UMass can’t overlook FCS Duquesne

  • Florida Atlantic quarterback Daniel Parr, shown against Wisconsin, in Madison, last season, will be starting for Duquense when the Dukes visit UMass on Saturday. AP

Staff Writer
Published: 8/22/2018 8:58:28 PM

AMHERST — Bryton Barr came so close to being part of one of the greatest upsets in college football history.

As a freshman at Towson, Barr and the Tigers played at LSU and gave the No. 3 team in the country all it could handle. The next year, Barr recorded eight tackles to help Towson upend Connecticut in the season opener.

Even though he only played 13 games over four years at Towson, Barr has been around plenty of FBS-FCS matchups as the underdog. Now, the veteran linebacker is using that experience to make sure UMass doesn’t overlook FCS Duquesne in its season opener Saturday.

“You can’t take any of these FCS schools lightly by any means,” Barr said. “I try to talk to my team and tell them I’ve had the experience of playing a division lower than us and you just can’t take any team lightly because they’ll stay in games with you. As long as you let them hang around, they’ll just keep on going.”

The Dukes are one of the more successful FCS programs over the past quarter century. In its 25 years as an FCS program, Duquesne has 20 winning seasons and holds a .667 winning percentage with 15 conference titles.

In addition to its pedigree of success, Duquesne will field a team that won’t look too dissimilar to the other teams UMass will face this season. The Dukes have 13 FBS transfers on their roster, including Daniel Parr from Florida Atlantic, who is expected to be the starting quarterback this season.

The roster is talented enough that UMass coach Mark Whipple said Duquesne isn’t an FCS program in his eyes.

“They have guys who have played a lot and they know how to win games,” Whipple said. “They have what they need to be successful on offense: a guy who can run it, a guy who can throw it and a guy who can catch it.”

In addition to Parr slinging the ball around the field, Duquesne’s offensive trio also features running back A.J. Hines and receiver Nehari Crawford. Hines is a preseason All-American after rushing for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of his first two years in Pittsburgh. Crawford led the entire FCS last season with 15 regular-season touchdown receptions as part of his 65 catches for 1,026 yards.

Barr said in addition to the talent at the skill positions, Duquesne has a strong offensive line that is very disciplined. He said those are the FCS teams that are especially dangerous for FBS programs.

“They are just a lot of hard-working dudes,” Barr said. “They might not be the biggest team in the world, but they’ll do their assignments. Successful teams if they understand what they’re asked to do and do what they’re supposed to do and do it consistently, you’ll be successful. This is the type of team that you can’t take them lightly.”

UMass is one of the few FBS programs that understands what it means to be a massive underdog in a game. The Minutemen’s schedule often sends them to Power Five schools, many of which are ranked or close to being ranked when the game is played. And UMass has had some mild success in those games, too, losing by a combined 15 points to Tennessee and Mississippi State on the road last year.

Junior cornerback Isaiah Rodgers said having the experience of being able to surprise teams by staying competitive is helpful in maintaining focus for an FCS team.

“We really haven’t overlooked Duquesne because they’re also a great team,” Rodgers said. “You can’t really look over any opponent. We went into Mississippi State and they looked over us, and we played pretty good, so we can’t overlook any other team.”

There’s also plenty of internal motivation for UMass heading into this weekend’s 5:30 p.m. kickoff at McGuirk Stadium. The Minutemen have not won a home opener since 2011, which is also the last year they won their opening game. No one on the roster has started better than 1-6, either, a record that would all but cripple any chance UMass has of getting to a bowl game.

Whipple said the players understand a season-opening win will go a long way to helping UMass achieve its goal of playing in the postseason this December.

“They’ve seen the tape of Duquesne, they know they have players,” Whipple said. “The focus is that we haven’t won a home opener since 2011, so nobody here has won a home opener, that’s important no matter who you play. Getting off to a good start is really important, so it’s going about our business and handling ourself.

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.



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