1. Growing pains. This is the first year of MAC football for UMass, a former I-AA program, and, as in most expansion-type situations, it has been a rocky road. The Minutemen scored a breakthrough last week against Akron, getting not only a win but a road win. UB knows how hard those are to come by – it hasn’t won a MAC road game since Oct. 2, 2010. But that UMass victory last week doesn’t mask the fact the Minutemen bring up the rear in most statistical categories within the conference. They’re last in scoring (11.2) and in scoring defense (41.1). They’re averaging fewer than 100 yards per game on the ground and just 177 through the air. But there are bright spots, such as 11 interceptions by the defense (third in the conference) and a No. 1 ranking in kickoff coverage (UB is last).
2. Baby steps. The situation will improve as the offensive line matures but for now the Minutemen take their yardage wherever they can get it. QB Mike Wegzyn, a freshman from Knoxville, Tenn., has had his moments while completing just 52 percent of his throws for five TDs against eight INTs. He threw for 373 yards and four TDs in a narrow Sept. 29 loss to Ohio, a game UB coaches doubtless will cite as a reason not to take this one for granted. His main target is freshman wideout Deion Walker, who ranks 10th in the MAC with 47 catches, two of them for TDs. Michael Cox, a 23-year-old senior RB from Boston, ripped off 188 yards against Miami (Ohio) but hasn’t otherwise gone for more than 81 yards.
3. A cup of Joe. UB’s pass attack has gotten a caffeine lift out of redshirt freshman QB Joe Licata since he took over for the injured Alex Zordich two games ago. He’s completed 34 of 59 passes (57 percent) for 412 yards and three TDs and has brought other receivers into the mix with his field vision. What’s been most impressive is that Licata, while missing on some throws, has made very few bad decisions, very few forced throws. His challenge could heighten today depending on the state of UB’s offensive backfield. Both Branden Oliver and Devin Campbell came out last week with injuries and will be gametime decisions. Brandon Murie is not a power runner like the other two and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see UMass stack the box against the run and throw the burden on Licata in his first road start. The Bulls can mix it up with QB Zordich and/or wildcat QB Alex Dennison.
4. Road woes. Granted, the competition has been keen. But Bulls have allowed 38 points or more in three of four road games this season but didn’t allow more than 25 in any of their last five at home. So what unit shows up today? The takeaways have finally started to come – five last game against Western Michigan and a key forced fumble and recovery against Miami. LB Khalil Mack Mack needs .5 tackles for loss to tie school career record of 50.5. Forget that. Four or five TFL’s not out of the question today.
5. Extra points. First meeting between the teams since Sept. 26, 1998, when both were I-AA programs. UMass romped, 51-27. … Bulls on first winning streak since the end of the '09 season and seeking first road win in 25 months. … Bulls 77 yards away from becoming sixth team in school history to exceed 2,000 yards on the ground.
Outlook: It’s looking like Bulls have turned the corner. UB, 31-14.