UMass football looks to upset well-rounded Troy in Saturday’s matchup
Back in 2002, Troy coach Neal Brown was lining up outside the numbers at McGuirk Stadium catching passes from quarterback Jeff Krohn with the Massachusetts football team en route to an 8-4 season. The coach of that UMass team was current head coach Mark Whipple.
Fast forward 14 years and Brown and Whipple meet again; this time on opposing sidelines as the Minutemen (2-7) take on the Trojans (6-1, 4-0 Sun Belt) at Veterans Memorial Stadium this Saturday.
Outside of his playing days, Brown owes a great deal for his current coaching position to Whipple, who gave him his start in coaching as a graduate assistant coaching tight ends and offensive linemen with the 2003 UMass team.
Whipple admits there is a different feeling when he’s coaching against a close friend.
“It’s probably the bad thing. It happens some,” Whipple said after Tuesday’s practice when asked about coaching against his friends. “You’re trying to win the game, so it doesn’t really factor into it. I want success for him, not just Saturday.”
For the first time in six weeks, the Minutemen are coming off of a win as they topped Wagner 34-10 last Saturday.
Quarterback Andrew Ford is happy with how UMass played last Saturday, but still feels like the team has room to improve.
“It was a good team win. From start to finish we played almost 60 minutes, so it was probably our best game,” Ford said. “I still feel like we left a lot of plays out there, so obviously we want to improve going into this week.”
“It’s a lot more relaxed in the locker room,” wide receiver Andy Isabella added on the team morale after the win. “Guys aren’t nervous and looking at each other like ‘what’s going on.’”
Some of the mistakes the Minutemen got away with last week against the Seahawks they will struggle to get away with this week against a Troy team, which is strong on both sides of the ball and is coming in riding a five-game winning streak. The only blemish the Trojans have on their record right now is a tightly-contested 30-24 loss to unbeaten No. 2 Clemson.
“This is a really talented football team; one of the best we’ve played all year” Ford said. “We know that it’s going to take our best game and our best week of preparation. We don’t even look at their schedule. We just see their record and they’re a really talented football team.”
On the defensive side, Troy has been one of the best teams in the nation causing turnovers. The Trojans currently sit tied for tenth in turnovers caused with 18 this season. Their pass defense has been especially strong with 14 interceptions, led by cornerback Blace Brown who has four.
“They just do a lot of things really well. There’s not just one guy back there doing it,” Ford said. “They’re just a collective unit and they have 11 guys flying to the ball all over the place. When you have a defense like that, the breaks go your way and that’s why they can create so many turnovers.”
Whipple added: “They’re well-coached and they know the offensive concepts. They’re very opportunistic and when the ball hits their hands, they hang on to it and make plays.”
Not only have the Trojans been strong on defense, but their offense has been equally strong, if not better. Troy is 24th in the nation in points per game with 37.6 points per game. The biggest standout on its offense has been running back Jordan Chunn, who has rushed for 816 yards and seven this season.
The Minutemen have been strong in their own right on offense recently, scoring 28 points or more during the last three games, but they know it will take their best effort to keep up with the Trojans offense.
“Our defense is going to be up to the task and we know we’re going to have to score a lot of points,” Ford said. “That doesn’t change our preparation. If we have to score seven and win the game 7-0 or we have to score 50, we just have to score one more point then them. However many more that is, we’re going to ready for it.”
Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Adam Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34.