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UMass defense looks to increase pressure on FIU

  • Duquesne quarterback Daniel Parr, left, runs for a touchdown ahead of UMass defensive lineman Caeleb Washington, Aug. 25 in Amherst. The UMass defense will look to get more pressure on the quarterback when it plays at FIU, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. AP

  • Duquesne quarterback Daniel Parr passes against UMass, Aug. 25 in Amherst. The UMass defense will look to get more pressure on the quarterback when it plays at FIU, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. AP



Staff Writer
Friday, September 14, 2018

AMHERST — Once again UMass is looking for a defensive turning point.

The Minutemen starters have been gashed in each of the past two weeks, leaving a dominant start to the year against Duquesne a distant memory. Georgia Southern scored points on six of its eight drives against UMass and Boston College added to the scoreboard on seven of its first nine possessions.

In its two losses, UMass (1-2) has allowed an average of 303 yards on the ground and surrendered 17.8 yards per completion. No matter the adjustments coaches have made, the results still haven’t been there for the Minutemen.

“We were just shooting ourselves in the foot making a lot of mental mistakes,” senior defensive lineman Joe Previte said. “We have a lot of guys playing new positions right now, so they’re learning their positions and we all have to focus on just doing our job and filling our gaps.”

The mental mistakes are what infuriate UMass defensive line coach Dave Wissman. In his second year with the program, he said he has received better commitment from his linemen this season than last year, and it has shown on film.

He said his linemen grade out well for the most part every week and have limited the mental mistakes that he preaches as unacceptable. However, he said the unit itself hasn’t had all of its players playing at a high level at the same time, which has led to some of the lopsided stats.

“In the run game, I felt pretty good about it,” Wissman said. “We haven’t had too many mental mistakes, a lot of it is a technique here and a lost leverage there. By in large, they’ve all graded solid. Can we play better? Absolutely. ... We just need to put it together and get four guys that are operating at 85-90 percent or above, that’s our goal.”

The bigger area of concern has been the pass rush. The Minutemen have yet to record a sack in three games and Previte is credited with the team’s only quarterback hurry. The totals are a return to the first two seasons of coach Mark Whipple’s second tenure, when UMass had just 15 and 14 sacks, respectively.

Although sack totals are not a direct representation of how well a team rushes the quarterback, the Minutemen rarely put any pressure on Boston College’s Anthony Brown or Georgia Southern’s Shai Werts. The lack of pressure was being addressed at length this week as the Minutemen prepared to face Florida International (1-1), Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Miami.

“We always talk about trying to push the line of scrimmage and create a negative territory,” Wissman said. “I’ve set a goal for our guys, we have to get after the quarterback this weekend. I’d like to see three or four sacks and some (quarterback) hits and put the pressure on them because I know that’s what Coach Whip wants and (defensive coordinator Ed) Pinkham. We’re aware of it and we talk about it that we need to do a better job getting to the (quarterback) on the pass game.”

Whipple made it an emphasis this summer to push his team physically in preseason camp, and there is not a clear consensus on if it has helped the Minutemen on defense. Both Previte and Wissman said the unit has been more physical than the past, but senior safety Tyler Hayes said the team hasn’t adopted the proper mindset yet.

Hayes said UMass is running out of time to fix its mentality before the season slips away from it again.

“It really hasn’t kicked in for the boys yet,” Hayes said. “We’re at a start right now that we have to flip it around to incorporate those things that we did learn during the physicality and all that. We have yet to transition that, so that’s something we have to do before things turn into a bad corner.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.