*note: I understand that this site has basically just been game previews and recaps of the football games right now, I'm working on expanding the content.
This will be the first Minutemen game this season that isn't easily available on television or ESPN3.com. If you're looking for streaming video though you can find it at UMassAthletics.com and if the radio is your deal then the always dependable UMass Sports Network (105.5 FM WEEI, 1440 AM WVEI and 95.9 FM WATD) with Josh Maurer and Matt Goldstein is your destination.The Line:
Gone are the days of three touchdown underdogs as the Minutemen enter this game laying (+17) two touchdowns and a field goal.History:
None. As is the case with most of the Mid-American Conference, this is the first meeting ever between these two schools on the gridiron.Sons Spotlight:
Typically when you face Western Michigan you anticipate shining the spotlight on the defensive backs because Alex Carder, the Western quarterback is a danger to air it out all over the field. However, it looks like Carder's injury will hold him out again this week so the Minutemen will focus their attention on the junior (and presumably Lord of the Manor) Tyler Van Tubbergen who is coming off a tough game against Toledo where he threw 3 picks and completed 56% of his passes. Based on that information alone I'm more focused on the defensive front seven and their ability to slow down the Western ground game and put pressure on the lesser experienced Van Tubbergen.
As with last week I'm throwing the spotlight on the freshman, Kassan Messiah is fourth on the team in tackles (22) even though he's only played two games. Messiah has been an absolute game changer for the Minutemen, his speed and size makes him the most imposing guy on the defensive front seven and his ability to put pressure on the quarterback makes him invaluable. The other guy that I'd spotlight is Jovan Santos-Knox another freshman who made his debut in the Ohio game with 6 tackles. I loved what I saw out of Santos-Knox against Ohio, and even though Beau Blankenship ran a country mile against the Minutemen defense I think with the threat of an open passing game gone due to injury the young guys, and of course Perry McIntyre should be able to focus on stopping the run and really put a nice game together.
On the offensive side of the ball the spotlight is going to be on Deion Walker, the Notre Dame graduate student started to assert himself last week against Ohio and it appears that the comfort level between Walker and Mike Wegzyn is very real. The offense moved the ball at will last week against the Bobcats and this Western Michigan team just gave up 521 yards to Toledo. I am looking for very good things out of the Wegzyn-Walker battery, and as always I anticipate Mike Cox to carry a huge load for the offense in wearing out the Western defensive front seven. Toledo's David Fluellen ran for 213 yards and 3 touchdowns last week against this Western Michigan defense and I'm sure Mike Cox is chomping at the bit to put numbers like that up against this defense.
For Western Michigan I think you've got to spotlight Lord Tyler Van Tubbergen who's performance may single handedly determine the outcome of this game. As disappointed in Wegzyn as I was earlier in the season if Western Michigan offered Van Tubbergen for Wegzyn straight up in some new world order that allows trades between college teams, the Minutemen would hang the phone up without a second thought. What I'm hinting at is that Wegzyn would be the starter for Western Michigan right now if he was a Bronco and not a Minutemen. If the Minutemen defense can cause problems for Van Tubbergen and create turnovers, I am not even joking when I say that I think UMass can win this game. I expect a huge focus this week was on stopping the run - obviously the Minutemen have shown absolutely no ability to even slow down the running game of any of the teams they've played this season (expect maybe UConn) so I don't know why I think they can do it this week, but I'm being optimistic.Break It Down:
Right now the Minutemen defense averages 247.8 yards per game on the ground given up. The Broncos are going to be running the ball this weekend, and if UMass can't slow them down then this thing has the potential to get ugly. Van Tubbergen doesn't have a big enough body of work for me to dismiss him outright but I don't think it's out of line to say that this game will be determined by the Western Michigan run offense and the Minutemen rushing defense.
I think that the Minutemen offense has shown over the last two weeks that they can move the ball against a MAC defense. I also think that last week the offense learned how to score touchdowns in the redzone -- they can score on the ground, they can score through the air and you can't discount the fact that Mike Wegzyn is mobile enough to get himself out of trouble when things get hairy in the pocket. I don't think Western Michigan is going to find the magic cure on defense, I think the Minutemen offense will continue to improve and will continue to rack up big yards. They've outgained their opponent for the past two weeks and I would hazard a guess that you'll see similar statistical numbers coming out of this game.
I expect Western Michigan to gain about 200-225 yards on the ground, I think they'll probably throw for another 200 because while I think the Massachusetts defense is getting better they're still not what I would call "good." I think with the freshman in the lineup the defense is faster and able to cover the flats much better than they were in the early part of the season, and I do think that the secondary is much improved - though they still give up a lot of third down conversions.
On offense I think you're going to see something like 150-175 yards on the ground for Mike Cox, and you should see maybe 275-300 yards through the air for Mike Wegzyn. Unfortunately if all of those yards come between the 20 yard lines and things get bogged down in the red zone again then it won't matter because the points won't wind up on the board. The Ohio game was a net positive, it made you realize that this team can hang with the best offenses in the conference, and Western Michigan isn't one of the best offenses in the conference. However, some of that was due in large part to the fact that Ohio knew they'd score on every possession. Defense becomes easier when you know that the other side doesn't have a defense. I expect Western to throw a lot of different looks at Wegzyn to make him uncomfortable, and likely keep the ends and outside backers wide because Charley Molnar loves to move the pocket and if you keep Wegzyn upright and stuffed in the pocket you can cut down a lot of his productivity.Prediction:
Western Michigan 27Closing Thoughts:
The ultimate homer pick, I think UMass wins this game. I think Alex Carder being out brings Western Michigan back to the pack just enough for the Minutemen to catch them sleeping. I don't think that it's going to be a decisive win, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's a situation where the Minutemen jump out quick and are able to just barely hang on in the second half, but I'm putting myself out there on a limb and making the prediction that you're going to see the very first Mid-American Conference (and FBS) victory for the Minutemen on Saturday afternoon.