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Analysis: Three takeaways from UMass’ loss to Charlotte

Staff Writer
Published: 9/16/2019 8:31:45 PM

Perhaps the only good news about not taking the trip to Charlotte was the ability to watch the game on ESPN+. Unlike a live game, there’s a semblance of control over replays and there isn’t the pressure of having to keep up with the play on the field below.

It was yet another rough night for UMass as it allowed a season-high 52 points and scored a season-low 17 in Saturday’s loss at Charlotte. Although there were some bright spots from the game, it was abundantly clear that the Minutemen still have work to do.

Here are the three takeaways I had while watching from home:

HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT — Through the first two games, UMass had done a good job at limiting missed tackles as the cause of explosive plays in the run game. But that bugaboo reared its ugly head in a big way against the 49ers.

UMass found itself unprepared to tackle at times when the ballcarrier was coming to them and tried to rely on arm tackles to get the job done. That was certainly not going to work against Charlotte’s physical backs, who routinely picked up yards after contact and dragged the Minutemen along for the ride.

Perhaps the worst moment of this was Aaron McAllister’s 69-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. A UMass player missed the running back as he pushed his way through the line, but linebacker Mike Ruane was able to get grab a hold and slow him down a tad. Joseph Norwood came in to try and finish the job and instead hits McAllister in a way that shakes Ruane off and allows McAllister to roam free for the touchdown.

But the larger issue is that UMass missed so many tackles in space, the type of stops that save points and perhaps first downs. Norwood missed a tackle on Tyler Ringwood behind the line of scrimmage on the receiver’s first touchdown catch, turning a tricky second-and-goal from the 6 into six points. The sophomore was far from the only defender who missed his mark in space, either, as Benny LeMay made UMass’ defense look silly all day, notably on the 26-yard run that set up Charlotte for its field goal at the end of the first half.

BRITO ALRIGHT — The jury is out on Andrew Brito, who only led UMass on two scoring drives while playing the whole game at quarterback.

He completed two-thirds of his passes, but averaged just 7 yards per completion for the game. He was also sacked five times, some of which he couldn’t avoid because of poor protection in front of him, other ones he tried to do too much in the pocket and cost his team some yards. It’s hard to blame him on the interception because he was hit hard from behind as he threw, creating that lame duck Henry Segura returned for a touchdown.

It was when Brito had time that UMass saw the upside he brings but also the shortcomings he needs to improve upon. Brito did a good job shifting the pocket as needed to extend plays and was able to direct traffic well enough to create momentum-changing plays. A great example of this was the fourth-down throw he made to Jermaine “OC” Johnson Jr. late in the second quarter as UMass drove for its only offensive touchdown of the game. He saw the tackles pushing the edge rushers and stepped up in the pocket to give himself the room to fire the long strike to Johnson to extend the drive.

Yet that type of throw and some of the other bigger throws he made in the game were the type of line-drive passes that allow him to use his arm strength. Where Brito struggled was when he had to put some air under his throws and use some touch. Inside the 10-yard line early in the second quarter, Brito’s lofted pass to Taylor Edwards was about a yard or two too strong for the redshirt junior. Later in the same quarter, he underthrew a touch pass to Edwards and it was nearly picked off, which would have erased the touchdown that came on the next play.

START ME UP — Isaiah Rodgers was far from perfect in Saturday’s game, but he did provide the most explosive plays for the Minutemen. He had the monstrous return from a few yards deep in the end zone to give the offense excellent starting field position at midfield. And of course, there was the punt return touchdown where he showcased his speed, elusiveness and strength to fight into the end zone.

Through three games, Rodgers and running back Cam Roberson are the only two players who have provided consistent sparks for the Minutemen. If teams are going to continue steering clear of Rodgers in the pass game, he needs to find different ways to make an impact because he’s clearly the most electrifying player UMass has at the moment.

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