UMass Mailbag: Week 1

  • University of Massachusetts junior safety Bakhari Goodson, left, intercepts a pass intended for Duquesne wide receiver Kellon Taylor (5) in the first quarter of the Minutemen's 63-15 win over the Dukes in their home opener at Warren McGuirk Stadium in Amherst on Saturday, August 25, 2018. UMass senior cornerback Lee Moses is at right. UMass scored on the next play, their first snap of the game.

Staff Writer
Published: 8/30/2018 5:51:40 PM

For the first time since 2011, UMass started the season with a victory. I’m not going to say I was the good-luck charm, but at the same time, the Minutemen are undefeated with me on the beat.

All kidding aside, Saturday was arguably UMass’ most dominant performance since it made the transition to FBS six years ago. The offense showcased all of its quick-strike potential while the defense shut down the run and forced a trio of interceptions. Even the special teams had a solid day by going perfect on extra points and recovering a muffed punt.

Thanks to those of you who reached out with questions for this week mailbag. The prevailing theme of this week was trying to instill some hope for Saturday’s game at Boston College, so we’ll be mostly ignoring the disadvantages UMass has this week.

Q: I’ll start with Steve Levie’s question about kickers because I’m guessing you’ll keep asking about them every week. Steve was curious if coach Mark Whipple had settled on one kicker for this week.

A: Expect the rotation to continue, especially if both Mike Caggiano and Cooper Garcia keep booting the ball between the uprights. Steve astutely pointed out that Garcia’s kicks were far more consistent than Caggiano’s, and as I said last week, I think Garcia is the better option. However, someone is going to have to lose the kicking battle because I doubt either of these guys will ever win it for themselves after a month of competition.

Q:Austin Urkiel asked the question that most of you were probably contemplating in your heads all week. How does UMass slow down A.J. Dillon, and perhaps more importantly, how can the Minutemen’s front seven win the battle in the trenches?

A: You’ll have to read Saturday’s paper for my full story on how UMass plans to slow down Dillon. However, it is of the utmost importance that the Minutemen remain disciplined on defense and stay in their lanes. If one player fills the wrong gap, Dillon and that Boston College offensive line will exploit the opening for large gains. A.J. Hines had two big runs against UMass last week, and both times Whipple said someone did not fit properly and gave Hines the hole to run. 

As for winning the battle in the trenches, that almost always comes down to effort, technique and physicality. I doubt UMass will lack the heart with the leaders they have on the front seven, it’s just a matter of having great technique to combat Boston College’s size and strength on the interior. If UMass does everything right technically and shows the type of energy it showed last week, the physical portion of the equation will come naturally.

 Q: Joe Roche asked me about Boston College’s defense and how it stacks up to the Minutemen’s offensive strategy.

A: Boston College’s defense is the strength of this team, and it has more advantages over UMass’ offense in many areas. The offensive line is going to be really taxed by two fantastic defensive ends and a pair of linebackers who are in their fifth years. The biggest challenge UMass faces with its short passing game is making sure the timing routes are going to be run on time. The Minutemen are going to struggle to contain Zach Allen, and if the Eagles’ star defensive end starts to harass Andrew Ford, UMass will be in a world of trouble.

The running game won’t be nearly as effective against the Eagles as it was against Duquesne. Kevin Bletzer and Connor Strachan are both in their fifth years and will keep Boston College straight on defense to slow down the Minutemen on the ground. However, Marquis Young is far more patient this year than he’s ever been and can never be counted out from making a big play.

Q: Austin Urkiel submitted a second question this week, and this one really made me think. He asked if UMass should root for a shootout because Boston College’s offense isn’t equipped to put up 40 points each week.

A: There is no doubt a shootout would favor UMass because the Minutemen’s offense is much more explosive than Boston College’s attack. However, I think the discrepancy in quick-strike ability should make the Minutemen should be rooting for a low-scoring game. If the teams are trading scores, it most likely means A.J. Dillon is having a big day and once he gets going, he’ll be hard to contain. A shootout will also put a lot of pressure on Ford and the offense to keep scoring against a difficult Eagles defense.

Even last year proved the dangers of UMass getting into a shootout. The Minutemen lost three games last year in which they scored at least 35 points and won just once when their opponent scored 30. It’s better for UMass’ defense to be fantastic and count on the offense to score on just two or three drives than for the offense to be almost flawless and then have to count on a struggling defense to make a stop.

Q: I mentioned that the theme to this mailbag was instilling hope, and no question hit on that topic better than Gregory Leger’s. He asked about one or two places UMass has an advantage it could exploit Saturday.

A: If there is one weakness on the Boston College defense, it’s at cornerback. Hamp Cheevers is an All-ACC caliber player, so he’ll probably be matched up with Andy Isabella a lot in the game. UMass can pick on the Eagles’ other cornerbacks with its other receivers, especially given the fact Sadiq Palmer, one of the Minutemen’s best possession receivers, has five inches on Taj-Amir Torres, BC’s other starting cornerback. If Ford can keep Boston College’s safeties away with his eyes, he can pick up chunks of yards with the short and medium passes.

 However, the biggest mismatch in UMass’ favor is the Minutemen’s secondary against the Boston College receivers. Anthony Brown threw nine interceptions last season compared to just 11 touchdowns and completed less than 52 percent of his passes. Even if Isaiah Rodgers doesn’t play Saturday, UMass’ secondary proved it can make plays on poorly-thrown passes and create a few turnovers in the process. If the Eagles need to rely on Brown’s arm, UMass will be at a big advantage.

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