March 4, 2015

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Minutemen need to convert in red zone to win against Spiders

Samantha Webber/Collegian

The Massachusetts football team would like to forget about its inconsistent play during its six-point loss to New Hampshire last weekend at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.

To do that, the Minutemen will need to improve all aspects of their game when they take on No. 21 Richmond Saturday at Robins Stadium.

“We were in it the whole time,” said UMass coach Kevin Morris about the Minutemen’s game against UNH. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to close the gap on the scoreboard. They got right out of the gate with that great return by [Dontra] Peters and punched it in for the score.”

Despite the disappointing loss, UMass enters the matchup having won two out of its last three. The team defeated Central Connecticut State, 42-26, on Oct. 8 at home, then went on the road at Delaware and upset the then-No. 9 Blue Hens, 21-10.

In both of those contests, quarterbacks Brandon Hill and Kellen Pagel combined to go 30-of-57 for 414 yards and two touchdowns and no turnovers. Add in tailback Jonathan Hernandez, who rushed for 161 yards and three touchdowns in those same two games, and you have a loud and potent offensive attack that Morris has been leaning on throughout the season.

However, that same offense went quiet against UNH last week.

Pagel, a redshirt sophomore, was 25-of-42 for 249 yards, but he didn’t throw a touchdown and tossed one costly interception in the endzone during the Minutemen’s first drive of the game with UMass down by eight points. He did add a rushing touchdown later in the game, but by that point, the outcome had been all but decided.

Hernandez struggled as well, amassing only 45 yards and a touchdown at the half. The Wildcats managed to plan well for him, shutting down almost every gap or hole his offensive line created, forcing him to settle for short hard-fought gains.

Later on, Hernandez found more gaps as the UNH defense wore down a little. He finished the day with 95 yards and one score.

This week, the Minutemen should be able to run the ball more effectively, facing a Spiders defense that has allowed over 150 yards-per-game and 15 rushing touchdowns on the season.

However, Pagel will be under pressure again, as Richmond is giving up under 200 yards-per-game through the air and has only let up five passing touchdowns all year.

“They’re a very solid defense,” said Morris. “… We need to make sure we’re squared away when we get down in the red zone and make sure we finish with a score.”

The Spiders defense gets especially tough in the red zone. The squad has given up just 13 red zone touchdowns this season out of a possible 22, which equates to a 59 percent success rate for opposing offenses. Also, its opponents have only converted three field goals in the red zone.

“[Converting in the red zone] is going to be a huge factor going into the Richmond game,” said Morris. “They’re the No. 1 defense in the league right now so we’ve got to be able to capitalize on opportunities and if you don’t, you’re going to find yourself on the wrong end of the ledger at the end.”

One interesting fact to note about Richmond is that it’s a team whose strengths are the beginning and the end of the game. The Spiders have scored 43 points in the first quarter this season and 54 in the final frame. The scoring lacks a bit in the middle portion of the game, but with UMass also scoring best in the fourth quarter, Saturday’s game has the makings to come down to the wire.

Michael Wood can be reached at mcwood@student.umass.edu or followed on Twitter @MDC_Wood.

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