AMHERST — The billboards are up from the Cape to the mountains, and commercials have been seen and heard. The Battle of the Bay State is Saturday, when the University of Massachusetts hosts Boston College at Gillette Stadium.
UMass football coach Mark Whipple has been adamant about calling it the next game on the schedule. The players understand that it is the next game on the schedule, but it doesn't keep them from thinking about the Bay State rivalry game.
"There's definitely a little more to it," junior linebacker Da'Sean Downey said after practice Wednesday night. "I know they don't see it as a rivalry or whatever. But we're ready.
"It's just a game, but we're ready. That's all that needs to be said."
It's the home opener for the Minutemen at their home away from home, Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, and the first of four consecutive home games for UMass. The Minutemen will play Florida International on Sept. 17 at McGuirk Alumni Stadium, return to Gillette for Mississippi State on Sept. 24, and are back in Amherst on Oct. 1 to face Tulane.
UMass and Boston College head to the house that Belichick and Brady built looking for their first wins of the year. BC dropped a 17-14 decision to ACC rival Georgia Tech last week in Dublin, Ireland. UMass battled Florida tough for four quarters, eventually losing to the SEC team 24-7.
"I said the reason why we lost the game is we didn't practice very well. Our focus wasn't there. They were nervous. The week wasn't a great week," UMass coach Mark Whipple said. "I haven't seen that this week."
The Eagles lead the all-time series between the two teams 26-5. They last met in 2014, when the Eagles won 30-7 at Gillette. UMass' last win in the series was a 27-0 victory back in 1978.
Music blared from the public address system at McGuirk Wednesday night, as the Minutemen went through their final open-to-the-media practice of the week. As the players headed off to the locker room, Whipple told reporters that this week was definitely different than last week.
"They were disappointed" in the loss, Whipple said, "and I was unhappy, especially on Sunday looking at the tape. We watched a lot of the tape together and I said we have guys who can make plays, but we have to hustle more and work harder and have a great week of practice.
"They've taken that to heart and had three really good days."
The Eagles managed 320 yards in total offense last week, holding Georgia Tech to 238 yards. BC couldn't keep the Yellow Jackets off the board, as Tech was 3 for 3 scoring in the red zone. BC also committed three turnovers in last week's game. BC scored only once out of three trips to the red zone.
"If you get in the red zone, you've got to be able to get points," BC head coach Steve Addazio said during his Monday press conference.
Addazio had nothing but praise for Whipple and the Minutemen for their performance in Gainesville. Addazio knows "The Swamp" well, as he was the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach under Urban Meyer, and coached Tim Tebow at Florida.
"UMass had a showing against Florida. [UMass] went down there, it's a tough place to play in The Swamp, and they got that thing into a 10-7 game into the fourth quarter," he said. "They look like they've got some real talent. You don't go down to Florida, in The Swamp like that, in a sold-out environment and play nose up unless you have some ability. And they have ability."
There is another BC-UMass connection in that BC defensive coordinator Jim Reid spent 13 years at UMass as an assistant and was head coach in Amherst from 1986-91, compiling a 36-29-1 record, winning three Yankee Conference titles. Reid replaced former UMass head coach Don Brown as BC defensive coordinator, when Brown left for Michigan.
Nobody on either side was particularly happy by playing well and losing. For the Minutemen, Saturday is an opportunity to make a statement.
"We just took a step," said Downey. "We played competitive and we're happy with the way we competed [at Florida].
"Now, it's on to BC this week."
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.