2021 Rhode Island vs UMass

Rhode Island-UMass Rivalry Rekindled A Decade Later

Rhode Island-UMass Rivalry Rekindled A Decade Later

Saturday marks the 87th game in the regional rivalry.

Nov 5, 2021 by Kyle Kensing
Rhode Island-UMass Rivalry Rekindled A Decade Later

UMass hosts the first of two matchups against former Colonial Athletic Association rivals on Saturday, welcoming Rhode Island to McGuirk Alumni Stadium. 

The Rams’ visit marks the first meeting between the programs in 10 years, but the two have plenty of history despite the hiatus. The two programs were members of the old Yankee Conference upon its inception in 1946, and were linked at the launch of CAA football in 2007, as well. 

Saturday is the 87th game in a regional rivalry that once crossed the Atlantic into Ireland. UMass won the 1993 Wild Geese Classic in Limerick, 36-14. 

No international plane ride necessary this time: Rhode Island is taking a bus ride of about 110 miles north in search of its first FBS win since beating UConn in 2000. 

Jumpstarting The Offense

Since scoring 28 points against both Boston College and Eastern Michigan earlier in the season, UMass has reached at least 20 only one other time. Of no coincidence, that came in the Minutemen’s Oct. 9 defeat of UConn. 

The Minutemen have been able to move the ball effectively on the ground at times, surpassing 200 yards rushing on three occasions including last week vs. Liberty. Running back Ellis Merriweather’s workload has varied from week-to-week, but he had 39 carries with two touchdowns in the win over UConn, 24 carries for 149 yards last week. 

Rhode Island has been vulnerable to giving up yards on the ground. The Rams rank No. 94 in FCS against the rush at more than 180 surrendered per game, and about 4.3 yards allowed per carry. 

Establishing the run early is a must for UMass, which at 161.3 yards per game has one of the least consistent passing offenses in FBS. Defenses have more interceptions on the Minutemen (eight) than passing touchdowns allowed (seven). 

On the flipside, Rhode Island is looking to ignite some offense after a strong start hit a snag amid the Rams’ current, three-game losing streak. 

Rhode Island coach Jim Fleming said the Rams “have been in a funk offensively.” They scored 24 points in last week’s loss to Maine, but totaled just seven points combined in losses to Towson and Villanova. 

Despite losing to Maine, URI got a promising effort from quarterback Kasim Hill. Hill was on fire to start 2021, but struggled in the first two losses of the current skid. He’s back on the upswing after throwing for three touchdowns last week. 

“It’s what I’ve been after from him,” Fleming said. “It’s the urgency and timing and getting the ball out of his hands.”

Fleming said Hill is continuing to move the ball effectively through the air to give Rhode Island “the opportunity to get our offense out of the malaise” it has experienced. 

First-Quarter Tone

The first 15 minutes have proven crucial for both UMass and Rhode Island this season. The Minutemen have trailed by two-plus touchdowns in the first quarter of every game in 2021 but two: at Florida State on Oct. 23, but the Seminoles pushed the lead to two touchdowns a little more than a minute into the second quarter; and in the win against UConn. 

Likewise, Rhode Island has trailed by two touchdowns in the first quarter of all three of its losses. Playing from behind vs. Maine proved especially damaging, as the Rams came alive offensively in the second half, starting right out of the locker room when Hill returned at quarterback to drop a dime to Paul Woods. 

However, the deficit was too much to recover. 

Expect the game’s initial few drives to set the tone for the full 60 minutes. 

Turnover Opportunities

Rhode Island’s Jordan Jones has picked off five passes this season, tied for second-most in FCS. He’s gone the last three games without a pick, but had a pair of pass break-ups against Maine. 

Fleming noted that URI had opportunities at takeaways vs. the Black Bears but couldn’t come down with the ball. Windows could be there on Saturday against a UMass offense ranked No. 110 in the FBS with a minus-five turnover margin. 

The Rhody defense will aim to make the Minutemen offense pass as much as possible. UMass quarterback Brady Olson has been unable to complete 50 percent of his attempts in the last four games.