With the University of Massachusetts Minutemen coming to town on Saturday, I realized that we as Michigan fans know very little about our incoming opponent. If you're looking for a well researched preview, Beauford has you covered. But me, I need something a little closer to the source. In an attempt to gather information on this pending 1AA menace, I contacted The UMass Football Blog and invited them to join us for a little Q&A session to better inform us about his program. In exchange, I provided some a little information on places to eat and drink in Ann Arbor, as well as a little insite into what's been happening over the last two games. You can find my responses to his great questions here.
Before we get started, I want to send my condolences and I'm sure the condolences of the entire Michigan fanbase to the UMass family on the loss of UMass Band Director George Parks. Doctors have reported that Mr. Parks passed due to a heart attack last night. For 33 years Mr. Parks was the director of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Minuteman Marching Band. Sadly, he passed away following a performance by the Band in Ohio. He will be missed. Rest in peace, George Parks.
So please, Michigan fans, when you see the UMass band on the field or on their way to the Big House, give them a standing ovation and shake their hands. They just lost someone special. As fellow college football and music fans, do everything you can to lift their spirits and show them a good time this weekend.
Now onto the question and answer with the UMass Football Blog. Six questions and some great answers below.
1. Earlier in the off season I picked John Griffin as the best player and the player Michigan fans were going to hate when UMass comes calling this weekend. Did I pick right on this? Is Griffin your best player or is someone else your most dangerous player?
I'd say you were at least half right. John Griffin, a 6-0 210 pd transfer from Northeastern, has alternated series with our own Jonathan Hernandez, who is 5-11 190. They've combined for 353 rushing yards and 5 TD's in two games. Griffin, a First Team All-CAA player at Northeastern, is more of a power runner and Hernandez is a slashing guy. If UMass has any hope of beating Michigan, those two players have to be productive. Incidentally, that would probably be the best defense against Denard Robinson. Even he can't score standing on the sideline.
2. UMass limited William and Mary to 334 yards in a comeback win, then you demolished Holy Cross only giving up 213 yards. What kind of defense does UMass play (3-4/4-3/3-3-5)? Anything special in there we should know about?
UMass typically plays a 4-3 base defense. However in the past against spread option teams, we have typically pulled a linebacker and played an extra safety. Last week we also played some 3-4. UMass is starting four new defensive linemen this year. Prior to the William & Mary game they had a grand total of two career starts between all four of them. However, UMass fans have been pleased with the new D-line so far. What they have lacked in experience, they have made up with effort. The Tribe's RB Jonathan Grimes had a very good game against I-A Virginia last year. He got 67 yards against us. The defensive line needs to stay active to keep Michigan's blockers off our linebackers or it will be a real long day for the Minutemen. Our D-backs have been thrown at a lot in the first two games because William & Mary and Holy Cross could not run the ball. They have 13 pass BkUp's in two games.
3. Who are your two best defensive players?
The strength of the UMass defense is in our linebackers. Tyler Holmes 6-0 215 is an FCS All-American. Syracuse transfer Mike Mele 6-0 220 started 14 games for the Orange. Buffalo transfer Brandon Flanagan 6-2 300 has been playing well on the new D-line. This might be a good place to tell Michigan fans UMass has 9 FBS/I-A transfers (if I counted right) on our roster. Added to those are three transfers from FCS/I-AA teams. Besides John Griffin, WR Anthony Nelsona 5-10 180 transfer from Hofstra and Greg Nilanda 6-5 300 pd transfer guard from Northeastern have started for us. Both Hofstra and Northeastern dropped their football programs after the 2009 season. :(
4. Your offense seems to be putting up big numbers using a pro attack behind two talented RBs and a solid passer. What's the strongest aspect of UMass' offensive attack.
UMass' offensive strength is our running game. The Minuteman offensive line averages just under 6-5 305 pounds. Our LT Nick Speller 6-5 335 is a transfer from Syracuse and was on the All-Big East Freshman team last year. QB Kyle Havenshad a rough introduction to division I football last year, but he has been much better this year. Havens needs to develop enough of a passing game so that Michigan can't put eight-in-the-box to stop our running game. UMass needs to run the ball to have any chance Saturday.
5. Coming into this season what were the goals that UMass fans had before kickoff? Has that changed with the success of FCS schools against FBS schools this season?
With only 9 returning starters everyone was picking UMass in the lower regions of the CAA. Like Michigan, it now appears the Minutemen are a lot better than everyone thought. UMass fans are thinking playoffs. As for our hopes for Michigan, UMass is playing to win. In the past, we been very competitive in FBS/I-A games. Last year against Kansas State we were down by four in the fourth quarter and had the ball back twice. Michigan with 113,00+ fans and the best player in college football in Denard Robinson will be an enormous challenge. But hey, we'll show up, play the game and see what happens.
6. Alright, gimmie a final score. How's it go down?
I've been avoiding giving a score because UMass has so many new players. It's apparent we have added some really good people. If UMass plays up to their potential, I say the Minutemen will keep it close. I think the Michigan brain trust may help the cause a little bit by keeping Robinson somewhat under wraps. Why take the chance of getting him hurt against a FCS team? If all those new starters look around at those 100,000 fans and get nervous, then it will be a long day for the Minutemen.
My thanks to the UMass Football Blog for joining the fun. Go Blue!