UMass to host Eastern Michigan Saturday

Freshman Brady Olson will make second start

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Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

By Joey Aliberti, Assistant Sports Editor

After a 45-28 loss to Boston College, the Massachusetts football team will host its second straight game against Eastern Michigan on Saturday.

Brady Olson will again start this weekend after posting 214 passing yards along with three touchdowns and two interceptions against BC. The Eagles of Eastern Michigan (1-1) are coming off a 34-7 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers, who are ranked No. 18 in the nation.

Minutemen (0-2) head coach Walt Bell relayed a message during both media sessions about his utmost praise for Chris Creighton and his program in the lead up to their matchup.

“They play unbelievably hard,” Bell said. “They block, they tackle, they’re sound, nothing they do is fancy. Everything that they do is hard, it’s tough, its blue collar, it’s workman-like, it’s sound, its technique, it’s fundamentals… They do an incredible job reducing the game to technique and effort. It’s what has allowed them to go from a job that everybody thought was a coach’s graveyard and you could never win there into a team that’s consistently in bowl games.”

“They are a direct mirror of what we hope to build here.”

Bell has never given any coach and program this sort of compliment in his time at Amherst. The parallel with the two programs and where each coach had to start from holds heavy in Bell’s mind when saying something like this.

A “graveyard” coaching job is something both coaches took in their respective locations. Creighton was being pressured to move down to the FCS after finishing 3-21 through his first two seasons. This comes after Ron English’s run as head coach, who had an 11-46 record before getting fired. Since those dreadful outputs, Creighton has made progression, as Eastern Michigan is 28-31 from 2016 and on.

While Bell talks about mirroring his program after Creighton’s it is more likely due to the hand he was dealt when he took the job in Amherst along with the style of football they play. Bell would consistently bring up the fact that he wants a blue-collar team that plays “hard, smart and tough.”

All football teams want to play hard, smart and tough, but Bell says this with an awareness that he will not bring in the same caliber recruits that he would at North Carolina, Maryland or Florida State. Bell needs to rely more on discipline and effort than skill and athleticism because the Power Five and a select few other teams snatch any and every elite talent, leaving the rest to hyper-focus on fundamentals and discipline. Eastern Michigan is in the exact same boat due to the prestige of the program and location, though they might have a slight edge being in the Mid-American Conference (MAC), while UMass is an independent.

The record of Eastern Michigan is where it does not make sense for Bell to publicly desire. The Eagles have been in three bowl games (2016, 2018, 2019), losing in every game. It would be a realistic expectation for the Minutemen, but a head coach wanting to mirror a losing record over a six-season span is not common.

A bad situation that has steadily improved with a basic, yet efficient play style and the opportunity to play in bowl games is what Bell looks to mirror from Creighton’s tenure at Eastern Michigan.

The Eagles might be known for fundamentals, but orthodox is further stretch. Creighton has rotated two starting quarterbacks in Preston Hutchinson and Cincinnati transfer Ben Bryant. Not only do two quarterbacks play for Eastern Michigan, but two that have similar styles.

“We don’t change our offense with the quarterbacks,” Creighton said.

Bryant has proven to be better in the two-game sample this season, throwing for 149 yards on 70 percent completion. Hutchinson has thrown for 116 yards with a 52 percent completion rate along with two interceptions. Neither quarterback has found the endzone.

A run-heavy Eagles offense is led by freshman Darius Boone Jr., who carried the ball 28 times this season for 107 yards and a touchdown. All 107 yards and even the touchdown came in the Eagles week one win over Saint Francis. The Badgers dominated Eastern Michigan week two, holding them to 16 rushing yards on 18 attempts. Expect a run-first attack from Eastern Michigan against a team who just allowed 254 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

The game will take place at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. It can be streamed on NESN+ and FloSports.

Joey Aliberti can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JosephAliberti1