handle it,” Ford said. “He did great with it at Florida.”
Ford added: “There’s nothing we can really do. For practice we can make the music really loud as we can, but until we get 80,000 screaming fans out there, we’re not going to be able to do too much. That can’t play into our preparation. We just have to handle what we can handle in the week and when we get down there on Saturday, just be ready to play football.”
Whipple said that although Ford has never been faced with a test like the Gamecocks, he does feel more confident in the pieces surrounding his redshirt-sophomore quarterback, including left guard Raquan Thomas and right tackle Jack Driscoll, who made their first career starts against Florida.
“Our guys up front have done that, but it’s not like Florida where Raquan [Thomas] had played seven games and Jack Driscoll has now played seven, so we’ve shuffled those guys around,” Whipple said. “You’re still talking about bigger and faster, and that’s what they are.”
Andrew Cyr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.