Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Saturday’s matchup at Gillette Stadium between Massachusetts and Boston College rekindles plenty of flames.
It marks only the fourth time the two programs have met on the football field since 1982. The Eagles have a 19-5 edge over the Minutemen and UMass hasn’t knocked off Boston College since a 27-0 victory in 1978.
It’s UMass coach Mark Whipple’s first game as head coach since returning to take over a program he left in 2003. He’s one of the most revered coaches in Minutemen football history and was the architect of a worst-to-first style 1998 turnaround which culminated in a Division 1-AA National Championship.
And what better way to embark on a second go-around than to do it against old friends? Well, if you ask either Whipple or Eagles coach Steve Addazio, both men would probably tell you they’d rather not have to face each other. The pair are friends off the field and have crisscrossed paths throughout their coaching journeys. Addazio’s defensive coordinator, Don Brown, coached with Whipple at both Brown and UMass in the late 1990’s as his defensive coordinator and later was the head coach at UMass from 2004-08 following Whipple’s departure.
This is Addazio’s second season with the Eagles and he led them to a 7-6 record last season. In his weekly press conference, he talked about facing a Minutemen team with a completely brand new coaching staff and, subsequently, mostly new parts on offense.
“Yeah, I mean, there’s no film,” he said. “You’ve got new coordinators on both sides, a new coach. You can watch a little tape from last year for personnel, but otherwise it’s hard. We’re used to spending the week grinding out cut‑ups and watching tape, and it’s not really what you can do, so it’s an uncomfortable feeling.”
And of course, Saturday’s 3 p.m. kickoff signals the official return of football season and ends our longstanding national nightmare — aka the offseason — for a long while.
Change at the top
There’s also plenty of unfamiliarity for both programs, starting right at the top at the quarterback position. Both UMass and Boston College will start graduate student quarterbacks who transferred into the program this past year, with the Minutemen starting Marshall transfer Blake Frohnapfel and the Eagles starting former Florida product Tyler Murphy.
Murphy will use his final year of eligibility at Boston College under Addazio, who originally recruited Murphy to Florida when he was a coach at Florida. The 6-foot-2, 213 pound quarterback will replace Chase Rettig, who started all but four possible games in his Eagles career.
Frohnapfel edged out A.J. Doyle in a training camp battle for the starting quarterback position and has two years of eligibility remaining.
Both teams have an array of new faces at the skill positions.
UMass will feature three new wide receivers in addition to returning receiver and go-to target Tajae Sharpe. Both Jalen Williams and Alex Kenney transferred into the program while Marken Michel returns to UMass after leaving the program last season. Williams a product of Dean College and will have two years of eligibility remaining while Kenney is a graduate student using his final year of eligibility after playing at Penn State. Wide receiver is the Minutemen’s deepest position and all should share snaps behind Sharpe.
The Eagles will replace 2013 Heisman candidate running back Andre Williams, who now plays for the New York Giants while also replacing leading receiver Alex Amidon, who graduated. Boston College has a slew of running backs led by Myles Willis and Tyler Rouse and will feature graduate students Josh Bordner and Shakim Phillips at receiver.
What you talkin’ bout Willis?
Myles Willis is first on the depth chart at running back for Boston College and has the enviable task of following Williams’ footsteps. Willis is a formidable kick returner and was eight in the Atlantic Coast Conference in total yards per game last year with 101.4. He rushed 60 times last season for 346 yards and two scores and stands at 5-foot-9, 203 pounds.
He’ll rush behind an offensive line which has a bevy of experience and girth. Every Eagles starting offensive linemen is 294 pounds or heavier and the group has combined for 84 career starts. It’s Boston College’s interior line of left guard Bobby Vardaro, center Andy Gallik and right guard Harris Williams which is most potent. Every starter on the offensive line is a graduate student.
Addazio is completely correct in the sense that it’s incredibly difficult to get a feel on what we should expect from the Minutemen. At quick glance, the Eagles enter 2014 with a tried-and-true method of methodically running the ball and wearing down the opposition. Boston College’s offensive line has a significant advantage in both size and experience over UMass’ defensive line of Peter Angeh, Robert Kitching and Sha-Ki Holines. One would assume that the Minutemen will need to flawlessly execute their defensive assignments and receive strong contributions from role players if they want to last four quarters with the Eagles.
But both team’s offenses are question marks. UMass has the Whipple effect — he’s found offensive success wherever he goes — and outside of Tajae Sharpe, essentially a brand new offense. One of the staple’s of training camp was the ability to connect on the long pass, something UMass couldn’t do last season. If the Minutemen can catch fire early, it may force Boston College to throw the ball more than they’d like with a quarterback in Murphy who has a shaky pedigree as a passer.
Ultimately, Boston College should be capable of outlasting UMass despite significant improvements on both sides of the ball from the Minutemen, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if this game is closer than initially presumed.
The rivalry game will be held at Gillette and is designated as a home game for UMass. Currently, over 21,000 tickets have been sold and both programs are optimistic that number will rise with walk-up sales on the day of the game.
Mark Chiarelli can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli