Plenty of touchdowns to go around early in 2007 season

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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After three games, the Massachusetts football team is 3-0 for the first time since 1986. The early success has been a total team effort, with the offense, defense and special teams all playing key roles at some point this season.

And it’s been a number of different players that have stepped up for each unit. On special teams, place-kicker Chris Koepplin has connected on all four field goals and punter Brett Arnold boasts a 46.4-yard average on 13 punts. The return game has been huge, as well, with both J.J. Moore and Courtney Robinson returning kicks for touchdowns.

A number of players have made an impact offensively, as seven different players have caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Liam Coen. Moore is the only player that has two. The players with one are tight end Ian Jorgensen, fullback Breyone Evans and wide receivers Rasheed Rancher, Joe Sanford, Michael Omar and Jeremy Horne.

Two players who haven’t been a recipient of a Coen touchdown pass are running backs Matt Lawrence and Tony Nelson. But the pair of rushers have been integral to the strong start this season, with both averaging well over five yards per carry.

Lawrence, the starting tailback, has been a big part of the offense with 341 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He ranks second in the conference in rushing. Nelson has performed admirably as the change-of-pace back, averaging 6.4 yards on his 24 carries. He had 70 yards rushing on seven carries against Colgate on September 8.

UMass has exploded for 111 points in three games (37 ppg) and has an equal amount of rushing first downs (26) as passing.

Sack party

Saturday’s victory over Towson was largely a credit to the defense. Sean Smalls and Courtney Robinson had key interceptions and the front seven stopped running back Rasheed McClaude from going anywhere.

Smalls received much of the attention following the game for his big play, but it’s been the rush defense that has been the story for the Minutemen in 2007 – and that can largely be attributed to the defensive line.

In addition to leading the Colonial Athletic Association with 13 sacks, the Minutemen top the conference in rushing defense, limiting opponents to a 1.6-yard average on 100 rushes. The defense has allowed fewer than five rushing first downs per game, a figure that easily leads the conference.

The leader of the defensive line has unquestionably been defensive end David Burris. A former walk-on, Burris has 15 tackles and leads the conference with 4.5 sacks. Fellow starters on the line, Brandon Collier and Michael Hanson, have combined for 30 tackles, eight tackles for a loss and four sacks. Reserves Darnel DeLaire and Bob McLaughlin have also contributed.

The defense has been particularly stingy in the red zone, as teams have scored just five touchdowns in 10 opportunities. On three separate occasions the opposition has failed to come away with even a field goal in the red zone.

The defense is ranked second-to-last in pass yards allowed per game, but that’s due in large part to teams needing to make comebacks late in games against UMass. In the season opener against Holy Cross, opposing quarterback Dominic Randolph threw an eye-popping 62 times as the Crusaders rally fell short in the fourth quarter. HC had 15 passing first downs in that game, but it wasn’t enough.

Flags a-flying

For the third Saturday in a row, UMass coach Don Brown fielded questions from the media regarding his team’s penalties. With 41 penalties in three games, one could see why. But Brown downplayed the 15 penalties his team had in the 36-13 victory over Towson this past weekend.

“When you look at it, a lot of them were energy and effort,” Brown said. “I think a handful of them were defensive offsides, and when you’re blitzing people that much trying to time cadence up – that’s something you have to fight.”

The Minutemen have committed an average of 13.7 penalties per contest. Of the 11 other teams in the conference, no team has averaged more than eight per game. The 41 penalties have gone for 382 yards, which is almost double the next-highest in the CAA (Hofstra, 196 yards).

Notes

Although the Minutemen have outscored their opponents 111-60, the UMass offense has gained fewer first downs (53) than its opposition (65)