Minutemen convert third downs into victory
Rhode Island had just two ways to get the ball on offense in the first half of Saturday’s 30-10 loss to the Massachusetts football team. The Rams could have allowed UMass to score or it could have forced a turnover, because the Minutemen were perfect on third downs, going seven-for-seven in the first half.
Punter Caleb Violette was able to watch the entire first half from the bench, as Kyle Havens and Tony Nelson ran UMass’ offense to perfection on third downs. On UMass’ (2-1, 1-0 Colonial Athletic Association) first possession, the offense put together a 12-play, 67-yard scoring drive in which Havens completed a third-and-four, Nelson rushed for 11 yards on a long third-and-seven to keep the drive going and then Havens finished the drive with a four-yard touchdown pass on third-and-goal.
“It certainly made a difference in the ballgame in that first half. [On third downs], we have a goal to be over 50 percent if you want to be in the top of the league,” UMass coach Kevin Morris said. “Obviously going 100 percent at that point in the game makes a big difference.”
The next drive was more of a challenge as the Minutemen faced third downs of 14 and 13 yards, respectively. On the first, Havens found Jeremy Horne for 19 yards and followed up with a 23-yard completion to Joe Sandford on the third-and-13.
Nelson would later convert a third-and-one into a 20-yard rush and Havens would convert on another third-and-one in UMass’ third scoring drive of the half, giving the Minutemen a 21-0 advantage.
“We just executed like we’ve been talking about since Kansas State,” Havens said of the team’s play on third down. “If we just come out and everyone does their assignment, I read the play right, the wide receivers run the right routes, the O-line is blocking like they did tonight, there is no reason we shouldn’t be 100 percent on third down.”
Not only did converting all seven third downs in the first half help keep the chains moving, it also helped UMass swallow up clock time and keep its defense rested on the sidelines.
In the first half, the Minutemen dominated the time of possession as they held the clock for a total of 20 minutes, 14 seconds. The offense ate up so much time by mixing up the play calls with a balance of runs and passes and executing them just as planned. Even when passing, the clock rarely stopped as Havens went 15-of-17 throwing in the half.
The real benefits came in the second half where the Rams controlled the clock. With the defense having to only play 9:46 in the first half, it was well rested when called upon in the second half.
“The reason they were able to stay true to form and able to stay playing was because they weren’t tired out in the first half,” Morris said. “We were fortunate enough to come back strong in the second half to say ‘hey we need you now D’.”
UMass’ defense has been an all-around impressive unit to watch this season, but looking at the numbers makes them seem even more so.
In all three games this season, the Minutemen defense has played shutout ball for three quarters. UMass gave up 21 points in the second quarter to Kansas State and seven in Week 2 to Albany, shutting both teams out in the first quarter and second halves, and only gave up 10 points in the third quarter this weekend to URI, seven of which were scored on a fumble recovery.
On the other hand, UMass’s offense has scored in 11-of-12 quarters this season.
Against the Rams, the defense allowed just three points on a field goal, making it 10 quarters without giving up an offensive touchdown. URI threatened to end the streak as well as the Minutemen’s perfect first quarter streak, but linebacker Kurt Filler ended it when he intercepted the Ram’s Chris Paul-Etienne pass in the endzone.
Morris credits the success of his defense on them playing together and everyone doing their job.
“It’s a team effort and it is 11 guys on every play,” Morris said. “I’ve tried to create that mentality here.”
Jeffrey R. Larnard can be reached at email@example.com.