PROVO — After BYU became bowl-eligible for the 12th consecutive season last week, the Cougars will return to LaVell Edwards Stadium and a second consecutive first-time opponent in UMass. The Amherst-based school began football in 1879, but only moved to the highest level of NCAA football competition in 2012.
The Minutemen have struggled during their transition to FBS-level football. A road win in Provo (Saturday, noon MST, BYUtv) could possibly be the biggest win since they claimed an FCS national championship in 1998.
Here are six numbers to keep an eye on during the game as the Cougars look to earn a seventh win this season:
As the Minutemen wrap their fifth season as an FBS program, the program’s overall record is currently 10-48, and they have had losing streaks of five or more games in each season since 2012. The best win over the previous five seasons would probably be a 23-point road win at Kent State in 2014. With wins in its final two games of the season, UMass would earn its best overall record to date.
UMass has struggled this season, with three losses by 20 or more points. The good news for Minutemen fans is that the team has shown fairly well against major conference opponents. In four games against Power 5 teams, UMass has yet to lose a single game by that margin. In fact, in three games against SEC foes, the margin of defeat is only 11.67 points.
UMass led Mississippi State at halftime and was within six points in the fourth quarter before falling by 12 points. The best showing of the season so far came on the road against South Carolina. The Gamecocks jumped out to a 34-14 lead after three quarters. UMass scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, but its comeback fell short in a six-point loss.
Through 10 games this season, BYU’s defense has held its opponents to 20 points or less six times. In the other four games, BYU has gone 2-2, with the wins coming at home (55-53 over Toledo and 28-21 against Mississippi State in double overtime). The two losses came away from Provo and to currently ranked teams; the 35-32 loss to West Virginia in September and the 28-27 loss at Boise State in October. This appears to be another game in which BYU will be able to hold its opponent below the 20-point threshold, but the Cougars will need to stay focused, as UMass has demonstrated an ability to score points at times during this season.
A big part of UMass’ struggles this season have been on the offensive side of the ball. The Minutemen rank in the bottom half of many major offensive categories tracked by the NCAA. The lowest ranking happens to be rushing offense, where UMass currently sits at No. 125 of 128 teams; it is averaging 103.7 rushing yards per game (a 3.32 yard/carry average) and has only scored eight rushing touchdowns this season. The BYU defense is allowing 116.4 rushing yards per game, which is good for 18th in the country. The last three games have seen the Cougar defense hold opposing teams under 130 rushing yards, and seven of 10 opponents have not broken 150 yards in a game this season. This should be another example of BYU’s dominant run defense.
After a slow start in the first two games (five catches for 75 yards), tight end Adam Breneman has emerged as one of the favorite targets for quarterback Andrew Ford. In the next eight games, the junior from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, has tallied 53 receptions for 624 yards and six touchdowns. That amounts to 6.6 catches per game during that span and has earned Breneman a spot as a semifinalist for the John Mackey Award as the nation's most outstanding tight end.
Many BYU fans were excited for Tanner Mangum to get some time last week, and he should be able to get some more time again this week as well in preparation for the 2017 season. After initially looking a little rusty in the second quarter — 1 of 3 for 12 yards (33 percent) with two incompletions — Mangum looked much better during the second half of the game.
The sophomore completed his next 10 pass attempts in a row to finish 11 of 13 (84.6 percent) for 121 yards and even had two long runs (35 and 22 yards respectively) in the fourth quarter and finished as the second leading rusher in the SUU game. Assuming that BYU is able to build a big lead and if usual running backs Jamaal Williams, Squally Canada and Algernon Brown are limited through injury, Mangum should be given time and play calls that will allow him to throw the ball some more.
Landon Walters studied history and political science at Salt Lake Community College. He is an avid sports fan and loves writing. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org