Georgia Southern Eagles (0-5) vs UMass Minutemen (0-6)
Time: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST
Where: McGuirk Stadium, Amherst, MA
TV: NESN, Eleven Sports Network
Betting Line: UMass -7
Series: 1-1 (’98 GS 38-21)
I am a history teacher by trade. I can’t pass up an opportunity to talk history, especially when there’s a game between Minutemen and Eagles. It wouldn’t be right. Plus it’s more pleasant than talking about this year’s teams (I’ll get to that later).
These two programs have a history. Both fan bases know that, even if no one else does. We remember. They remember. Mark Whipple remembers, and so does Paul Johnson for that matter. Let me take you back to 1998…
Titanic was No. 1 at the box office.
The Clinton Presidency faced impeachment in the midst of the Lewinsky Scandal.
France won the World Cup.
The Dirty Birds made a Cinderella run through the NFC.
Dreamcast was released. (Ask your older sibling or Google)
It was the year I had moved to Georgia; I was in 7th grade.
It was also the first matchup between Georgia Southern and UMass in the I-AA (now FCS) Championship Game in Chattanooga, Tennessee. UMass, lead by a young Mark Whipple, beat Georgia Southern 55-43, lead by a young Paul Johnson. It was a wild affair.
UMass forced seven turnovers on the day. Minutemen legends like Todd Bankhead, Marcel Shipp, and Kole Ayi fended off a furious 2nd half rally from the Eagles to win their only championship. First championship in any sport for UMass since 1981.
The Minutemen were an underdog story that year. Mark Whipple engineered a tremendous turnaround after they finished 2-9 the season prior. In 1998, they finished the regular season 8-3 and got into the playoffs. On the back of RB Marcel Shipp, UMass survived not one, but two, road trips to Louisiana (vs. in the playoffs to make it to Chattanooga.
Shipp had 255 yards rushing vs. Georgia Southern in the championship game. There was a reason he went on to play for the Arizona Cardinals.
Meanwhile, the Eagles were a year ahead of schedule. Paul Johnson was in just his second year as head coach. Greg Hill was the quarterback. Eagle nation got its first glimpse at a freshman RB called Adrian Peterson. Georgia Southern would return the favor the following season in the quarterfinals, beating UMass 38-21 on the way to their 5th championship.
The rest, they say, is history.
Now seems like the right time to paraphrase Rick Pitino, right?
Because Adrian Peterson and Marcel Shipp ain’t walking through that door! Meaning UMass and Georgia Southern today are mirror opposites of what they were in the late 1990s.
Let me start with the obvious news. Shai Werts is listed as questionable with a collarbone injury. If he can’t go, Kado Brown, the JuCo transfer, is the next guy in line. Brown saw mop-up minutes against Indiana. More Kado info here.
Some Eagles fans like myself are glad Werts might be given a week off at least after the beating he’s taken thus far. Werts is 10th in the nation in sacks with 19. And that doesn’t count all the option runs. UMass QB Andrew Ford tops the list with 29. Both have taken a beating.
I talked about this in a previous post, but UMass has a few things that Georgia Southern will have to account for. First off, the Minutemen haven’t played a game since September 30 vs Ohio. Due to various Hurricane cancellations, they have had three weeks off. A triple option team’s worst nightmare, a team with extra time to prepare.
When Andrew Ford isn’t picking himself of the turf, he actually isn’t a bad QB. He has a 63.4 completion percentage with 12 TDs and 2 INTs on the year. He has the following weapons:
UMass’s defense is giving up 32.8 points per game so that Georgia Southern could move the ball on them. I assume Kado Brown will start until proven otherwise. That hit on Werts at the end of the NM State game was pretty vicious. Shai Werts has played valiantly as a redshirt freshman, and he will continue to grow. But a week of rest, injury or otherwise is not the end of the world.
He’s a freshman; there’s time. Meanwhile, we get to see what juniors Kado Brown and LaBaron Anthony can do. The Eagles are 0-5 and damn near the bottom in just about every significant statistic, what’s the worst that could happen?
I just don’t think a lousy team that is starting a backup QB on the road is a recipe for success. I’ll go with UMass 42-20.