UMass football plays well in all facets of the game in win against Wagner Saturday
If there was one word to describe the Massachusetts football team during the 2016 season, it would be inconsistency.
There have been games where its offense was strong, but its defense has let them down, like the Mississippi State game. There have also been games where its offense was stagnant, but its defense kept them in the game, like the season-opener against Florida.
Very rarely has UMass (2-7) been able to put all facets of well-played football together in a single game, but Saturday’s matchup with Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent Wagner was a different story. The Minutemen would go onto win 34-10 over the Seahawks (4-4, 2-1 Northeast Conference) to snap UMass’ five-game losing streak.
The Minutemen wasted little time getting on the scoreboard with a 28-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Andrew Ford to tight end Adam Breneman just over two minutes into the game. That score would be a preview of things to come for UMass as they had no problem moving the ball and scoring on Saturday, especially in the first half, where they scored 27 points.
Minutemen coach Mark Whipple believes the team could have put up more offense in the second half, but was impressed with the team’s ability to come out strong in the first half.
“I thought the guys were ready this morning and they did a good job in the first half and set the tone,” Whipple said. “The second half was a little disappointing. We’d like to get a bit more of the younger guys in there. Our guys haven’t been ahead 27-0 but hopefully that will happen again now that we have some experience there.”
Ford threw for 355 yards and three touchdowns on the day. His top targets were the usual suspects of Breneman and Andy Isabella. Breneman had eight catches for 138 yards and two touchdown receptions. Isabella had eight catches for 123 yards and one touchdown reception.
Breneman and Isabella have been Ford’s favorite targets all season.
“I think they’re just really good players and it makes my job really easy,” Ford said. “I know where they’re going to be at and they have the ability to make big time plays.”
At the start of the season, defense was the saving grace for UMass, but over the five-game losing streak the Minutemen rode into Saturday, the opposite was the case. Hurt by the injury to defensive leader, linebacker Shane Huber, the team gave up more than 30 points in all five games. Saturday represented a return to the defensive form UMass had early in the season.
For the first time all season, the Minutemen gave up no points in a half, holding Wagner scoreless through 30 minutes of play.
UMass’ strong defense was on display most notably in the run game where they allowed just 67 yards to the Seahawks.
Linebacker Steve Casali credited the Minutemen’s play to preparation going into the game.
“We had a good week of practice. That was the main thing and we carried it over today,” Casali said. “The main thing was not missing tackles and I thought we did a good job of that today.”
Of the defensive standouts, cornerback Isaiah Rodgers shined the brightest leading the team with nine tackles, along with the first interception of his career.
“It felt real good. I have to give all the credit to the defensive line for forcing the quarterback to throw the ball up. I just have to make the play,” Rodgers said about the play
Even the special teams got in on the act Saturday with kicker Logan Laurent adding two field goals for the Minutemen. Coming into Saturday, Laurent and the team as a whole had just one field goal made. Laurent was strong in the punt game as well with three punts averaging 49 yards.
For what seemed like the first time this season, UMass put together a strong performance in every aspect for the duration of the game.
“Our game plan worked really well, we had a good plan, guys got ready to play,” Breneman said. “It was good to finally put together that win – all 60 minutes of the game.”
Adam Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34.