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Offense struggling following bye week

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – For the second-straight week, the Massachusetts football team fell short of high expectations in an electric environment. After allowing a game-winning drive in the last minute against

Richmond on homecoming weekend, the Minutemen never found their rhythm in a 39-13 loss to New Hampshire at Gillette Stadium this past Saturday.

No. 12 UMass managed only 43 rushing yards, compared to the 171 amassed on the ground by No. 10 UNH. The Minutemen also lost the turnover battle once again, with two fumbles and an interception.

“Certainly, it’s a one-night performance that’s not very good and didn’t represent who we are this year in 2010,” UMass coach Kevin Morris said after the loss. “But that’s who we were tonight.”

Though quarterback Kyle Havens had a strong statistical day with 450 yards and two touchdowns, the running game struggled to move the chains, forcing Havens to throw 55 times. It was the second-straight game in which the rushing and passing games were out of sync.

Against the Spiders, tailbacks Jonathan Hernandez and John Griffin combined for 146 yards on the ground, but UMass gained only 78 yards in the air.

“That’s two weeks in a row that’s happened now,” Havens said. “We get great field position. The defense is putting us in good positions, and we just can’t really start or finish.”

The Minutemen entered the week first in the Colonial Athletic Association in red zone offense, converting 26-of-30 chances. Following the loss, in which they converted on only 2-of-5 red-zone chances, they dropped to fifth.

The rushing production has also taken a dive following the bye week, with neither Hernandez nor Griffin eclipsing the 100-yard mark. UMass was one of the top rushing teams in the nation for the first half of the season, but after two sub-par performances, the Minutemen sit in third in the conference at 175.9 yards per game.

“Our offense is drastically different in terms of our result in the last two weeks as opposed to the first five,” Morris said. “We have to go back and figure out why.”

UMass has scored a total of 23 points in the last two weeks, a number it topped in every game prior to the bye week. In their only loss in the first half of the year against highly-touted Michigan, the Minutemen scored a season-high 37 points.

Third down conversions have been a good barometer for UMass this season. In their three losses, the Minutemen have a nearly 36 percent completion rate. In their four wins, they have a 42 percent completion rate.

Fourth down, on the other hand, has been nearly automatic for UMass, which is 14-of-19 for the year. Four of those turnovers on downs, however, have come in the last two contests.

In 2009, the Minutemen also got off to a strong start on the offensive end. En route to winning three of its first four contests, UMass averaged nearly 34 points per game, including two 44-point performances. After the bye week, however, the Minutemen averaged just over 20 points per contest, including three weeks when they failed to score over 14 points.

The drop in offense played a large role in UMass’ 2-5 record down the stretch.

Though many would consider the Minutemen to be victims of a second-half collapse again this season, linebacker Tyler Holmes isn’t worrying just yet.

“I’m not concerned,” Holmes said. “We just got to fix the mistakes like we always do and get ready to bounce back. I’m very confident in this team. We have a lot of confidence.”

Jay Asser can be reached at jasser@student.umass.edu.

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