UMass looks to take down Vanderbilt, Gillette Stadium losing streak

Last modified: Thursday, November 07, 2013
AMHERST — The University of Massachusetts defense will have to step up its play Saturday if the Minutemen expect to snap their winless streak at Gillette Stadium.

Vanderbilt becomes the first team from the Southeastern Conference to visit Foxborough. After struggling to stop Wisconsin and Kansas State, the Minutemen, who are 0-8 all-time at Gillette, take on the Commodores and their 32.6 points per game offense.

Despite the struggles, UMass coach Charley Molnar has seen improvement.

“I think we have a sense of accountability with our players that maybe didn’t exist before,” Molnar said. “They realize that their particular performance has a direct bearing on any given play and if they had done their job better, perhaps the outcome of the play would have been better and made for a better night for the Minutemen.”

The key against the Commodores may come down to consistency. Against Wisconsin, the Minutemen allowed 17 points in the first half before falling apart in the second. UMass led against Kansas State after the first quarter, but allowed 21 points in the second quarter.

“One bad quarter of football and three pretty darn good ones against a very potent offensive attack,” Molnar said.

To compete with Vanderbilt’s quick offensive attack, the Minutemen will have to shore up their rush defense and their ability to generate pressure on the quarterback. UMass has allowed 323 yards per game and only safety Joe Colton has registered a sack on the season.

“It’s not been the defensive line, that’s not been the issue,” Molnar said. “The defensive line has done a very good job of holding their gap. Yeah, we’ve been out of our gaps, there’s been some big plays that have been attributed to the D-line, but most of the big runs have come from other positions.”

The Commodores are not afraid to use a run-heavy wildcat offense and it could be a challenge for UMass.

“If you’re not running the wildcat the defense has an advantage on you, they have a one-man advantage,” Vandy coach James Franklin said. “The quarterback hands the ball off, he’s not blocking anybody. When you move the quarterback outside as a receiver (the defense) has to cover him so it allows you to put a hat on a hat.”

Franklin expected his team to come out with the same intensity against an opponent like the Minutemen as they did a week ago against No. 12 South Carolina.

“For us, we don’t make one game big and one game small,” he said. “This is another opponent, it’s an opportunity for us to get better. Our goal is to be 1-0 this week and to get better.”

Time & Location: noon, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough

Records: UMass (0-3); Vanderbilt (1-2)

All-Time Series: Vanderbilt leads 1-0

Previous Meeting: Vanderbilt def. UMass 49-7 in 2012

TV/Internet: ESPNews; weei.com/umass

Radio: WEEI-FM (105.5) WMUA-FM (91.1)

When UMass has the ball: The offense could receive a jolt if tight end Rob Blanchflower is cleared to play. Blanchflower, who has yet to play this season, returned to practice this week in limited capacity. He is listed as a game-time decision.

Quarterback A.J Doyle will make a second consecutive start. Against Kansas State, Doyle went 21 of 31 for 186 yards and two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Vanderbilt has allowed 232 yards passing per game this season.

The Commodores have allowed 170.3 yards rushing per game. Minuteman running back Stacey Bedell rushed for a season-high 81 yards a week ago and will play a crucial role in relieving pressure off Doyle.

Defensively, Vanderbilt is led by senior safety Kenny Ladler, who has 24 tackles on the season. Six different players have recorded sacks this season for the Commodores.

When Vanderbilt has the ball: Vanderbilt is led by quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, who’s thrown for 670 yards this season with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Molnar described Carta-Samuels as a “polished passer” and an “all-around good quarterback.”

Jordan Matthews, who has 24 receptions for 395 yards and three touchdowns, is the No. 1 receiver.

“He is a very polished route runner with great speed,” Molnar said. “They move him all over the place and he is the guy they try to throw the ball to on big downs.”

Defensively, the Minutemen will look to rally around the play of Colton, who has 24 tackles this season.