Five Things to Watch for when Georgia Southern Takes On UMass

55-20
That’s how badly UMass beat Georgia Southern last October. The Minutemen jumped out to a 21-0 lead early in the 1st quarter and never looked back. The beating was so horrendous and thorough that it ended up costing Tyson Summers his job, and turned around the Minutemen’s season, simultaneously.
After Georgia Southern sacked Summers, they ushered in the Chad Lunsford era. UMass, on the other hand, went on to win four of their last six games, including a win over App State.
It wasn’t the first time UMass team dropped a double-nickel on Georgia Southern. In 1998 both schools faced off for the I-AA National Championship game. The underdog Minutemen, led by Mark Whipple, pulled off a 55-42 upset victory over the Eagles, led by Paul Johnson.
Georgia Southern was 14-0 entering that game and had been #1 in the polls since mid-October. Despite putting up nearly 600 yards of offense, the Eagles were done in by six fumbles caused by the soggy conditions in Chattanooga that day. Marcel Shipp, who went on to have a lengthy career with the Arizona Cardinals, ran for 244 yards and 3 TDs.
UMass and Georgia Southern would play each other again in the 1999 I-AA Playoffs, where the Eagles got their revenge. Southern won 38-21 on the backs of a massive performance from Adrian Peterson where he had 333 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns. Georgia Southern went on to win the 1999 national title, as well as 2000.
A lot can change in a year. Both teams are vastly different from what they were last October. This is a solid early measuring stick for UMass and Georgia Southern.
UMass enters the game 1-1, and their first two games could not be any more different. In Week 0, they beat Duquesne 63-15, the following week they lost to in-state rivals Boston College 55-21.
Georgia Southern would like to match last season’s win total in just their 2nd game. Are they 35 points better than they were last time they faced the Minutemen? We shall find out.

Shai Werts

Werts keeps growing as a starter. The sophomore ran for 163 yards and 3 touchdowns last week vs. SC State. He looked more comfortable out there. The pitch and the dive wasn’t there, so he created opportunities on the perimeter. He looked more confident hitting the holes and with his pump fakes on pitches.
Offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse told the media that only about 30% of the playbook had been installed for that game. Look for him to expand the play selection this time around. If the space on the perimeter isn’t there will Werts be able to adapt? Can he get a few first downs with his arm if need be? If this game is close late, that could be the difference.

Andrew Ford vs. Ross Comie

UMass uses a two-quarterback system with Andrew Ford and Ross Comie, the same two guys that tore up the Eagles last season. Ford is the pocket-passer, and Comis has the mobility. Both are effective at what they do. Ford had a ridiculous 22-4 TD-INT ratio last season. Comis averages 6 yards a carry through the first two games. Mark Whipple has different packages for both signal-callers. Ford usually starts the first drive, Comis comes in for the second. Scot Sloan’s defense containing these two will be key.

Inside or Outside?

The way most teams try to defend the option is by either taking away the inside-dive or taking away the outside. Last week SC State took away both. Aside from Shai Werts they did a good job stopping the Eagles running attack. The dive wasn’t there in the first half. The Eagles’ offensive line could not get much push against a MEAC defensive line. That’s really concerning.
Without the dive established, the perimeter gets harder to take advantage of. Wesley Fields and Monteo Garrett never really got going last Saturday. The dive didn’t start working until the 2nd half when Matt LaRoche and Logan Wright came in. UMass’s defense gave up 272 yards rushing against BC, they can be taken advantage of, but the OL needs to play better than it did last week.

Georgia Southern Secondary vs UMass Passing Game

Whipple has his guys preparing for Scot Sloan’s defense by studying tape from UMass’s victory over App State last season. He’s familiar and has had success against Scot Sloan in the past. UMass runs a balanced pro-style attack. They do like to throw the ball around a bit. More so under Andrew Ford, but Ross Comis is a decent passer as well.
10 different receivers have caught passes for the Minutemen through two games so far. Andy Isabella is their leading receiver, he had 60 catches and 1,020 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. He’ll most likely be shadowed by Monquavion Brinson all game. This is a stiff test for the highly touted Eagle secondary. Got to try and keep the UMass offense off the field as long as possible.

Atmosphere

What kind of atmosphere will we get at Paulson Stadium Saturday? Attendance for the home opener was only 15,260. Not good. Home openers, regardless of the opponent, used to be automatic 18K outings and that was true, even before the expansion. Does attendance rebound this week? Or is it a symptom of a wider-trend? We will find out Saturday.
 

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