One of the top football rivalries in New England resumes on Saturday, as UConn hits the road to take on UMass.
Who: UConn (1-6) at UMass (1-6)
When: Saturday, Oct. 26, 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: McGuirk Alumni Stadium; Amherst, Massachusetts
Watch: LIVE on FloFootball
Fresh off a bye week? Check. Back at home to face a regional rival? Check. Homecoming? Check.
All the necessary ingredients are there for a motivated Minutemen bunch Week 9 when they host UConn at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.
“Hopefully we’ll get some guys back from injuries,” UMass coach Walt Bell said of the bye week following the Week 7 game at Louisiana Tech. “But at the same time, we’ve still got to improve. We have to go to work. Whether it be technique, fundamentals, whatever it may be, we still have a lot of improving to do.”
Saturday’s matchup marks the second in a series extending into the immediate future, with UConn joining UMass as an FBS independent. The Huskies finish out as an American Athletic Conference team with the conclusion of the 2019 season.
Last year’s meeting in East Hartford was a 22-17 Minutemen win. Don’t expect a similar final score this time around: UConn comes in allowing 38.1 points per game, No. 125 in the FBS, while UMass ranks No. 130 with 49.9 points allowed per contest.
In the Minutemen’s last time out, running back Bilal Ally rushed for 92 yards and a touchdown. The performance pushed him above 1,000 yards for his career, and he comes into Saturday’s matchup tied for 91st nationally with 469 on the season.
At an impressive 5.45 per-carry average, expect Ally to play an even more prominent role against UConn. The Huskies are 104th in the FBS against the run, allowing 195.86 per game and 5.36 per carry.
By contrast, Saturday might be the Minutemen’s best opportunity to get right against the run. They rank last in the nation allowing 267 yards a game and more than six per carry. UMass’ per-attempt yield is double the average output of a UConn offense that struggles to establish the run, posting just 3.18 a carry.
UMass quarterback Randall West can build off a solid individual showing at Louisiana Tech, where he came on for Michael Curtis in the first half.
Curtis made the start with West dealing with some lingering injuries, which sidelined him much of the week prior at FIU. West finished with a passing and rushing touchdown at La. Tech, and went 17-of-29 through the air.
“There’s a reason he won the job coming out of fall camp,” Bell said of the former Minutemen basketball player-turned-football walk-on. “He’s been hurt, he’s been beat up, and we’ve been trying to get him healthy. He came in and played really well and gave us a chance to stay on the field and play good football.”
UConn’s passing defense yield hasn’t been as staggering as its struggles against the run, but opponents are completing 67.4 percent of their attempts on the Huskies. UConn’s also giving up 19 touchdowns against just four interceptions, one critical factor behind its minus-five turnover differential.
Take It Away
Some key stats heading into Week 9: UMass has been much better protecting possession than has UConn, sitting even in turnover margin. Takeaways played a particularly pivotal part in the Minutemen’s win over Akron, with a plus-two helping make the difference.
Isaiah Rodgers is tied for the most pick-sixes among active FBS players with three in his career, including one this season. Taking over the top spot by himself as to be plenty motivating.
Five different Minutemen defenders have forced a fumble on the season. Saturday may provide an opportunity to generate more such takeaways and crank up the intensity of the pass-rush. UConn has allowed 51 tackles for loss on the year (No. 107 in FBS) and 18 sacks (No. 93).