Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass to square off against Liberty this Saturday

The Minutemen are seeking their first win against Liberty since 2018
Sophie-Zoe Schreyer/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts football team is coming off a 56-point loss to Florida State which is the most the Minutemen (1-6) have lost by this year. Things don’t get any easier for UMass as they are set to matchup against Liberty, a fellow FBS independent team who’s 6-2 on the season.

Liberty is taking a program record 14 game home win streak into tomorrow’s game. The last time these two teams met was on November 27th of last year, where the Flames shut out the Minutemen 45-0.

The Minutemen will face a lofty challenge in trying to contain Liberty’s quarterback Malik Willis. In the last meeting between these two teams Willis accounted for four total touchdowns (three passing and one rushing), while throwing for 223 yards and rushing for 63.

Willis is a dual threat quarterback in every sense of the word. This year the junior quarterback has thrown for 1,679 yards along with 17 passing touchdowns. This year on the ground Willis has tallied 647 yards and nine rushing touchdowns.

“Malik Willis is very very special,” UMass head coach Walt Bell said. “He can make all the throws, he can extend plays, he’s a great runner, a physical runner and he’s a great decision maker.”

UMass will also have to account for Demario Douglas who leads the Flames in receiving yards with 547 and 35 receptions. Douglas also possesses a danger as a return man already returning a punt 72 yards to the house this season. However, UMass does have one of the better punt return defenses in the country, as they are ranked in the top 40 in the FBS on punt coverage. The Minutemen give up an average of 4.87 yards per punt return.

There is no question that the Minutemen defense will have their work cut out for them as they will look to stop Liberty’s balanced offense attack. The Flames average nearly 241 passing yards and 184 yards rushing per game.

For UMass getting the offense to click has been a struggle throughout the season. The Minutemen have found a bell cow running back in Ellis Merriweather who has had two games this season in which he has eclipsed 140 yards rushing. Finding go to guys, especially in the passing game, has been something UMass has been searching for all season. Rico Arnold who leads the team in both receptions with 18 and receiving yards with 255 started the year off strong but has seen his production decrease in the past couple of weeks. In last week’s matchup against Florida State, Arnold caught only one pass for nine yards.

“Right now, we’re kind of wide receiver by committee,” Bell said. “But you’d love to see [Onuma Dieke] and Melvin [Hill] and Rico [Arnold]… Eric Collins did a nice job on some third down conversions last week, but you’d love to see some of those guys step up.”

The Minutemen will have to compete against Liberty’s pass rush which is one of the best in the entire FBS. Liberty averages 3.25 sacks per game which ranks 13th out of 130 FBS teams. UMass will also hope to slow down defensive tackle Kendy Charles who leads the Flames with 4.5 sacks.

UMass may look to Zamar Wise to jumpstart the offense, as the freshman has rushed for 124 yards on 5.4 yards per carry over the past two contests. Ever since Wise has seen an increase in his role he has been efficient running the ball.

While the Minutemen might be underdogs heading in, there is always possibility of an upset. Just two weeks ago, Liberty, who was favored to win by 32 points lost to UL Monroe 31-28.

The Minutemen will look to keep pace with Flames as the teams will faceoff tomorrow at 12:00 p.m. on ESPN3.

James DiLuca can be reached at [email protected].

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