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UMass Minutemen vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish Preview and Prediction

KeiVarae Russell

KeiVarae Russell

The University of Massachusetts joined the FBS ranks in 2012 and it’s been tough sledding ever since. Former Notre Dame assistant Charley Molnar was the head coach in 2012 and '13 and won just two games during that span.

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Then UMass looked to its past and hired Mark Whipple, who guided the Minutemen to a I-AA national championship in 1998. After stints as an assistant in the NFL and with the Miami Hurricanes, Whipple returned to Amherst.

With Whipple’s hiring, an attitude shift has occurred within the program. While they were just 3-9 last year, UMass was much more competitive in many of their games. The Minutemen are 0-2 so far this year after losing to Colorado 48-14 and suffering a heart-breaking, 25-23 loss to Temple. Now they getNotre Dame, which is fresh off a 30-22 win over No. 14 Georgia Tech.

UMass at Notre Dame

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: NBC

Spread: Notre Dame -28

Three Things to Watch

1. Notre Dame Pass Defense

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Notre Dame has done a good job shutting down the run so far this season, but Virginia hurt the Irish with the passing game. That actually sets up pretty well for UMass because throwing the ball is the strength of their offense. Blake Frohnapfel is a big, strong armed quarterback that has put up good numbers during his time at Massachusetts. The Minutemen rank No. 19 in the country in passing, averaging 321.5 yards per game. Wide receiver Tajae Sharpe has 22 catches in the two games and is clearly Frohnapfel’s favorite target. UMass ranks No. 122 in rushing offense so they will be putting the ball in the air a lot, which will be a nice test for a Notre Dame secondary that struggled against UVA.

Related: Five Thoughts on Notre Dame After Week Three

2. Getting More Offensive Skill Players Involved for Notre Dame

The Irish have been very dependent on running back C.J. Prosise and wide outs Will Fuller and Chris Brown early in 2015. Getting freshmen Josh Adams and Dexter Williams acclimated so Prosise can get a break every now and then is something Notre Dame would like to do. Also, another receiving option would open things up for quarterback DeShone Kizer. Whether it’s Torii Hunter or Alize Jones or Corey Robinson — who has just four catches for 45 yards in the three games — doesn’t matter. Another target needs to emerge.

3. No More Notre Dame Injuries

Three games, four important players lost for the season. Add in defensive tackle Jarron Jones who was injured in camp and that is not a good trend. After injuries crippled the team late in 2014, Notre Dame supporters hoped this year would be different. But it’s been more of the same. Goal number one this week is to beat UMass. Goal number two is to stay healthy. Everything else is gravy.

Final Analysis

With Georgia Tech last week and Clemson next week, this is the ultimate trap situation for Notre Dame. They also face a team with a strong passing game that will be sky high on their first trip to South Bend. UMass under Whipple is not the same patsy they were under Molnar.  But still, the talent disparity between the two teams is huge. A sluggish start for Notre Dame would not be surprising and UMass may sting them with the pass on occasion, but this should be an easy Irish win.

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Prediction: Notre Dame 42, UMass 17

— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.