[Ed. -- bumped]
We're one day away from the Boston College football team's season opener against Northwestern (Saturday, Sept. 3, 12:00 p.m. EDT), but college football offically kicked off on Thursday night with a handful of games across the country.
In the local scene, UMass opened up its season against Holy Cross at Fitton Field in Worcester, MA, and the Minutemen escaped with a 24-16 win over the Crusaders to improve to 1-0.
Normally, BC fans don't care about what UMass does, but with the Eagles hosting the Minutemen at Alumni Stadium on September 24, it's worth taking a peak at what UMass looked like in their first game.
I attended Thursday night's game in Worcester, and here were some of my observations.
Brandon Hill Very Sloppy In First Career Start
It's not like many were expectiong UMass redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Hill. After all, he was named the starting quarterback less than one week ago after beating out Bowling Green transfer Kellen Pagel for the job in training camp. Yet I bet Minutemen fans were hoping for more than what Hill put forth on Thursday night.
Hill was extremely inconsistent during his time in the game, completing 5-of-8 passes for 30 yards and nearly throwing two interceptions. On his first career pass attempt, Hill nearly threw an interception. Late in the first quarter, Hill took the snap and rolled right out of the pocket and juked free of a defender, but with no one open, decided to fire a deep pass down the sideline to wideout Jesse Julmiste, who was triple-covered.
After his first two passed were incomplete, Hill smartened up and began handing the ball off to senior tailback Jonathan Hernandez, which brings me to my next observation.
Jonathan Hernandez Is As Good As Advertised
I know that UMass was playing Holy Cross, but Hernandez looked extremely polished in his first game as the feature back. Hernandez finished the game with 156 rushing yards on 29 carries and was definitely a catalyst on offense for the Minutemen. Most of Hernandez's runs were to the outside, where he truly excels. If Hernandez can break a tackle or two, he can easily get to the end zone. That's a bad sign for BC and its now depleted secondary.
Now,having Luke Kuechly in the backfield is always a plus when facing a back like Hernandez. But with Hernandez doing the most damage on outside runs, UMass could effectively work around Kuechly, leaving Hernandez with the responsibility of beating the opponent's secondary defenders. If Thursday night's performance was any indicator, he shouldn't have a problem doing that when UMass comes to Chestnut Hill.
Kellen Pagel Good, Not Great In Minutemen Debut
When Hill wasn't under center for UMass, fellow freshman Kellen Pagel was. Pagel didn't wow anybody (at least not me) with his performance, but he was a significant improvement from Hill. Pagel, who finished with 104 passing yards and two touchdowns on 10-of-16 passing, entered the game early in the second quarter and completed his first pass - a short pass to Julmiste for a first down. The pass was a little low, as many of his passes tended to be throughout the night, but unlike Hill, he was actually connecting with his receivers.
Hill came back in at points for UMass, but Pagel took the majority of the remaining snaps in the game. Based on his performance in the win over Holy Cross, it appears that Pagel with have the upper hand in the quarterback battle as the Minutemen prepare for their Week 2 match-up with Rhode Island.
UMass Punter Billy Strait Is Straight Up Good
The other performance of note from Thursday's game was the performance of UMass punter Billy Strait. In short, he was very good - pinning Holy Cross deep in their own territory on several occasions. He consistently booted balls over 40 yards, even kicking a booming 44-yard punt to pin the Crusaders on their own 1-yard line. UMass will likely be doing a lot of punting against BC at Alumni Stadium, and Strait could help keep the Minutemen in the game.
(Extra Point) Holy Cross' Ryan Taggart Isn't Too Shabby, Either
Just for kicks, how about an outlook on Holy Cross football? Senior quarterback Ryan Taggart showed a little rust at the beginning of Thursday's game, but he rebounded in a big way. After completing 4-of-7 passes for 26 yards in the first quarter, Taggart threw for 220 yards in the final three quarters and finished with 246 passing yards and one touchdown on 23-of-44 passing. In short, Taggart's the real deal.
Taggart is also very good on his feet. For instance, on a fourth and two from the UMass three yard line, Taggart took the snap and rolled right, only to find no one open in the end zone. Instead of trying to squeeze in a bad pass, Taggart used his excellent field vision and spun left around a UMass defender and made his way into the endzone.
However, as do many college quarterbacks, Taggart has one major Achilles heel: he can't find receivers on long passes. Taggart was unable to find his receivers on deep tosses down the sidelines, overthrowing his target each and every time. Also, Taggart was not very effective on third downs, which isn't very helpful for teams that want to, you know, win games.
Boston College Vs. UMass Outlook
We haven't yet seen what Boston College looks like on the field this season, but based on the product UMass put on the field Thursday night, it's going to be awfully tough for the Minutemen to upset the Eagles at Alumni Stadium. Pagel and Hill should continue to develop in the next two games before facing BC, but there's little chance that either could improve enough to be considered a serious threat to BC, even with its weak secondary.
The main area of concern for BC in this game will be Hernandez in the UMass backfield. If Hernandez can carve up the Eagles' on outside runs, then UMass could keep itself in the game. Runs by Hernandez and company up the middle shouldn't be a problem, as Kuechly and Kevin Pierre-Louis should easily contain any runs there.
On defense, UMass sports All-America linebacker Tyler Holmes, who was the National FCS Defensive Player of The Year in 2010. However, Holmes was essentially non-existent in the Minutemen victory over Holy Cross. Holmes, who registered 110 tackles, five sacks and five interceptions in 2010, could be disruptive for Eagles sophomore quarterback Chase Rettig, but outside of him, it's unlikely UMass' defense (which features a 3-4 base defense this year) will bother the BC offensive line and/or Rettig.
At this point, it would be hard to predict anything other than an Eagles win. My prediction? Eagles roll, 34-10.