‘We've got to be the best group on the field’: UMass defense wants to be even better than bright spot

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 04-27-2023 2:21 PM

AMHERST — The brightest spot of the past UMass football season wants to crank up the lumens even more.

One of the best pass defenses and stingiest third down defenses is only getting better.

“We’re a lot better than we were last year at this point, I can tell you that,” UMass defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski said Thursday. “Our philosophy is simple. We just go to work every day. We try not to talk about all the things in the past. We’re trying to every day just try to get a little bit better. Take these 15 practices, get as good as you can, and then get ready for summer.”

A year ago, the Minutemen ranked ninth in the country in passing yards allowed at 175.2 per game and 12th in third-down conversions, allowing opponents to convert just 30.9-percent of the time. Eight starters are back, including second-leading tackler safety Tyler Rudolph. Cornerback Jordan Mahoney led UMass with three interceptions and also scored two touchdowns.

“Anywhere we’ve always been, (UMass coach Don) Brown and I, year two has always been a really good year, a big jump year, so hopefully, we’ll see that come with this fall,” Dudzinski said. “You’ve got guys who know the defense now. They’re playing with confidence. They know the checks and are in front of it. We’re able to install a lot more defense and playing a lot of defenses right now and not losing sight of the number one thing is just getting that ball back for offense.”

The familiarity shows itself in the volume of the players. Last year they listened and learned. Now they know and interact, creating a dialogue.

“There’s a lot more banter, there’s a lot more communication. They come in, they have ideas around the board, they’re talking about things a lot more, and that’s what you want. That’s what you’d like to see about a good group of defensive guys, they’re always thinking,” Dudzinski said. “We just got a good group of guys and we’re just trying to get better. We’re gonna win some games this fall.”

They let the offense hear it, too, during spring practice. The sideline barks at receivers when passes are broken up and erupts when someone intercepts a pass. They pull a “seatbelt” over a shoulder when someone locks up a receiver and forces a bad throw. It’s not mean spirited, they always follow with a pat on the helmet or a handshake. Other teams’ pass catchers won’t be as fortunate.

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“We want our guys playing with a lot of confidence, not that cockiness, but a bunch of confidence. They need to go out there every day and know that we’ve got to be the best group on the field,” Dudzinski said. “The good thing is I see a lot of guys coming together and building for each other.”

Thursday was the penultimate chance to prove that ahead of Saturday’s Spring Game in McGuirk Alumni Stadium at 12 p.m. (NESN-Plus). The team will play three quarters of football with warm ups and drills preceding, and it will be scored with a modified system that allows the defense to compete with the offense.

“It’s gonna be the first time we really get to tackle throughout the game,” Dudzinski said. “That’s probably the most important thing for me. I want to see how the defense runs to the football and finishes plays.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.]]>