UMass football notebook: Defensive improvement comes from understanding system

  • UMass corner Jordan Mahoney forced two turnovers for the defense against Temple on Saturday in Philadelphia. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/28/2022 8:44:54 PM
Modified: 9/28/2022 8:44:56 PM

AMHERST — UMass passed the quarter pole of its football season when it left Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday after a 28-0 loss to Temple in Philadelphia. Those four games are a Rorschach test. Some can see 1-3 with each loss by at least four scores. Others would point to the win and defensive improvement over the month.

“We’ve only played four games, the world isn’t coming to an end,” UMass coach Don Brown said.

That measured approach has defined Brown’s tenure since he took over in December. He’s always evaluating and considering options that can improve the team.

“I’ve been given a great opportunity. I believe in the players. I believe in the coaches and what we’re doing. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. You’ve just got to go ahead and go about your business, put a smile on your face and go to work every day and good things will happen,” Brown said. “We just kind of keep trucking and I know the best is ahead of us. We just have to weather the storm and get through it.”

Brown’s defense allowed 48.5 points per game over UMass’ first two contests but cut that to 15.5 in the past two weeks. The Minutemen forced seven turnovers (including fourth down stops) over the past two games after just three in the opening two weeks. They went from one tackle for loss in the first two games to 11 in the last two.

“There are some positives to look at,” Brown said. “And we’re getting better.”

UMass improved to 59th in total defense nationally and 33rd in pass defense.

“I don’t know if it’s a comparison to the past, but where we were when we started in the first week and where we’ve moved to and was interesting,” Brown said.

He attributed the improvement to understanding the new system better. UMass’ offense hasn’t found the same groove yet, however. The shutout by Temple was the first time the Minutemen hadn’t scored since the 2020 season finale against Liberty. UMass ranks dead last nationally scoring 10 points per game. The Minutemen have three touchdowns on the season and haven’t scored more than one in a game. They’re also last in passing yardage per game (62.5) and second-to-last in yards gained per attempt (3.39).

That has balanced somewhat with a rushing offense ranked 43rd in the country at 185.5 yards per game.

“I also think it’s harder on offense to gel and take off and everything’s you know, going to be hunky dory,” Brown said.

Six offensive penalties hampered UMass’ ability to convert first downs.

“With the offense on field, it’s hard to stay productive when you’re behind the chains,” Brown said. “That’s an area we’ve got a we’ve got to improve because if we improve in that area, then obviously you’re on schedule, you’re on time. If you don’t you’re behind the sticks trying to make first downs, which is a difficult process for our group at this point in time.”

The Minutemen also haven’t had any consistency at the quarterback position. Three played against the Owls, adding Zamar Wise to the mix of Gino Campiotti and Brady Olson that have alternated all season.

“I don’t think we’ve had any distinguishing scenarios,” Brown said. “We’re still working hard to try to figure out which guy is going to give us the best opportunity to win. They’re all tremendous young people and they’re all working really hard, and we’re trying to sort it out.”

Campiotti led the team in completions (seven) and yards (36) but threw an interception. He also ran the ball 14 times for another 47 yards. Wise followed closely with 35 yards through the air but was sacked three times. Olson had as many completions as interceptions (one).

“(One guy to step up) that’s what we’re searching for, but if the end of the year comes and we haven’t figured it out year, that’s the recruiting season. That’s what you gotta go look at,” Brown said. “But I believe in these guys. I’ve watched them at practice, and to be honest with you, I’d like to see a couple of them take what we do at practice and put it on the game field. I’m still hopeful that that’s going to happen.”

GROUND AND POUND – Eastern Michigan’s football scoreboards can deceive.

A cursory look shows the Eagles have been involved in shootouts all season. Each team has scored at least 21 points in all four of the UMass football team’s opponent’s games thus far. Eastern Michigan isn’t participating in shootouts throwing the ball everywhere, however.

“They run. They’re very methodical,” Brown said. “They’re a very solid run the ball between the tackles team. I mean, they’re, they’re semi methodical in nature. It’s that style of run game.”

Its led to the Eagles averaging 31 points per game. They give up 38.5 per contest and have faced Eastern Kentucky, Louisiana (not LSU), Arizona State and Buffalo.

UMass runs the ball as much as anyone. The Minutemen have the fifth most carries in the country but are 43rd in rushing. Their 3.7 yards per carry average is the second worst among the 50 teams that run the ball the most (Navy is worse at 3.16).

That strategy has led to more possession-oriented games for the Minutemen, particularly over the past two weeks against Stony Brook and Temple.

“Whenever you can control the clock and took control how many minutes the offense or defense plays, it’s nice when you can dominate the clock and dictate how much time that guy’s gonna have to play on the other side,” Brown said.

The Minutemen will visit Rynearson Stadium at 2 p.m. Saturday (ESPN+) for the Eagles’ homecoming game.

MONEY MAHONEY – Sophomore defensive back Jordan Mahoney followed his pick-6 against Stony Brook with another pick against the Owls and forced a fumble. He leads the team with two interceptions and two forced fumbles and is second with 11 unassisted tackles and three pass break ups.

“I just couldn’t decrease my play. So I decided to keep going and stacking stacking games on top of games,” Mahoney said. “I feel like this is just a start and me showing the world what – along with my secondary – I can really do.”

MITTEN STATE – Brown will be a familiar face to many in the Eastern Michigan stands Saturday. He served as Michigan’s defensive coordinator in nearby Ann Arbor for four years. That time crossed over with EMU assistant Brandon Blaney, who was with the Wolverines during Brown’s tenure.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.


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