Making Friends with the Enemy: Talking UMass Football with Frank Smith

Sep 8, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; Massachusetts Minutemen quarterback Mike Wegzyn (11) runs the ball against Indiana Hoosiers defensive tackle Nicholas Sliger (75) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE

Frank Smith runs the Massachusetts focused blog simply titled UMass Football Blog. He dutifully compiles news and analysis for a small school, and when I put together my questions, I figured there was no one better to ask than the guy that puts that much time and effort into UMass football. I also answered some questions of his over at his site.

Take some time to check out the UMass Football Blog before the game Saturday.

The last time these two teams met UMass was still an FCS team, but that hardly mattered as the Minutemen gave Michigan all it could handle in a very close game. UMass totaled 439 yards and scored 20 points in the fourth quarter. Do you see something in UMass that makes you believe the Minutemen can put together a similar upset bid this time around?

Before anything else, Michigan fans should read the essay I wrote in my hotel room after the 2010 game. The loss of Dr. Parks still reverberates for UMass: "First let me praise Michigan"

UMass had some good players on the 2010 team. Josh Samuda is playing for the Dolphins. Emil Igwenagu made the Eagles practice roster. We had two all-conference running backs. John Griffin was rumored to have a good chance of making the Jets before suffering a high ankle sprain. He might yet make the pros. Two other Minutemen players from that team signed free agent NFL contracts.

This year is a very different Minutemen team. We started eight players against UConn who were playing their first ever college football game. Five other Minutemen on offense were also playing their first game. Instead of veteran all-conference players, UMass will be playing redshirt freshman and true freshmen on offense. Playing four BCS -level FBS teams is a rough way to start! Kent State, an established MAC team, lost to Kentucky about as badly as UMass lost to Indiana. It's tough to say just what shape we are actually in given the level of competition we've played.

The Minutemen already opened the season with big losses to Indiana and Connecticut. Neither team is known as a defensive power, and yet UMass managed to score just 6 points over the course of both games. Michigan's defense has struggled early this season, and is looking for a strong performance to gain some confidence back going into Notre Dame and the Big Ten season. How well do you think UMass moves the ball against Michigan's defense?

UConn's defense is very good this year. Their DC is Don Brown, UMass' former head coach. His defense took UMass to the national championship game in 2006. Their offense is three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust however. We actually made strides in offense in our second game. UMass had 264 total yards of offense. Eight penalties in the first half and two missed kicks put a dent into our point total. Our QB Mike Wegzyn looked much more comfortable in his second game. We will also have another veteran offensive lineman Anthony Dima back from injury and that should help our running game and pass blocking.

Last time these two teams met, UMass lined up in a pro-style offense that was heavy on the run and play-action and had great success with it. Is the scheme still heavily pro-style or have there been changes? Who are the key offensive players for the Minutemen?

No. Big changes in our offense. We now run the spread. It's based on our membership in the offense heavy MAC. This produces a match-up problem with the Wolverines. We're going to try to out-quick Michigan... Originally, Kellen Pagel was to be our QB. He's out indefinitely with post concussion syndrome. RSFR Mike Wegzyn will be starting his third game against you guys. UMass has an all new backfield and wide receivers. Michigan transfer Michael Coxhas shown some flashes when he does not have three defenders in his face. RSFR WR Marken Michel and true freshman Tajae Sharpe start on the outside.

Defensively UMass most likely will have its hands full on Saturday. Denard Robinson bounced back from a poor performance against Alabama to almost singlehandedly eviscerate Air Force. Do you think UMass will have a better plan to stop Denard Robinson this time around -- in 2010 he passed for 241 yards and ran for 104 against the Minutemen -- and if so, how will UMass attack Michigan's offense?

UMass looked over matched against the no-huddle Indiana offense. In addition, we looked especially bad when the QB pulled it down and ran. Hopefully, as I know the sportsmanship inherit in the Michigan program, Robinson will spend most of the second half on the sidelines signing stuff passed down to him by fans. And the Michigan offense will be taking 34 seconds for each snap and running between the tackles.

More of a program question: how has UMass adapted to FBS football thus far, and what are your expectations for UMass over the next few years?

We are only two games into the process! UMass needs a couple of years to be competitive. Recruiting looks good. Four of the top-50 recruits from New Jersey have verbaled to UMass for 2013. It's a process that we are just beginning. I can see us being .500 in the MAC in two or three years. Hopefully, one of the top teams in five.

Okay, prediction time. What are three things UMass has to do to win the game, and what do you think the final outcome is?

Winning the game is a very big stretch. The question is can we improve and make the game a contest. UMass has to continue to improve on offense. Develop the running game. Cut down on penalties. Try to keep the Michigan offense off the field. Realistically, this time, Michigan is going to be able to make the score anything they want, but I'll say Michigan 48- UMass 14.

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