UMass to battle against old Yankee Conference foe Rhode Island this Saturday

Minutemen lead all-time series vs the Rams 48-37-3

By James DiLuca , Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts football team will be facing off against Rhode Island this Saturday for the first time in 10 years. The Minutemen (1-7) and the Rams (5-3) both played in the same conferences for 64 years, including near 50-year stints in the Yankee Conference from 1947 to 1996.

The matchup between the Rams and the Minutemen is one that holds a lot of history as the series between these teams dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. The first game between these teams took place on Oct. 14th, 1903, where UMass emerged victorious with a 46-0 victory. The history continued as the two schools played against one another every season from 1946 to 2011. That streak ended when UMass began its transition to the FBS.

Saturday’s game against URI will mark the first of two games against FCS opponents for the Minutemen this season. It’s important to note that there are some major differences between FBS and FCS football programs. FBS programs are required to give scholarships to 85 players, which is 22 more than FCS schools can give out. Programs in the FBS are also allowed to hire one more assistant coach than FCS teams.

“From a numbers standpoint there aren’t huge differences like there used to be,” UMass head coach Walt Bell said when comparing FCS and FBS schools. “There are a lot of [Group of five] rosters that are at or near, or even less than some FCS rosters. For instance, in 2015 at Arkansas State we had 59 scholarship players… when we got here [to UMass] in 2019 we had 52 scholarship players.”

This season URI has solidified itself as one of the better FCS programs. On Oct. 11 the Rams were ranked No. 12 nationally in the FCS polls, which is their highest ranking in 20 years. URI began the season 5-0 but has struggled of late losing its last three games.

For a UMass defense that allows 240 rushing yards per game, keying in on the Rams’ ground game is a must.

“They’re running the football really good right now,” Bell said of URI. “They play multiple backs, but they have a good front, they’ve got really good skill players, I really like their tight end, he runs well and makes plays in the passing game.”

Slowing down the Rams’ lead back Justice Antrum and tight end Caleb Warren are certainly a point of focus for the Minutemen. Antrum is averaging nearly 74 rushing yards a game and has seven total touchdowns on the season. Warren has just three catches in his past two games, but the junior tight end could be due for a big performance against the Minutemen.

The UMass defense will be without defensive tackle Devin Baldwin who has been ruled out for the season due to a shoulder injury. Taishan Holmes has also been ruled out, while Bryce Watts and Da’Shon Ross are both listed as questionable.

One bright note on the injury report, however, is quarterback Tyler Lytle, who could make his return to action this week after missing seven games with a wrist injury.

“Tyler Lytle will be a game time decision,” Bell said. “Now that’s not saying he’s going to play, but he will at least have a chance.”

Offensively, the Minutemen will most likely continue to feature Ellis Merriweather, as he is coming off his third 140 plus yard game of the season.

“My biggest thing is trying to be consistent,” said Merriweather. “Making sure that everybody can rely on me and count on me when I get the ball.”

Expect Merriweather to get a healthy dose of touches in Saturday’s contest, as in UMass’s lone win of the season the redshirt junior carried the ball 39 times.

The Minutemen will look for their second win of the year as they host Rhode Island, this Saturday, 3:30 p.m. at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

James DiLuca can be reached at [email protected].