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Sanzo: UMass football took one step forward, and two steps back

(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

A 0-6 record is terrible, but that is where the Massachusetts Football team is at right now.

A 58-50 loss to Ohio reads, on paper, like a high-scoring nail biter. While the game did have its moments of uncertainty, the final five minutes were soundly in the hands of the Bobcats. For every touchdown that UMass scored, Ohio came back and scored one with an equal amount of, if not more, ease.

So while UMass was technically a touchdown and a two-point conversion away from tying the game, Ohio played like the better team that they are.

Coach Mark Whipple said after the game that the Minutemen have shown how good they could be in each facet of the game, just never at the same time.

“It’s better than playing Penn State and getting your ass kicked,” Whipple said. “I want to win; our guys want to win. We’re putting plans together to put them in position. The efforts there, we didn’t play well on defense. We’ll get that fixed. We have to one time play good on defense, play good on offense, play good on special teams.”

Therein lies the problem. Anyone simply glancing at the stats can figure out that when one half of the team shows up, the other half is nowhere to be found. It has been a trend through the first six games. On Saturday, it was the offense’s turn to flex its muscles.

Quarterback Andrew Ford completed 59 percent of his passes, compiling 390 yards and five touchdowns. Only being sacked twice also speaks to the type of day the offensive line had, especially compared to past weeks in which they struggled.

Coming off a game in which the Minutemen only allowed Tennessee to score 17 points, it was fair to think that the follow up performance from the defense would be just as good.

Instead, UMass allowed the Bobcats to rush for 298 yards and five touchdowns. Quarterback Nathan Rourke accounted for two of those scores along with rushing for 118 yards. That was only seven rushing yards less than running back A.J. Ouellette, who gained 125.

It is not uncommon for UMass football to struggle with putting everything together; it has pretty much been that way since they entered the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2012. But being an independent team has provided its own challenges. Arguably the biggest being the huge up tick in strength of schedule.

In recent years, UMass has been a team that would put up a lot of points while letting up a lot of points. Three or four times a year the Minutemen would get lucky and outscore the other team.

However, most of that came when they were in the Mid-American Conference. While UMass was far from the best team, they could always find themselves comparable to one or two teams also at the bottom of the division. Combine that with a weak non-conference team and the Minutemen would have their three wins for the year.

Now as an independent and its second year removed from the MAC, UMass doesn’t have many of those comparable teams on its schedule. Coastal Carolina was thought to be one, but they too handed UMass a nasty defeat.

With back-to-back bye-weeks due to scheduling changes, the Minutemen have three weeks before their next game at home against Georgia Southern on Oct. 21.

Due to rescheduling UMass will head down south to face Florida International for its final game on Dec. 2—a game not originally on the Minutemen’s schedule.

FIU has served as a win for UMass in each of the last two seasons, making this one more opportunity for the Minutemen to win a game.

The other will be at Fenway Park vs. Maine on Nov. 11.

A Football Championship subdivision team, Maine should also serve as a win for UMass. But as the Minutemen’s game against Coastal showed, no game can be considered a gimme.

Whenever UMass has seen improvement in one field it has been met with disappointment in another. In a season where there are so few weak opponents, it’s fair to wonder if UMass can pull it together.

Philip Sanzo can be reached at psanzo@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @Philip_Sanzo.

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