Red zone offense key for UMass vs No. 19 Toledo

Last modified: Wednesday, November 11, 2015
AMHERST — If the UMass football team is going to have a chance to upset No. 19 Toledo, the Minutemen will have to be a lot better in the red zone than they’ve been.

UMass ranks last in the Mid-American Conference in scoring inside the 20-yard line, converting just 14-of-21 attempts. While the Minutemen’s kicking woes have gotten plenty of attention, only two of those empty trips are missed field goals as they’ve made 3-of-5 kicks. Twice they’ve been intercepted and twice they’ve gone for it on fourth down and failed. The Minutemen have almost as many touchdowns of over 20 yards (eight) as they do under 20 (11).

To have a chance against Toledo, UMass likely can’t come up empty in those opportunities.

That’s a tall order against the stingy Rockets. Opponents have succeeded on only 6-of-15 trips to the red zone. Allowing points only 40 percent of the time is almost twice as good as the second-best team (Akron, 78.6 percent). Rocket foes have missed 4-of-8 field goals, failed on fourth down three times and thrown one interception.

Hanging with Toledo at any spot on the field has been tough this year. Other than the two games against Power 5 foes (Arkansas, Iowa State), the Rockets have outscored their opponents by 29.5 points.

UMass coach Mark Whipple hoped playing at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough would help.

“We’re glad we’ve got them here. We played them tough last year,” he said. “We just have to find a way.”

UMass quarterback Blake Frohnapfel approached the game like an opportunity.

“It’s a great challenge for us,” he said. “Coming off last week was disappointing, but you think ahead and say ‘Hey, we have a chance to play a top-25 team at Gillette Stadium. What else could you ask for?

Time & location: 3 p.m. Gillette Stadium

Records: UMass (1-5, 0-2 MAC). Toledo (6-0, 3-0 MAC).

Last week: UMass lost to Kent State, 15-10. Toledo beat Eastern Michigan, 63-20.

All-time series: Toledo leads 3-1.

Last meeting: Toledo beat UMass, 42-35, last season.

TV/Internet: ESPN3.com.

Radio: WWEI-FM (105.5).

When UMass has the ball: Fixing rushing problems won’t likely happen this week for the Minutemen. Toledo has been good against a ground attack, allowing just 121.2 yards per game. Some of that stems from opponents being behind enough that they’re forced to pass.

Still, while teams have thrown for 242.5 yards per game against the Rockets, Toledo has only allowed two passing touchdowns.

Toledo will miss leading tackler Jaylen Coleman. The junior linebacker broke his leg last week. Senior Orion Jones leads the Rockets with 5.0 sacks and 9.0 tackles for loss. Both are third in the MAC.

When Toledo has the ball: The Rockets are second in the conference in yards per game (446.2), but they lead the conference in rushing with 204.5 yards per game.

Terry Swanson leads the rushing attack with 472 yards on 60 carries, averaging 94.4 yards per game and 7.9 per carry.

Kareem Hunt, who missed the first two games of the year, isn’t far behind at 86.3 yards per game and 5.3 per carry. He rushed for 198 yards against UMass last year as part of his 1,631-yard season.

That could pose problems for the Minutemen, who have allowed 230.8 yards rushing per game, which is 12th in the MAC.

Quarterback Philip Ely has been solid, completing 110-of-199 throws for 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. Toledo is one of two teams in the country not to allow a sack.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage