Josh Walfish is in his first year covering UMass athletics for the Daily Hampshire Gazette. He joined the paper after working in North Carolina and Virginia and is a graduate of Northwestern University. Josh does a terrific job offering insight into Saturday’s first-ever meeting between the Bulldogs and Minutemen.
UMass has played several SEC schools down to the wire the last few years, does that help give this team the confidence that they can win at Georgia?
The short answer is yes, the past experiences and success against SEC schools gives UMass confidence it can beat the Bulldogs in Athens. Just last season, the Minutemen took Tennessee down to the wire in Knoxville and led Mississippi State at halftime down in Starkville. However, the biggest source of confidence for this group is a mindset of “why not us” that has carried through this season for UMass. It’s all the clichés of every football player puts the pads on the same way we do and that doesn’t make them any more special than us. It also helps that the Minutemen will have nothing to lose now after being eliminated from postseason play Saturday against BYU.
What does UMass need to do to win?
Any chance for the Minutemen to pull off the upset is going to start on defense and being able to contain the Georgia running game and forcing the Bulldogs to throw the ball. UMass actually has a decent secondary, but so few teams have had to throw the ball much against the Minutemen because of how poorly UMass has defended the run. The other key for UMass is to finish drives with touchdowns and not have to settle for field goals because every point will matter on Saturday. That will put a lot of pressure on the offensive line to protect Ross Comis and give him time to throw the ball without defenders in his face.
Can you fill everyone in on the quarterback situation this year for UMass?
UMass suffered a major setback at quarterback when Andrew Ford hurt his knee against Coastal Carolina last month. The senior began his career at Virginia Tech and was a major difference maker because of his strong arm, lack of mistakes and his accuracy. In his place is redshirt senior Ross Comis, who really has been quarterback 1a all season long. Comis is a far less accurate passer, but much more mobile and a dangerous weapon with his legs. He’s a veteran leader who has the trust of the entire offense, but he’s also far more prone to bad throws and bad decisions that can lead to easy points for Georgia.
This program has a great tradition, highlighted by three I-AA National Title Game appearances, so does the fan base like where UMass is now or prefer playing at the FCS level?
The lack of success in the first seven seasons of FBS football has definitely taken a toll on the passionate fan base, but they firmly believe UMass deserves to be an FBS program. Their main complaint is the lack of resources from the university to actually help support a successful program. UMass definitely is falling behind the facilities arms race in many ways with an outdated stadium and lack of separate practice space for the team. The fans are hoping athletics director Ryan Bamford, who is in his fourth year at the school, will put his stamp on the program like he has done to men’s basketball and men’s hockey by hiring a new football coach this offseason.
What is your take on Georgia?
I honestly don’t have a good read on Georgia especially after following along with the past two games on social media. It’s clear this is an immensely talented team with two quarterbacks who could win the program a national championship and a defense that’s playing lights out at the moment. I can definitely see how much Kirby Smart has elevated the program in his third year taking the Bulldogs from a perennial SEC East contender to a perennial national championship contender. However, I’m not sure they’re at Alabama’s level this season – and quite frankly is anyone? – but I know it’ll be a great game in Atlanta in three weeks time.
What are some changes you would like to see in college football?
The only major change I’d like to see in the college game is for the NCAA to adopt the NFL rule when it comes to how far offensive linemen can go out to block on passing plays. There are certain differences between the college and pro game that I think are great – one foot inbounds on a catch – but that one just doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t think changing the distance from three yards to one yard isn’t going to make a massive difference on offenses and it will help keep the defense competitive. I know we are moving away from defense being important in most sports and trying to increase offense, but as a defensive aficionado, I would love to see a rule that will help defenses against these RPO-based offenses.
What is your score predication?
After watching BYU’s defense grind UMass to a halt, I’m afraid about what Georgia will do to the Minutemen. The Bulldogs will likely be resting starters after halftime and waltzing to a 62-14 win.