UMass Mailbag: Week 2

  • Boston College running back Travis Levy (23) is chased by Massachusetts linebacker Bryton Barr (44) during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018 in Boston. (Stuart Cahill/The Boston Herald via AP) Stuart Cahill

Staff Writer
Published: 9/7/2018 3:30:04 PM

I’m back for another week of answering your questions, so thanks for continuing to pepper me with queries. UMass is 1-1 after a humbling defeat last weekend, but hope springs eternal in Amherst as the Minutemen prepare for Georgia Southern on Saturday.

Understandably, many of the questions for the mailbag this week focused on the defense after last week’s horrific showing. I’m assuming this means the fans are still very confident in the offense, so that’s a positive sign in my books.

And with that, let’s see what the mailbag has brought me today.

Q: Per ZACHISGOD’s request, I’ll begin the mailblog by explaining why Travis Reynolds punted during the Boston College game.

A: The simple answer is he’s Australian and grew up playing Australian rules football, so he has experience as a punter. He practiced at punter every day during the summer to help take some reps off George Georgopoulos’ leg, but both coach Mark Whipple and special teams coordinator Charles Walker hinted that he would punt this year. In that specific situation, Reynolds was brought in because he has a weaker leg and UMass didn’t need a booming punt because the ball was near midfield. I expect Reynolds will be the pooch punter this year while Georgopoulos will take care of the longer punts until the freshman hones his power and accuracy.

Q: Sticking with the Boston College game, Steve Levie asked me about the assignment breakdowns on defense and how much they were affected by UMass trying to stop the run.

A: At first glance, I thought the Minutemen’s desire to slow down AJ Dillon and Boston College’s power running game did have an effect on the UMass pass defense. However after watching the highlight feeds, I don’t think the two were related at all. Yes, the Minutemen sacrificed some of its defensive backs for linebackers and linemen, but the coverage breakdowns were miscommunications that might not have been avoided by more defensive backs on the field. If BC had simply thrown for 8-10 yard chunks against UMass, then the focus on the run would be to blame, but that was not the case on the explosion plays that came to doom the Minutemen.

Q: Steve followed up with a second question in his tweet to me. He was curious if UMass might be better equipped for an option attack like Georgia Southern than it was for Boston College’s power run scheme. As a follow up to that, JB asked how UMass will stop Georgia Southern’s offense.

A: I decided to combine these questions because the answers are very similar. I don’t think the scheme mattered as much against Boston College as the fact the Eagles are very good and very physical in the trenches. UMass is better equipped to face Georgia Southern in general than it was to try to slow down BC’s athletes. That being said, I think UMass is better equipped to face an option-style team for the same reason most teams are better suited to stop an option team: there aren’t that many wrinkles in the playbook. Typically option teams run only four or five running plays — that’s eight or 10 plays if you include they have one for both sides — so it’s fairly easy to prepare for those calls.

Of course knowing what plays will be called doesn’t guarantee you can stop those plays in a game. Stopping an option team requires excellent discipline, great tackling and fantastic physicality. The Minutemen had none of those qualities against Boston College, but I think some of that had to do with BC’s size and athleticism. If UMass can play assignment football and have the defenders stay in their gaps, the Minutemen will be fine. If UMass can finish tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage, the Minutemen will be fine. If UMass can make initial contact with the ball carrier within a yard or two of the line of scrimmage, the Minutemen will be fine. Now all that’s left is for UMass to do those things Saturday.

Q: I want to welcome Tava1234 to the mailbag with a question about their favorite topic, the offensive line. They noticed the line has looked stronger on the interior this year and was curious about what changes were made to strengthen that part of the line. As a follow-up, they asked if UMass will take advantage of that strength to run the ball and give its defense some rest.

A: The offensive line looks a lot stronger on the interior this season because of the experience it has at the two guard and center spots. Saturday’s game will be the 15th straight start for right guard Lukas Kolter, center Derek Dumais and left guard Jake Largay as the inside trio of the UMass offensive line. The experience playing with each other is just as important as the actual game reps have been for these three, and has led to their early-season success. 

As for the second part of the question, I hate to be a bearer of bad news, but UMass’ isn’t going to change its offensive strategy under Whipple. The Minutemen are going to still throw the ball 60-70 percent of the time and try to use tempo to their advantage. It doesn’t matter if the opposing offense is an option team that wants to wear down a defense and take time off the clock or a high-octane offense that also uses a high tempo. UMass will still run the ball a decent amount with Marquis Young and Bilal Ally between the tackles, but don’t expect more running plays in the plan this week to give the defense a breather.

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