Duquesne will begin the 2018 college football season season on the road against UMass on Saturday. The Dukes are coming off a 7-4 campaign last season that featured a 4-2 mark in Northeast Conference play.
The Dukes return five all-conference selections highlighted by preseason All-American running back A.J. Hines, who ranks eighth in program history with 2,329 rushing yards and 23 total touchdowns. In 2017, Hines’ 1,172 yards from scrimmage paced a Dukes offense that averaged 32 points-per-game, which earned him a spot on the Walter Payton Award watch list. Though aside from Hines and receiver Nehari Crawford, Duquesne enters the season with a fair amount of uncertainty on offense.
Duquesne (0-0) at UMass (0-0)
When: Saturday, July 25th, 5:30 p.m.
Where: McGurk Stadium (Amherst, Mass.)
Radio: WJAS-AM 1320/IHeartRadio
It remains unclear who will start under center between junior quarterbacks Brett Brumbaugh and Daniel Parr – an FBS transfer who started three games at Florida Atlantic last season.
Brumbaugh, in his third year with the program, is the likely option. He knows the system, can make all the pre-snap reads/checks with a big arm that can stretch the field. But don’t rule out an appearance from Parr – a mobile, playmaking option – if the Dukes offense doesn’t get out to a good start. Regardless, an opening-week matchup against an FBS opponent can provide coach Jerry Schmitt with an accurate barometer of what both quarterbacks bring to the table against elevated competition.
This weekend marks the first of two FBS matchups for Duquesne this season. The second will come on Sept. 22, when the Dukes face Hawaii on the road in Honolulu.
“That’s as big of a challenge as we’ve had as far as playing FBS teams, and two of them in one season,” Schmitt said to Pittsburgh Sports Now. “So, our guys are dialed in to approach it as we respect every single opponent. They’re all faceless to us. It’s about us. It’s how we play. That’s how we’re going to judge ourselves, how we play against them. We know those are going to be really tough games, but I think our guys are up to that challenge.”
UMass went 4-8 last season, finishing strong after an 0-6 start. The Minutemen return their leading passer (Andrew Ford), rusher (Marcus Young) receiver (Andy Isabella) and tackler (Bryton Barr). The Minutemen averaged 30.6 points and 432 yards-per-game (297 passing, 135 rushing) a year ago.
IMPACT PLAYER (Offense)
Isabella – a 5-10, 190-pound senior – averaged 104.2 yards and 6.3 receptions per game over the Minutemen’s final six contests with three catches of 60 yards or more. Last season, he became the 8th player in program history to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in a single season, and he’ll enter Saturday with 2,556 all-purpose yards for his career (1,828 receiving, 443 kick return, 263 rushing and 22 punt return).
IMPACT PLAYER (Defense)
Barr, listed as a graduate senior, led the team with 105 tackles, 9.0 TFLs and 5 sacks in his first season with UMass after transferring from Towson, while his 8.8 tackles-per-game ranked 40th in the FBS. At 6-0, 225-pounds, he provides a solid combination of size and speed at MLB that can cover sideline to sideline.
Don’t be so quick to rule out Duquesne’s chances of a win on Saturday against a higher-level opponent. In their last meeting with an FBS opponent, the Dukes were up on Buffalo, 28-24, with under 10 minutes left before eventually falling, 38-28. Schmitt, who begins his 14th season at Duquesne, has coached in these types of games before. He likes the group he has in front of him.
“You’re not sure how some guys are going to respond when the lights come on,” he said. “I like how this team works. It’s kind of a quiet team, a unity-type team. There’s not a lot of yellers and screamers. They work hard at their craft and being together.”
Alan Saunders contributed to this story.