UMass football invested time to preapre for Army triple option

  • Army quarterback Tyhier Tyler (2) looks to pass against Wake Forest during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Winston-Salem, N.C. AP

  • Army head coach Jeff Monken talks to officials during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) AP

Staff Writer
Published: 11/24/2022 1:56:05 PM

AMHERST – A team does not simply prepare for the triple option during game week.

The UMass football team began preparing for Army and its rare offensive identity in spring practice. Don Brown and his staff dedicated some of summer camp and the bye week to fullback dives, pitch reads and edge control before the Black Knights visit McGuirk Alumni Stadium at noon Saturday (ESPN-Plus). 

“That’s why you have to donate time from spring practice defending the triple, donate time during the bye week - and the kids are looking at you like you’ve got two heads - but you have to go ahead and give it some time because it’s very difficult in a five-day stretch to get ready to play it,” UMass coach Don Brown said. “If we had to get ready for this game in six days and spent no time in spring practice, the bye week, we’re dead. We’ve got no shot. We’ve given this a lot of time.”

The Black Knights’ rushing attack sprouts heads like a hydra. Seven players have rushed for at least 200 yards this season for the second-most productive ground game in the country (301.9 yards per game).

Quarterback Tyhier Tyler leads Army (4-6) with 500 yards on the ground and nine touchdowns. He’s also thrown for 234 yards and two scores while orchestrating the various fakes, reads and pitches the offense demands. 

“Quick. Great decision maker, distributes the ball extremely well. When you’re one of those dual threat guys, do I keep it, do I give, it the ball handling skills,” Brown said. “He’s good at all of those things. We’ve got our hands full.” 

Three backs have at least 300 yards rushing: Tyson Riley with 436 (two touchdowns, Tyrell Robinson at 321 and quarterback Jemel Jones with 307 (seven touchdowns).

“You’ve got to make sure you’re practicing the right stuff. Their formations are a little different. Their motions are a little different. This is a bit of a different Army offense,” Brown said. “Their fullbacks are both very physical guys. They do a good job of getting their guys on the perimeter. (Army coach Jeff Monken) does a good job with their formations.”

Unfortunately the Minutemen own one of the 30 worst rushing defenses in college football at 182.6 yards per game.  They allow 4.89 yards per rush, 119th in the country. It’s a sore spot on a defense that has developed throughout the season.

UMass (1-10) is up to 57th allowing just 36.7 yards per game. That’s buoyed by the Minutemen’s No. 15 passing defense (185.1 yards per game).

They allow opponents to convert just 28.8 percent of third downs, ninth in the country and better than Alabama, Ohio State and Michigan.

“It’s fun because we’re creating some havoc. Our havoc rate is high,” Brown said. “When we’re in third down, they’re all hooting and hollering.”

It will be UMass’ final game of the season. The Minutemen will celebrate four players appearing in their final collegiate game: Florida State transfer Marcus Cushnie, Dartmouth transfer Jalen Mackie, running back Ellis Merriweather and Penn State transfer Cam Sullivan-Brown.

“You want them to have a great experience, you want them to have a great day, you want them to go out on a winning note,” Brown said. “This has been a really fun group to coach. I’m not just saying it. This has been an excellent group of young men. I haven’t had to push them one day to go out and compete and get better.”

The Minutemen have lost eight games in a row, tied for the fifth longest streak in the country. Of late none have been blowouts. UMass’ last four losses have come by less than 20 points. The Minutemen fell by two at Arkansas State two weeks ago and stymied Texas A&M in a 20-3 loss their last time out.

“There’s progress being made, but until we’re winning on a regular basis, you won’t feel it,” Brown said.

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