UMass not overlooking Maine when programs meet at Fenway Park

  • Massachusetts head coach Mark Whipple calls out to his players during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017.  AP

  • Massachusetts running back Marquis Young (8) runs for a first down against Mississippi State during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017.  AP

Friday, November 10, 2017

AMHERST — Steve Casali still remembers the last UMass-Maine game in 2013.

The Minutemen were in their second year as an FBS program under then-coach Charley Molnar, playing against the FCS Black Bears. Maine was the one game on the schedule most UMass fans thought the struggling Minutemen would beat.

Instead, UMass was outplayed and lost 24-14 in the second game of a 1-11 season. Casali was a true freshman at the time.

“That stuck with me for a while,” he said. “We should have won that game.”

The Minutemen are coming into Saturday’s 4 p.m. game against the Black Bears with momentum. UMass had won back-to-back games over Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, and hung with No. 18 Mississippi State on the road last weekend. But Casali isn’t overlooking Maine.

“You can see on film, Maine is a tough, physical football team,” Casali said. “If we take them lightly it could be a long day.”

UMass coach Mark Whipple thought his team took FBS newcomer Coastal Carolina too lightly earlier in the season, and hoped it had learned a lesson.

“We have to finish strong. Maine has a good team,” he said. “We’re not in any position to overlook anybody. They’re a good team. I hope we learned from Coastal Carolina. I don’t want to take anything away from Coastal Carolina. If we’re not ready to go, Maine will beat our tail.”

There’s a nagging question about who’ll play quarterback for UMass.

Whipple, like many football coaches, isn’t terribly forthcoming when it comes to injury information. Quarterbacks Andrew Ford and Ross Comis were knocked out of the last two games with neck and head injuries, respectively. All week Whipple said that were OK, but neither were OK enough to do media interviews. Only healthy players do interviews.

Randall West, who replaced Comis last week, and junior college transfer Michael Curtis could both be in position to start or play.

“Mike Curtis got a few more reps Monday in the walk-through,” Whipple said Tuesday. “We’ll just see what happens. He and Randall are close.”

Time & location: 4 p.m. Fenway Park, Boston.

Records: UMass is 2-7; Maine is 4-4.

Last week: UMass lost at Mississippi State, 34-23; Maine lost to Delaware 31-17.

All-time series: UMass leads 41-15-1

TV/Internet: NESN

Radio: 105.5 FM

When Maine has the ball: The Black Bears run similar offensive schemes to UMass because Whipple is one of Maine offensive coordinator Liam Coen’s mentors. The Black Bears are a little more run heavy. Josh Mack leads the FCS in rushing at 144.0 yards per game with 191 carries for 1,152 yards and six touchdowns. The 6-foot-1, 198-pound back is also the team’s No. 2 receiver with 26 catches for 180 yards.

Quarterback Chris Ferguson averages 197.0 yards per game in the air with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

When UMass has the ball: Depending on who is at quarterback will drastically effect the game plan. If it’s not Ford or Comis, expect a lot of runs from Marquis Young and Bilal Ally.

Maine is eighth in the Colonial Athletic Association against the run, allowing 142.1 yards per game on the ground, but is tied for second fewest rushing TD’s allowed in that conference with five.

Maine could be tough on an inexperienced passer. Its 180.8 yards per game allowed is second in the CAA and it has intercepted 11 passes.

Whomever is throwing the ball for UMass will likely target Adam Breneman often. The senior tight end, who just got an invitation to the Senior Bowl, could likely be targeted often if Whipple is reluctant to throw down field.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage