Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass football readies for its third and final SEC opponent, taking on South Carolina Saturday

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Alec Zabrecky/Collegian

Alec Zabrecky/Collegian

In college football, it’s hard enough to prepare for one quarterback, let alone three.

That’s the reality the Massachusetts football team faces this week as they prepare for their matchup with South Carolina (2-4, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.

The Gamecocks have struggled to find any consistent option at quarterback, which has led to lots of uncertainty on who will get the start under center. USC coach Will Muschamp will not reveal who that man will be come Saturday.

To this point in the season, redshirt senior Perry Orth has gotten three starts and freshman Brandon McIlwain has three starts of his own at quarterback. Neither quarterback has been particularly effective, and only McIlwain has thrown a touchdown this season, passing for two against Mississippi State on Sept.10.

With neither option running away with the job, freshman Jake Bentley has been getting increased repetitions in practice this week, leading some to believe he could get the start against UMass (1-6) on Saturday.

Minutemen coach Mark Whipple is aware of the Gamecocks’ uncertainty at quarterback, but his team can only be prepared for whoever may get the start.

“It’s really three different kind of guys,” Whipple said. “I don’t know how much they’ll change the game plan, we won’t know until the game, but I will probably say their game plan is similar with the Bentley and Orth, but with McIlwain they do a little bit more of the read-[option] type of things, so we have to prepare for it all.”

UMass has some experience in the type of situation they find themselves in going into Saturday.

“It was the same with FIU, we weren’t sure if it was going to be their young guy or McGough. Mississippi State had their couple guys. That’s just kind of the way it is in college football. They probably have three good ones, they’re in the SEC,” Whipple said.

Muschamp has always been known for being a defensive coach, and although his defense hasn’t gotten the acclaim he is used to this season, they still have a formidable unit.

USC is led by a strong secondary that has forced six interceptions this season, along with solid pass rush led by defensive lineman Darius English, who has six sacks on the season.

Minutemen freshman running back Bilal Ally ran for 37 yards on six carries last week against Louisiana Tech after starting running back Marquis Young came out of the game following halftime. Ally knows the Minutemen will have a tough task taking on the Gamecocks defense.

“They’re high energy,” Ally said. “We just have to find their weakness and hit them hard.”

“They’re very talented all-around,” quarterback Andrew Ford added. “We know what South Carolina is: a traditional powerhouse in college football. I still think that they’re like that based on the film we’ve watched.”

Saturday’s matchup will be the third and final game UMass plays against an SEC opponent this season. It will also be the second time this season the Minutemen will play in a stadium that can hold over 80,000 people; the other being the season-opener against Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Ford did not play in the game against the Gators, but he has gotten advice from fellow quarterback Ross Comis, who found a solid amount of success against Florida in a loud, large-stadium environment.

“Ross has been giving me lots of advice on how to handle it,” Ford said. “There’s nothing we can really do. For practice we can make the music really loud, as 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.”

With the Minutemen now reeling on a four game losing streak, it’s now or never if UMass wants to salvage something out of the 2016 season. Ford narrowed down the Minutemen’s focus to one word: finish.

“We’re in the second half of the season, so our mindset is to just finish,” Ford said. “Whether that’s in the classroom, or the weight room or reps at practice, we’re trying to just finish. Each rep that we do, we’re thinking about finishing and that’s going to help us in the long run.”

Adam Aucoin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34.

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