UMass defense ready for Georgia Southern’s triple option

  • UMass senior linebacker Cole McCubrey is shown during practice. The UMass defense will face Georgia Southern and its triple-option attack on Saturday. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass senior linebacker Cole McCubrey is shown during practice. The UMass defense will face Georgia Southern and its triple-option attack on Saturday. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Sports Editor
Published: 10/16/2020 6:05:33 PM

UMass senior linebacker Cole McCubrey is well aware of what Georgia Southern will bring to the football field on Saturday.

The Minutemen open their season at 4 p.m. (ESPN2) against the Eagles, who operate out of a triple option.

“They got some dynamic play-makers,” McCubrey said. “Quarterback’s real good, but honestly it comes down to everyone focused on their eye-keys and run to the ball.”

McCubrey and Mike Ruane, another senior linebacker, will lead a young defense that will look to contain the attack that is spearheaded by QB Shai Werts.

“A lot of it comes down to the preparation, process going into it,” McCubrey said. “Just taking along these young guys and showing them what it takes to be prepared enough to play a game and just know what you’re doing on every single play.”

UMass coach Walt Bell prepared for Army last season, and will for the next eight seasons. He said the preparation for a triple option is a year-round process, but the Eagles are not the Black Knights.

“The hard thing about Georgia Southern is it’s not Army,” Bell said. “It’s its own entity. It’s very specific and they are very good at what they do.”

The preparation has been more challenging than in past seasons. UMass learned late last week that it will open its season with the Eagles. Until that announcement, the Minutemen have been cramming as much work in as it can in the limited time that is allowed under NCAA rules. The program did not have a typical spring, summer or fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the start-stop-start again nature of its season.

And since walk-ons have not been on campus, Bell has only had about 80 players to work with at practice. Running a scout team simple wasn’t viable.

“Every time you play a triple team it’s hard. It’s hard because it’s different,” he said. “You have very limited amount of time to learn something completely specific to that game plan. The amount of mental discipline required to play those types of people is really hard. To me, it’s always hard. I’ve had good days and really bad days.”

The Eagles (2-1) beat Louisiana Monroe, 35-30, in their last game on Oct. 3.

J.D. King rushed for 196 yards on 21 carries, while Wesley Kennedy III added 66 yards on 14 touches. Werts had 41 yards on seven carries. The Eagles together had 349 yards on 53 carries for an average of 6.4 yards per rush.

“They are going to make it hard on you,” Bell said.

Bell said he expects to play far more players than the ones who are listed on the two-deep depth chart.

Going with the two-deep, the defense will have youth across in the secondary with cornerbacks Noah Boykin (redshirt sophomore) and Josh Wallace (sophomore), free safety Te’Rai Powell (freshman) and strong safety Donte Lindsey (redshirt sophomore).

Freshman Nahji Logan joins McCubrey and Ruane at linebacker. Freshman Myles Turner will also see time on the field.

Up front UMass will feature redshirt senior end Avien Peah, junior nose tackle Taishan Holmes, sophomore tackle Billy Wooden and redshirt sophomore Uchenna Ezewike as the hybrid end.

“It’s going to be a challenge for everybody and I think more than anybody else it’s your perimeter players and the physicality required,” Bell said. “As football has changed and evolved for a lot of those perimeter players a lot of the physicality is taken out of the game so to go win the edges on defense is going to be a challenge.”

McCubrey is eager to hit someone.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “Playing triple option teams as a linebacker is one of best things.”

Mike Moran can be reached at Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.

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