Minutemen struggling on defense

By Michael Wood

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The Massachusetts football team is having trouble notching its third victory this season, but it will try again on Saturday when it welcomes Central Connecticut to McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Saturday is the first home game for the Minutemen since Sept. 17, and for a team that plays its best football on its own field, UMass appears eager to get back on its own turf after back-to-back losses.

Looking at the Minutemen at this point in the season, they aren’t having as much trouble scoring points as they are allowing points. Each week, the defense has allowed a higher point total than the week prior. Last week, the team gave up 48 points in a loss at Old Dominion.

The defensive unit is allowing about 34 points-per-game and giving up over 125 yards-per-game on the ground and more than 250 yards-per-game through the air. Essentially, teams who play the Minutemen can expect to have big numbers by the end of the game.

Now, couple the defensive woes with the offense’s inability to consistently score points, and there’s a significant difficulty in winning games. Right now, the team’s offense is scoring 27 points-per-game and getting most of its ball movement from tailback Jonathan Hernandez. The offense is averaging 377 yards-per-game, which sounds great, but not so great when the defense is giving up 390 yards-per-game.

This isn’t the best news for the defense that is about to face a CCSU offense that converts 40 percent of its third-down chances and is consistently over 130 yards-per-game both running and throwing the ball.

The Blue Devils are currently 2-3 and have also lost back-to-back games. Last week, the team fell, 37-24, to Sacred Heart. They started the season 2-1 with their loss coming by five points against a tough James Madison squad, but have hit a rough patch since then.

“They got off to a great start but they’re reeling a little bit right now in terms of the losses,” said UMass coach Kevin Morris. “They play very hard. Defensively they’re a 3-4 based team that will move their front four around a bunch.”

Central Connecticut is also a team that likes to run the option out of the backfield, and that’s something that UMass doesn’t see a lot of playing teams in the Colonial Athletic Association.

“They’re a very good option football team,” said Morris. “They can run the option from any set and any formation and get positive yards.”

The Minutemen lost to ODU last week, turning the ball over four times. Ball security has been a hot topic for Morris over the last two weeks due to increased turnovers by UMass on offense.

“We turned the ball over four times,” said Morris. “The ball was on the ground way too often. We’re obviously not doing a great job of taking care of it, so we’re really trying to address it like everybody does. We spent a lot of time on stripping and turnovers and ball security on the offensive side, and we’re going to continue to keep hammering that point home.”

“When the ball is on the ground, it’s not in our hands.”

Despite the defeat and problems holding onto the ball, one bright spot was the play of tight end Emil Igwenagu, who was named a College Football Performance Awards Tight End of the Week for his efforts. In the contest, Igwenagu hauled in 10 catches for a total of 85 yards and a touchdown. Ten catches is a career high for Igwenagu. He currently has caught 19 balls for 162 yards and one score on the season, and Saturday’s game was the fourth consecutive contest where he has made at least one reception.

Saturday’s game against the Blue Devils is scheduled for kickoff at 6 p.m., and it will also be Band Day, where dozens of high school bands will descend on McGuirk to perform.

Michael Wood can be reached at [email protected]