Defense suffers a setback against Indiana

By Stephen Sellner

Maria Uminski/Collegian

FOXBORO—In just nine days, the Massachusetts football team’s defense shifted from a silver lining to a major concern.

After a strong showing against Connecticut on Aug. 30, UMass (0-2) allowed 321 rushing yards and a combined 606 yards of total offense in its 45-6 loss to Indiana on Saturday at Gillette Stadium in the Minutemen’s home opener in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Coach Charley Molnar felt the defense took a step back in its development after its performance last week against UConn. However, Molnar said the defense’s struggles weren’t anything schematic but due to the team’s “atrocious” tackling.

“I saw more missed tackles today than I ever expected to see,” he said. “In fact, I was hoping we would play darn-near perfect in that area just because we tackled well in the first game, which is usually the worst-tackling game of the year for a defense.”

Senior linebacker Perry McIntyre was frustrated with the team’s poor tackling but is optimistic that they can fix their problems.

“It’s definitely a setback but Indiana’s a great team and we just have to go back to the drawing boards, back to fundamentals and I think we’ll get this straight,” McIntyre said.

Hoosiers quarterback Tre Roberson was especially difficult to bring down. The sophomore rushed four times for 105 yards before being carted off in the early minutes of the second quarter with a left leg injury. In his limited action, Roberson torched UMass on the ground behind a strong offensive line that left nothing but green grass in front of him.

Roberson got Indiana (2-0) on the scoreboard two minutes, 47 seconds into the contest with a 50-yard keeper up the middle, breaking two tackles before breaking away in the open field for the touchdown.

Less than two minutes later, he scampered 39 yards untouched for another score to put the Hoosiers up 14-6.

Three other Hoosiers had at least 50 rushing yards, with each averaging over five yards per carry.

Molnar attributed Roberson and Indiana’s success on the ground more to its offensive line than anything else.

“He’s a very good athlete, a very good running quarterback but … the lanes or the holes were so big that even, maybe, a less-skilled or a less-gifted runner at the quarterback position would’ve had some chunks of yardage,” Molnar said.

Unfortunately for the Minutemen, the task doesn’t get any easier as they face Michigan quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Denard Robinson next week in Ann Arbor, Mich. The senior rushed 20 times for 218 yards in the Wolverines’ 31-25 victory over Air Force on Saturday.

Molnar said he’s concerned about UMass’ poor tackling heading into the matchup against Michigan but is more focused on his defense’s execution than Robinson’s playmaking ability.

“It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, Denard Robinson or Tre (Roberson). It’s irrelevant,” Molnar said. “The fact is our guys have to tackle better, contain the quarterback better.”

Last week, the Minutemen defense forced three turnovers while only surrendering 23 points to UConn. The unit picked up its struggling offense that left the defense with short fields and even shorter rests in between series.

But Saturday was a different story.

In Roberson’s limited playing time, four of his six series were scoring drives — three of which were touchdowns. The Hoosiers’ first three touchdown drives lasted 10 seconds, 1:02 and 1:13, respectively.

The Indiana offense didn’t slow down after Roberson was carted off the field, however. With sophomore Cameron Coffman under center, the Hoosiers converted to a pocket-passing attack as opposed to the spread with Roberson.

Coffman completed 16-of-22 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown in relief of Roberson, including three touchdown drives.

Molnar said Indiana’s ability to run the ball forced the linebackers to creep up in the box, which opened throwing lanes for Coffman in the secondary.

“The pocket passing hurt us but what really hurt us, at the end of the day, was the run game,” he said. “They’re ability to dominate us up front was really the big difference defensively. So as linebackers (and) everybody tightens up to the box, now it’s just a little easier to throw the ball.

“When you run the ball well, you’ve got your whole playbook opened up to you.”

Stephen Sellner can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Sellner.