Challenges await UMass football team as it renews rivalry with BC

  • UMass’ Ross Comis and BC’s Tyler Rouse will meet up in the Battle of the Bay State, Saturday at noon at Gillette Stadium. AP

Published: 9/9/2016 8:10:07 PM

AMHERST — As his team prepared for Saturday’s noon game against Boston College, UMass coach Mark Whipple admitted deciding which scouting video of BC’s defense to watch wasn’t easy.

The film of last week’s 17-14 loss to Georgia Tech in Ireland didn’t figure to be useful. The Yellow Jackets run a rare triple option attack and the Eagles obviously aren’t going to do the same things against UMass’ pro set.

Tape from 2015 will help some, at least to see the personnel against passing offenses. But the defensive coordinator from that team, former UMass coach Don Brown, is cooking up blitz packages at Michigan. The new coordinator, former UMass coach Jim Reid, runs a different style defense that likely won’t be nearly as aggressive.

Reid spent the last three seasons coaching linebackers at Iowa. The last time he was a coordinator was in 2012 at Virginia and it’s unlikely tape from back then will have too much value.

“It’s a difficult week for the offense because what do you watch? We don’t know. You can’t chase ghosts,” Whipple said. “We have to run our offense to what we see. We’ve been changing our looks up and preparing for things we might get. But you never know.”

The one safe assumption is that BC’s defense is good. A year ago the Eagles led the nation in yards allowed per game (254.0) and were in the top 10 in the FBS in points (15.3), rushing yards (82.8) and passing yards (171.5) allowed per game.

The Eagles lost four starters from that defense, but return a formidable nucleus.

Last year’s numbers are even more impressive because the defense was on the field for a long time because of how bad the BC offense was.

That unit ranked 126th out of 128 FBS schools at 276.0 yards per game. The Eagles should move the ball more effectively this year. Quarterback injures led to no consistency under center as four players attempted at least 40 passes in 2015.

This year Kentucky transfer Patrick Towles looks to provide some stability. He was 11-for-17 for 144 yards and one interception against Georgia Tech.

“He’s a guy who has played in the SEC and played well and won some games,” Whipple said. “We have to get him in third and longs. You have to stop the run against BC more than anything.”

The Eagles’ run game improved with the return of Jon Hilliman, who was injured a year ago. He looked sharp in Ireland, rushing for 102 yards and a touchdown.

UMass defensive end Sha-Ki Holines said the Minuteman defense, which looked better in last week’s 24-7 loss to Florida, still expects to improve.

“We have way more room to get better. That wasn’t our best effort. It was just the beginning of it,” said the junior from Springfield. “We have enough talent to play with anybody. It’s just everybody being where we’re supposed to be.”

Holines said the Minutemen (0-1) would be eager to get back on the field to play anyone, but facing BC at Gillette Stadium (NESNplus, 560 AM) raises the anticipation level.

“I love to play another Mass. team. I want to beat them to say I did it,” Holines said. “If we win this one, it’ll definitely get our students and the Amherst community behind us.”

Junior linebacker Da’Sean Downey agreed.

“It would feel like a program changer. BC doesn’t respect us,” he said. “We take that personally. We’re looking forward to seeing them on Saturday and letting our play do the talking.”

Sophomore quarterback Ross Comis was eager for his first game in the rivalry.

“It’s different. A lot of these Mass. guys are saying how they hate them, so I’m starting to get into the rivalry,” the West Virginia native said. “I’m starting to build some hatred for this team. I’m ready to go. It’s going to be fun.”

Whipple didn’t want to overemphasize the game.

“We want to play well this week. We have a tremendous opponent,” he said. “Anytime you win, helps you.”

While Downey thought BC didn’t respect the Minutemen, coach Steve Addazio’s quotes from his press conference on Monday were to the contrary.

“UMass had a showing against Florida. Went down there, it’s a tough place to play in the Swamp, and they got that thing into a 10-7 game into the fourth quarter,” he said. “They’ve got some good players. You don’t go down to Florida, in the Swamp like that, in a sold-out environment, and play nose-up unless you have some ability. And they have ability. Mark Whipple does a great job there. So it’ll be a real challenge for us.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at

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