Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Special teams aiming to make big plays for UMass football

Maria Uminski/Collegian

Special teams is an area of a football team that can easily go unnoticed and overlooked.

The unit doesn’t  get on the field nearly as much as the offense and defense, but it can certainly change a game in a matter of seconds.

And for the Massachusetts football team, in a season marred by inconsistency and inexperience on both offense and defense, it’s the special teams, particularly in the kick return game, that could potentially make a difference in the team winning its first game of the season this Saturday against Bowling Green.

UMass coach Charley Molnar said it’s a necessity.

The special teams “have been steady but not spectacular,” Molnar said. “We need spectacular on Saturday. We really need a game-changing play by someone with the ball in their hands.”

For any team, there may be no better way to make an instant impact than in the kick return game, and fortunately for the Minutemen, they have an impact player that can do just that.

sophomore running back Jordan Broadnax is the only player that has returned a kickoff for UMass through the first six games. And in 29 chances, he has provided solid production, racking up 657 return yards, which is good for first of any individual player in the Mid-American Conference and second in the nation.

While those ranks are impressive, they can be seen as skewed as well. No one in the country has taken back more kick returns than Broadnax and only one other player in the MAC has more than 20 kick returns so far this season. To put it simply, Broadnax’s numbers have benefited from a UMass defense that has given up 42 combined scoring plays and constantly puts the ball back in the sophomore’s hands on ensuing kickoffs.

But the point still remains: While the defense gives up more points, it gives Broadnax more opportunities to receive kickoffs, immediately make an impact and try to get those points back.

And with such a young team, winning the constant battle for field position is crucial, which Broadnax can directly impact with his kick returns.

“We have a young team that makes mistakes,” Broadnax said. “So giving them better field position leads to less downs, less mistakes that could happen throughout the course. I mean, I try to get them at least to around the 40 (yard line) or break one, giving them good field position, it gives us a better chance to score.”

Last season, it was senior wide receiver Jesse Julmiste who took the majority of the kick returns, and he certainly made an impact. In 32 chances, he totaled 789 yards – good for a 24.7 yard average – and two touchdowns, including one that went 100 yards.

Broadnax hasn’t scored on a kick return yet, but he’s getting close. He nearly broke free in a 61-yard return against Miami (Ohio) and he has shown flashes of his ability to turn on the jets and pick up valuable yardage on his returns. He said it’s a matter of time before he finally breaks free.

“We’re just one or two blocks from getting there,” Broadnax said. “Everybody’s been hitting their keys and it’s just maybe one mess-up, that’s all. But as soon as we correct that, then you’ll see us in the end zone just celebrating.”

That’s a sight Molnar would be more than pleased to see.

“Sometimes on offense, we don’t have great talent, we’re not mature enough yet to drive the ball over and over again,” Molnar said. “So if our special teams can get us a touchdown that will certainly take the load off some of those guys on offense.”

Suspensions update

Molnar announced Wednesday after practice that redshirt junior running back Jamar Smith’s suspension has been lifted. Smith was one of three players who missed the trip two weeks ago to Western Michigan for academic issues.

The other two players – wide receiver Alan Williams and offensive lineman Nick Speller – have not had their suspensions cleared, however, and will not join the team on its trip to Foxboro this weekend.

“Nick Speller and Alan Williams still have some work to do academically, so I think it’s going to be another couple of days before we activate those guys,” Molnar said.

Injury report

Tight end Rob Blanchflower, who missed the trip to Western Michigan and is still nursing a lower leg injury, will not play on Saturday against Bowling Green, Molnar said.

Molnar also said that linebacker Greg Hilliard, defensive lineman Galen Clemons and defensive backs Ed Saint-Vil and Antoine Tharpe will also be out this Saturday due to injury.

Stephen Hewitt can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.




Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *