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UMass looks to rejuvenate struggling offense

  • Whether it’s UMass quarterback Ross Comis, above, or Andrew Ford, the Minutemen have struggled on offense the last two weeks. AP

  • UMass quarterback Andrew Ford will look to get the offense going against FIU, on the road Saturday. AP



Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 12, 2018

AMHERST — The normally high-octane UMass offense has hit a rough patch the past two weeks.

The same Minutemen who scored 63 points in the season opener against Duquesne have failed to recapture that same magic against FBS opposition. UMass mustered just seven points against Boston College’s first-team defense and scored just 13 last week at Georgia Southern. The offense barely surpassed 300 yards in both games as well.

In both games, the opponent tried to force UMass to sustain long drives and string together good plays, and the Minutemen couldn’t prevent themselves from making costly mistakes.

“We’ve been moving the ball it seems like every drive, and it’s just one or two plays every drive that stall us and set us back,” senior quarterback Andrew Ford said. “For us, it’s just about not shooting ourselves in the foot. It’s not necessarily what teams are doing against us, it’s what we’re doing to ourselves.”

On Saturday against Georgia Southern, penalties were the main issue that stalled the UMass offense when it was putting together drives. The Minutemen had eight penalties for 55 yards, five of which came when Ford and company were on the field.

There were a pair of costly false starts charged to senior wide receiver Andy Isabella, including one on third down that ruined a manageable situation. There was also a personal foul call against junior tackle Ray Thomas-Ishman Sr., whose late push turned third-and-5 into second-and-20 late in the game.

The flags are a symptom of a larger problem with a unit that doesn’t look in sync at times despite returning nine starters from last year.

“Right now, it just starts with practice,” junior wideout Sadiq Palmer said. “I think we need more time to get comfortable at this point. We’ve got the plays and the personnel, but we’re just not executing well. At this time, we just need to practice harder and continue to believe in what the coaches give us.”

Palmer said the start of school might also be impacting the offense as players are letting issues off the field influence their play on it. He said the team needs to be more engaged during practice and focused on what’s happening on the field instead of dwelling on the academic or social challenges that face them.

The new routine might be a reason Thomas-Ishman said UMass is still trying to find its singular heartbeat as an offense where all position groups are playing in unison and jelling with each other.

“We just need to come together more as a team and everybody just doing their jobs,” Thomas-Ishman said. “One moment, it’ll be the line not working and one moment, the line will work and the receivers aren’t working. We’ve got to work as a whole, we haven’t done that yet.

“We need to show more effort on that and be more consistent. I think we’re just not consistent. We’ve got enough talent and we have the players on all sides — receiver, quarterback and on the line — we’re just not consistent as an offense.”

One way Whipple is trying to help the offense has been to move the pocket more and keep Ford away from pressure with scripted roll outs. The plays have helped keep the senior quarterback out of harm’s way and given the receivers more time to run their routes and work their way open. Whipple said he’s hopeful shifting the pocket will also give Ford more time to throw and he’ll be more patient with the ball and not try to take off too early.

“We want to change the launch point, we don’t want to just sit there,” Whipple said. “He scrambled a little bit too early a couple of times (against Georgia Southern), but we just want to change the launch point especially with this group coming up (against FIU). You can’t just sit there with those guys, they’ve got a bunch of big guys who know how to rush the passer and are physical.”

Ford said he thinks the designed rollouts have definitely kept him safer on passing plays, especially against teams that want to dial up pressure to overwhelm an offensive line that struggled in pass protection last season. He said he’s noticed defenses having to hesitate that extra second to account for his position and that has helped the offensive line manage the pass rush.

“With the style of receivers we have, they can do it, moving the pocket a little bit, kind of keeping the defense on edge,” Ford said. “We know teams are going to blitz us this year, so if we move the pocket, we might be able to combat those blitzes a little bit. Whether I’m on the move or standing in the pocket, I feel really comfortable.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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