Left-hander Hill presents new challenge for defense

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Massachusetts quarterbacks Liam Coen and Scott Woodward will each play key roles against Southern Illinois.

Coen’s job hasn’t changed: lead the Minuteman offense on Saturday, this time against the No. 4 Salukis in a second-round playoff matchup. Woodward, the backup to Coen and holder on kicks, will actually help out his team on the defensive side of the ball.

No, he won’t line up at defensive back to defend against SIU quarterback Nick Hill. But he will mimic the star signal-caller during practice, in a way only he can. And this will provide a big benefit to the UMass defense.

Woodward is a rare breed of quarterback: a left-hander. Hill is also of the lefty persuasion, which is something that the UMass defense hasn’t seen much of in game action. The last time the Minutemen faced a left-handed starting quarterback, their title hopes ended against Armanti Edwards and Appalachian State in the national championship game last season.

“It’s just going to be the opposite of most right-handed quarterbacks,” Woodward said. “Maybe they’ll roll out more to their left than to the right, and just get the defenses doing stuff that they’re not used to doing.”

Woodward doesn’t run the scout team offense for the Minutemen – a spot occupied by freshman Octavious Hawkins – but UMass coach Don Brown still plans on utilizing his southpaw quarterback to help his defense this weekend.

“We’re going to use him a little bit, but we can’t use him a whole lot. I can’t take away from his preparation [with the offense],” he said.

Woodward can help the defense prepare for the different intricacies that a left-handed quarterback like Hill possesses. At 6-foot-3, 210-pounds, Hill moves around the pocket extremely well and usually towards his left – something defenses aren’t accustomed to seeing.

UMass defensive end David Burris doesn’t foresee any major changes to the schemes along the defensive line, but feels it will be important to attack the right offensive tackle in an effort to hit Hill’s blind side. But with the complex defense that the Minutemen run, the switch in the quarterback’s throwing arm won’t mean too much for the men up front.

“We vary every play depending on what their strengths are and things like that, so I’m back and forth regardless of the situation,” Burris said.

But he definitely thinks that his experiences against Woodward these past few years in practices will pay dividends.

“He doesn’t go against us every day [in practice] but it definitely does help,” he said. “It just adds a different aspect and makes you really focus on both sides of the [defensive line] and not just being a predominantly one-sided pass rusher.”

It appears that the toughest adjustments – and likely the most important against such a strong passer – will be in the defensive backfield.

“It’s different. His strengths will be the opposite and some of the tendencies are what you would think a left-handed quarterback’s tendencies would be,” Brown said.

For starting cornerback Courtney Robinson, the only difference in his view is what side of the field Hill will utilize more often.

“It’s really not that big of a difference; pretty much it’s all the same,” he said. “The only difference is depending on what corner you play, you’ll probably get more balls, that’s pretty much it. We get a good look from Scott going back to the spring.”

Under Brown, the Minutemen have a steady, play-making defense that can handle any type of offense. The new-look at quarterback this weekend is something the coaching staff will make the players well-aware of, but in the end, defending Hill comes down to typical execution on defense.

But that won’t be up to Coen or Woodward.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]