PROVO — When UMass visited BYU one year ago, the Cougars drubbed the Minutemen 51-9.
But when UMass returns to LaVell Edwards Stadium Saturday (1 p.m., MST, BYUtv) for a rematch the Cougars are expecting a much tougher test.
Like BYU, UMass is an independent program. The Minutemen nearly beat Tennessee in Knoxville in September.
And the Cougars were in a hotel in Fresno, California a couple of weeks ago when they watched UMass take a 20-13 halftime lead over then-No. 16 Mississippi State before falling 34-23.
BYU knows how hard it is to play at MSU, having lost there 35-10 on Oct. 14.
“They’re competitive and they’re putting a lot of points on the board. They hung in there with Mississippi State until the end of the game,” said Cougar coach Kalani Sitake. “Really good coaching staff and an experienced head coach. We know they’ll be ready to come here and play. They’re used to Provo now because they were here last year.”
“When we were at the hotel for the Fresno game, we watched them play Mississippi State. They looked really good,” said senior linebacker Fred Warner. “They came out firing against those guys and unfortunately they couldn’t pull it off. They looked really good. We’ll have to bring our ‘A’ game this time around.”
UMass coach Mark Whipple has one of the nation’s top tight ends, Adam Breneman, and an explosive wide receiver, Andy Isabella.
Isabella has caught a pass in 22 consecutive games while Breneman has at least one reception in 21 straight contests.
Isabella posted a career-high 158 receiving yards on seven receptions, including a 69-yard touchdown, at Mississippi State. In five games against Southeastern Conference opponents the past two years, Isabella has caught 24 passes for 368 yards. He has also had three receptions of 50 or more yards in those games.
Junior quarterback Andrew Ford has completed 172 of 274 passes for 2,345 yards and 17 touchdowns with three interceptions this season.
UMass ranks No. 19 in the country in passing, averaging 294.8 yards per game through the air.
“They have a good quarterback, a really good system,” Sitake said. “It’s going to be fun.”
Meanwhile, UMass junior running back Marquis Young has rushed 146 times for 804 yards and eight touchdowns. Young has run for 447 yards over the past four games, including a 123-yard performance in last week’s victory over Maine.
Yes, BYU’s defense will be challenged Saturday with UMass’ diverse offensive package.
“It’s the most complex scheme that we’re seeing all year," said defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki. “There’s a lot of unbalanced stuff. A lot of formations and different things that give you problems if you’re not sound.”
BYU had trouble at times last week with UNLV’s running game and passing game in the Cougars’ 31-21 win.
“I don’t think we did well enough on defense but we did enough to win,” Sitake said. “Just like to see us stop the run more and be more effective on defense. Overall, we stopped them when it mattered. They got a lot of yards and they tested our corners downfield a lot. We have to make better plays down on the ball, especially on the deep routes with our corners and safeties but our D-line can control that. We missed some sacks and missed some opportunities to make sacks and it cost us in coverage.”
BYU’s offense will face a UMass defense that presents a lot of different looks. Cougar quarterback Joe Critchlow will be making his second career start Saturday.
“You watch them and they’re slanting and blitzing and ‘backers are hitting from every angle and the safeties blitz,” said offensive coordinator Ty Detmer. “They give you a lot to look at. It might be where they blow it up in the backfield but if you crease it, you’re into the secondary. When they’re running their blitzes and stunts, if you get through that crease, you’ve got a chance for a big one. … We’ve got to be ready to handle pressure and the blitz packages because they bring a lot of different stuff.”
BYU is prepared for a stiffer test Saturday than it got last November.
“UMass, you can’t overlook them,” said offensive lineman Tuni Kanuch. “They played Mississippi State really great. They played them hard and had a chance to win.”
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Cougars on the air
at BYU (3-8)
Saturday, 1 p.m. MST LaVell Edwards Stadium
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM