Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Football: UMass still on playoff pace

By Ryan Fleming, Collegian Staff

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Judging by the last two week’s the No. 13 Massachusetts football team is on the right track to the postseason. The Minuteman have three games remaining coming into this weekend’s contest against Maine (6-3, 3-2 Collegiate Athletic Association). UMass is coming off a 49-0 shutout win over Rhode Island in Liam Coen’s last game in his home state of Rhode Island. Not only did the offense exhibit a nearly unstoppable array of assaults, the defense seemly morphed into a brick wall and halted any of the Rams’ attempts at putting points on the board. The defensive domination started from the second point of the game when Josh Jennings intercepted URI quarterback Derek Cassidy’s first pass. Alert to the tendencies of Cassidy and the Rams offense, the redshirt junior jumped the route, giving the ball over to the offense. “They like to run 3-to-5 yard cross routes, I just looked at his eyes and read the play,” Jennings said. The Minutemen would never look back. Through the air Senior quarterback Coen played possibly his best game all season against Bryant two weeks ago; Coen topped that effort against Rhode Island. Coen was 15-for-17 passing for 241 yards and three touchdowns. Coen was spot-on all day. The only two incompletions he threw all day were drops by UMass wide receivers. When Coen was rushed in the pocket, which was a rarity, he scrambled out of the pocket, kept calm, scanned the field for an open receiver and threw the ball down the field with precision. “He was so efficient I think we scored on everyone of those drives (in which Coen was in the game),” Brown said. Coen has led the Minutemen back into playoff contention. Bringing the heat In their best defensive display of the season, the Minutemen sacked Cassidy eight times. UMass didn’t give Cassidy enough time to set himself. The Minutemen blitzed more times than they have all season, which proved UMass coach Don Brown’s confidence in the secondary. Brown sent players attacking Cassidy not from just one side, but from two. When Cassidy was forced to scramble, he looked downfield and saw no open receivers, so he was forced to run the ball himself. The constant barrage of blitzes also forced Cassidy to throw two interceptions, both to Jennings. The second interception by Jennings was returned it 40 yards for a touchdown, extending UMass’ lead. “He’s playing at a very high level,” UMass coach Don Brown said of Jennings. Darryln Fenner, who usually isn’t a starter, sacked Cassidy two times. “Obviously, we tried not to get him a chance to breath today,” Brown said. “We certainly made his task difficult.” The Minutemen defense only allowed 19 net yards gained on the ground. By blitzing often, UMass made things very tight, up front at the line of scrimmage forcing Rhode Island running back Jimmy Hughes to spend more time trying to locate gaps made by the Rams’ offensive line. Playing again For the second game in a row the Minutemen were able to play their second stringers. Players like Jonathan Hernandez, Scott Woodward, Erick Dickson and Sam Besong entered the game after the Minutemen were up big. Don Brown reiterated how important these appearances are, even though the team has the game in hand. Brown views these instances as more of a tryout for positions in games later this year and even in next year’s games. When players enter the game, despite the score, they can either improve their stock, as Brown puts it, or they can also hurt their stock. Ryan Fleming can be reached at [email protected]

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