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Minutemen balanced in victories

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Controlling the ball breeds success. That’s what the Massachusetts football team is finding out after two games in 2011.

The Minutemen (2-0) have achieved nearly perfect balance on offense this season, effectively rushing and passing the ball. Through two games, UMass has tallied 190 yards-per-game on the ground and 196 yards-per-game through the air.

Senior tailback Jonathan Hernandez has rushed for over 100 yards in both games for a combined 334 yards, and quarterback Kellen Pagel has amassed 363 passing yards. The Minutemen have also totaled 18 first downs on the ground and 20 via the pass.

“That’s our goal every week, to be around the 200 [rushing yards]-200 [passing yards] mark,” UMass coach Kevin Morris said Saturday, following the team’s victory over Rhode Island.

In doing so, the Maroon and White have done an exceptional job controlling the ball. The offense has done so well in fact, that it is now ranked seventh in the nation in time of possession. The balance has allowed the Minutemen total a 70-49 minute advantage over their opponents.

Last weekend against URI, UMass held a 36-23 minute advantage in time of possession, which allowed its offense to control the pace of the game and tire out the Rams defenders.

“We think that’s when we’re at our best,” Morris said. “When we can throw the ball out and around to [Julian] Talley and the rest of the guys and [Pagel] can take the ball and hand it off to Jon. Each guy takes the heat off the other guy.”

By comparison, Boston College (0-3) is quite the opposite. The Eagles have a decidedly pass-oriented attack,, and their ground game has suffered a bit because of it. Of the 44 total first downs this season, BC has 32 through the air and only nine on the ground.

As a result of its unbalanced scheme, BC is trailing its opponents in time of possession. After its first three games, the team is on the wrong side of a 26-34 minutes-per-game possession battle.

The story was the same last weekend against Duke. The Eagles were, in keeping with their season average, out-managed by almost 10 minutes, holding the ball for 24 minutes while the Blue Devils had it for 35 minutes.
Controlling the ball affects scoring too.

Looking at UMass’s victory last weekend, the five touchdowns the team scored came on the drives which lasted the longest. Two drives of four minutes not only both led to touchdowns late in the game, but also put more pressure on the Rams to score in a smaller amount of time.

With BC, the same is true. Eight drives lasted over a minute and a half, and of those eight, four were converted into points, and a fifth could have been if not for a missed field goal. Furthermore, the Eagles’ longest drives of the day – five minutes, 34 seconds and four minutes, 28 seconds – each ended in scoring plays.

When the two teams clash on Saturday at Alumni Stadium, it’s safe to say that whoever controls the ball and the pace of play should have a distinct advantage and a great deal more control over the outcome.

“We want them excited,” Morris said. “We want them to play their best ball in these big venues and they have. Against Michigan last year, and they played well against Kansas State before that. We want them to play and we’re not going to temper it down at all. I think our guys can handle it.”

Michael Wood can be reached at mcwood@student.umass.edu.

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