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UMass notebook: Execution issues plaguing Minutemen

  • UMass quarterback Andrew Ford, shown during a Week 1 win over Duquesne, missed some opportunities to attack Georgia Southern deep on Saturday. AP

Staff Writer
Published: 9/10/2018 11:18:38 PM

AMHERST — UMass coach Mark Whipple saw the opportunity to give his offense a more manageable fourth-down play Saturday.

Twice in the fourth quarter, the Minutemen were backed up and facing third-and-long in a situation where they would likely go for it on fourth down. Both times Whipple called a draw play to try and exploit the relaxed zone defense Georgia Southern was playing to stop a big play. And on both occasions, the running back was stopped well short of the marker and left the Minutemen with long fourth down tries.

Whipple said the same breakdown stopped the play in its tracks before it developed, forcing him to punt on fourth-and-18 with 7:40 left, and leaving the Minutemen with fourth-and-10 down two scores with roughly 1:30 left.

“We missed a block on both of them,” Whipple said. “That was something they did on tape, they played soft, so we were trying to get it where it was a manageable situation and we missed a block and only picked up 2 yards. You try to go with what your plan was, but we didn’t execute.”

That seemed to be a theme for Whipple when he reviewed the tape of the 34-13 loss to the Eagles on Saturday. He said the linebackers and safeties were too aggressive on Georgia Southern’s play-action passes and left holes for the receivers to exploit. Both UMass quarterbacks missed chances deep that could have stretched the Eagles’ defense.

And of course, there were the missed blocks that turned potentially explosive plays into normal ones and hampered decent gains into small ones.

“Credit Georgia Southern, they did a good job, they had a good plan and most importantly, their players executed,” Whipple said. “We were one guy short on a lot of plays.”

REPLACEMENT VALUE: There were two notable absences in the UMass offensive personnel against Georgia Southern, but their replacements stepped up.

Junior running back Bilal Ally was dressed, but did not receive a carry against the Eagles. In his stead, Syracuse transfer Jordan Fredericks ran seven times for 34 yards and a touchdown. His physicality played well as a complement to Marquis Young and helped UMass average 4.3 yards per carry.

Senior quarterback Andrew Ford had to find a new safety blanket on third down with junior tight end Kyle Horn out with an injury and not on the trip. Junior Travis Reynolds handled most of Horn’s blocking assignments, but sophomore Taylor Edwards became Ford’s third-down tight end target.

He hauled in four passes for 32 yards and impressed Ford with his ability to read the defense and find the soft spot to give the quarterback a receiving option.

“Taylor had (one) third-down conversions for us Saturday, and that’s something he can build upon confidence wise,” Ford said. “He was able to see a couple of the blitzes they brought and in a couple of the coverages he was able to find the open area, and that’s really impressive for a young guy like that to do.”

HAYES ON OUTSIDE: A rash of injuries at the outside linebacker position forced Whipple to take a gamble with his third linebacker spot against the Eagles.

Senior safety Tyler Hayes played most of the game at outside linebacker, leaving fifth-year senior Brice McAllister and freshman Joseph Norwood as the two starting safeties. Hayes ended up with five tackles from his new spot and called it a cool experience to play a level up from his normal position.

“It wasn’t anything different it was just assignment football — see ball, hit ball,” Hayes said. “You just need to get your assignment down and make the tackle. It would be the same thing if I was at safety except I was a little bit closer.”

Whipple admitted his decision to start Hayes at linebacker did have an effect on the secondary with inexperienced defensive backs filling those roles. Georgia Southern feasted off the younger players, too, as Shai Werts threw at them off play-action for 154 yards on 6 of 9 passing.

INJURY REPORT: The bumps and bruises that affect every football team are starting to make a major impact on the Minutemen. Junior cornerback Bakhari Goodson and redshirt freshman linebacker Xavier Steele were in shorts on the UMass sideline against Georgia Southern, and are considered week-to-week by Whipple. Although Horn didn’t travel with the Minutemen down to Statesboro, Georgia, Whipple said he was feeling better this week yet remains questionable for Saturday’s game at FIU.

Whipple said Ally was banged up and the coaches elected to rest him with Fredericks running as well as he did. McAllister did play against the Eagles, but Whipple said that was a mistake as the graduate transfer from Connecticut was not at 100 percent.

Whipple said most of the issues have come from practice incidents, adding it’s a price of pushing his players in practice.

“Things happen at practice,” Whipple said. “You’ve got to practice hard if you’re going to play hard, and we’ve taken a couple of hits there.”

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