Colleges

UMass seeks to make it three in a row

Massachusetts' Andy Isabella (5) runs into the end zone against Liberty defenders in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Amherst, Mass., Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. (J. Anthony Roberts/The Republican via AP)
J. Anthony Roberts/The Republican via AP
Andy Isabella (5) of UMass, running into the end zone against Liberty, leads the nation in receiving yards.

It was only right that the UMass football team concluded the weekend after Halloween with a thrilling, and quite frankly, nightmare of a game for anybody who loves to see defensive football. The Minutemen outlasted Liberty, 62-59, in overtime to record their first winning streak of the season.

UMass (4-6) will look to make it three in a row as it returns to the familiar confines of Gillette Stadium to host Brigham Young on Saturday afternoon.

Still hanging onto hope of a bowl berth, here are a few of the keys the Minutemen will need to focus on this weekend:

A brilliant duo

It seems evident now 10 games into the season that UMass has given up all hope of trying to stop opponents defensively. Instead, it has become the offense’s responsibility to win games in high-scoring fashion.

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Luckly for the Minutemen senior wideout Andy Isabella and senior redshirt quarterback Ross Comis have become a brilliant duo.

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Isabella ranks first in the country in receiving yards (1,394) and receiving yards per game (139.4) and second in receiving touchdowns (11). Isabella has easily surpassed all the hype that came his way entering the year and remains one of the best wideouts in the FBS — showcasing this by going for a program-record 303 yards on just nine receptions and two touchdowns last weekend.

Comis, on the other hand, has had to work for his spot, but it seems coach Mark Whipple finally has decided to stick with him. Comis torched the Flames for 540 yards in the victory.

But the two might have their hands full against a Cougars defense that ranks 27th in the country. Still, a victory relies heavily on the shoulders of these two.

Defense struggling

Every week feels like the game the Minutemen might finally figure out at least something on the defense because there is talent on that side of the ball. Graduate student linebacker Bryton Barr is third among FBS players in total tackles (123) and sixth in tackles per game (12.3). But week in and week out it is a horror show for the 119th-ranked defense.

Though the Cougars of BYU are under .500 for a reason, and that is because they have unable to figure it out offensively, ranking 118th in the category across the board.

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UMass and its defense are in need of a major confidence boost, especially with a trip to Georgia looming large next weekend to close out the season. BYU could be just the game for that.

Maybe a key component of this first winning streak of the season is the fact the Minutemen are finally healthy — in particular, senior running back Marquis Young.With Isabella setting records and leading the country across multiple categories, there is no question UMass can throw the ball. But the more impressive Isabella becomes, the more opposing defenses will begin to key directly on the passing game.

So what do you do to keep them guessing? Run the ball, and do it effectively.

During this two-game stretch, Young has put in consecutive 148-yard efforts, with two scores on 23 carries coming against Liberty. The overall rushing attack collected 237 total yards.

If this BYU defense has one kryptonite, it is the run game where it ranks only 37th.

Karl Capen can be reached at karl.capen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Capen316.