The Massachusetts football team has answered many questions regarding the switch from the Colonial Athletic Association to the Mid-Atlantic Conference, and on a larger scale, from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Although the conference switch is probably the biggest change to the program in recent memory, there is another glaring change which might have been overlooked thus far – the new-look 3-4 defensive scheme.
The formation, which features three down linemen and four linebackers, was reintroduced this year as the team’s base defense primarily due to the return of defensive coordinator Frank Forcucci, who served on the staff from 1999-2003. Last year, the Minutemen operated under a 4-3 scheme (four linemen and three linebackers).
“I like [Forcucci’s] style and how he goes about his business,” said UMass coach Kevin Morris. “He knows UMass — he’s been at UMass and the 3-4 [scheme] certainly is a package that gives you that kind of multiple sets that you can use that I thought we had the personnel that fit those sets. I thought it was a perfect match.”
With one less lineman, more pressure is added on the linebackers to both stop the run while also protecting the pass. Morris said that there is no group better-equipped to handle that pressure than his linebacker corps, which features redshirt junior D.J. Adeoba and redshirt senior Courtney Jackson on the outside and senior Tyler Holmes and junior Perry McIntyre on the inside.
“In the spring there was a lot ofchoking it down and trying to swallow it and digest it, figure out where I’m supposed to be, when I’m supposed to be there,” Morris said about the new scheme. “We took the progression from the spring through the fall, which is really what you’re looking for, and that’s because the guys stayed on top of it. They did a lot of working out on their own, going through the calls and such so that when they come out here they’ve been right on point.”
The Minutemen expect the transition of defenses to be fluid and impressive from the start of the season.
Holmes, a two-time All-American, has seen his fair share of defensive changes, excelling first as an outside linebacker his sophomore year, second as a middle linebacker last year in the 4-3 scheme and now as a middle linebacker in the 3-4.
Junior linebacker Chad Hunte is expected to be in the defensive rotation and after opening some eyes in training camp, he is excited for the opportunity to play in the 3-4 formation.
“I’m liking [the defense],” said Hunte in a UMass Athletics interview. “It’s a real fast defense. We’re blitzing a lot, [there’s] a lot of movements, a lot of sacks and hits on the quarterback.”
The Minutemen favor the variety and options the 3-4 provides, especially for the linebackers.
“There’s a lot of different looks, you can blitz off the edge, you can drop back in coverage [for interceptions], there’s a lot of different things you can do in 3-4,” said Hunte.
Although UMass was deemed ineligible for the 2011 playoffs because of the conference switch, Holmes and his senior teammates plan on embracing the defensive change and running with it.
“I had a meeting with a bunch of the seniors at my house and we kind of swallowed the pill back in December that we wouldn’t be eligible for postseason play and the attitude of everyone was very positive,” said Holmes. “We bonded together, we’re going to play for each other this year, this is the last time we’re going to be competing with some of these schools and we [plan] to go out with a bang.”
Steve Levine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.