UMass football prepares for in-state matchup with Boston College Saturday

By Adam Aucoin

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)
(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

The last time the Massachusetts football team beat Boston College, UMass coach Mark Whipple was a 21-year-old college student quarterbacking a Brown team to a second place finish in the Ivy League.

The year was 1978 when the Minutemen went on to beat the Eagles 27-0.

Since that day nearly four decades ago, the series has been all BC. The Eagles have won the past eight meetings between the two schools that are separated by a mere 93.7 mile drive.

The next matchup between the in-state rivals will come this Saturday at Gillette Stadium.

Both teams come into Saturday having dropped their season openers. BC (0-1, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) started its season in Dublin, Ireland losing to ACC foe Georgia Tech, 17-14. UMass (0-1) comes off a 24-7 loss to Florida in what was one of the most inspired performances the team has had in quite some time.

The Minutemen were down just 10-7 to the heavily-favored Gators going into the fourth quarter, when Florida tacked on a touchdown and a pair of field goals to close out the contest on a 14-0 run.

Running back Marquis Young carried the ball 19 times for 59 yards last Saturday. He believes the team played well, but won’t put too much stock into their play.

“We played really well during that game, but we don’t want to say it gives us momentum to play better because obviously we wanted to win that game,” Young said. “We’re really not focused on Florida anymore. We’re just focused on whatever we can do to get the (win).”

A major bright spot from the Florida game was the play of wide receiver Andy Isabella. The sophomore totaled three receptions for 95 yards, highlighted by a game-high 53-yard connection with quarterback Ross Comis.

Isabella is hoping to bring similar play into the game against the Eagles.

“I’m really thankful Coach Whipple gave me the opportunity to play and hopefully he will give me more opportunities,” Isabella said. “They’re trying to use my speed the best they can. I still have a lot of things to learn at receiver, just learning how to work my routes, but I’m just trying to get better every day.”

Comis was the guy finding Isabella in open space. He’s been impressed with his teammate early on.

“He’s just a guy who works hard, stays quiet and leads by example,” Comis said. “He’s always doing the right thing and always knows where to be. That’s really how you gain trust with a quarterback and Andy’s one of those guys I trust on the field, especially on game day.”

Much like the Florida defense they faced last week, UMass will have a tough task on its hands trying to produce offensively against a tough BC defense.

The Eagles had the best total defense in the nation last season, giving up 254.3 yards per game. The mastermind behind the productive unit, Don Brown, is no longer with the team – becoming the defensive coordinator at Michigan.

Regardless of who is manning the sidelines for the Eagles defensively, BC still returns a strong core – led by linebackers Ty Schwab (nine tackles) and Connor Strachan (eight tackles, four tackles for loss) who impressed in Saturday’s contest with the Yellow Jackets last week.

Young has chosen not to focus on the BC defense, but instead on how his team is preparing for the game.

“It’s not really about them, it’s really about us,” Young said. “We really just have to focus and stay tuned in practice and get better every day in practice. If everyone is one the same page we should be fine. The defense has been doing a pretty good job, so we just have to make some plays on offense.”

Coming into Saturday’s game, the marketing campaigns have deemed the game between the two Massachusetts-based schools the “Battle of the Bay State.” You hear it on sports talk radio, see it online and see it plastered around the Minutemen’s campus. Some may view it as a rivalry game, but Whipple has a different thought.

“It might become a rivalry if we can get a win,” Whipple said. “Right now I don’t know how much of a rivalry it is, but it’s important to our guys. It’s Boston College and it’s the next game, so we’ll see here in the next few days how we prepare.”

The players seem excited for the opportunity to take on the Eagles and possibly have bragging rights within the state.

“We haven’t won a game against Boston (College) since 1978,” Young said. “This game is real big for us. It’s rivalry week, so we’re just trying to do something big.”

Isabella and his teammates seem ready for the challenge.

“We have a bunch of stuff in the locker room about what they are saying about us,” Isabella said. “We’re 17-point underdogs. I think that’s a little disrespectful, so we’re already motivated.”

Kickoff is set for noon at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

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