UMass football stacked against another mobile QB

By Stephen Sellner

Maria Uminski/Collegian

The Massachusetts football team’s defense has seen its fair share of mobile quarterbacks this season, whether it’s Michigan’s Denard Robinson, Indiana’s Tre Roberson or Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton.

So when free safety Darren Thellen was asked how Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch compares to the trio of dual-threat signal callers the Minutemen have faced this season, he associated Lynch with someone entirely different; a particular New York Jets quarterback.

No, it’s not Mark Sanchez.

“I compare him to Tim Tebow, the way he runs, so we gotta be ready to stop him,” Thellen said after practice on Wednesday.

Stopping Lynch, the 6-foot, 210-pound quarterback, is one of the more glaring tasks UMass (0-8, 0-4 Mid-American Conference) faces on Saturday afternoon when the winless Minutemen travel to DeKalb, Ill., to take on the red-hot Huskies (8-1, 5-0 MAC) at 3:30 p.m.

Northern Illinois has won eight straight since dropping its season opener to Iowa, thanks in large part to the play of Lynch.

Lynch, a redshirt junior, is all over the stat sheet, tossing 17 touchdowns passes against just three interceptions and averages 220.4 yards per game through the air. On the ground, Lynch is even more dangerous, darting for 15 touchdowns and averages 131.7 yards per game on the ground. The Chicago, Ill., native has nearly three times as many rushing yards (1258) than the team’s next-best rusher (460).

Thellen called him a “very talented quarterback.”

“He can throw the ball (but) also can run,” Thellen said. “He puts up a lot of numbers running the ball and (is) very dangerous so we gotta be able to contain him and prevent him from doing what he wants to do.”

That could be easier said than done, as running quarterbacks have fared well against UMass this season. Hoosiers quarterback Roberson had 114 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just five carries against the Minutemen on Sept. 8 and the Wolverines’ duel-threat Robinson racked up 109 yards on the ground and a score on just nine carries on Sept. 15.

“It’s definitely more challenging to stop a mobile quarterback because they can take off at any time and that creates longer time to be in coverage, so on the back end we gotta be on our top game in order for him to not move around and make plays on his feet,” Thellen said.

On the offensive side, the Minutemen will try to put their recent offensive struggles behind them come Saturday. Since its breakout 34-point, 511-yard showing against Ohio on Sept. 29, UMass has only scored three times over the past three contests.

UMass coach Charley Molnar said that putting a touchdown on the board early in the game could go a long way for his team’s confidence.

“Once we get in the end zone, I think everybody’s confidence increases exponentially,” Molnar said. “It’s hard to be confident to come out there, as well as the defense has played in some games in the first half, and you’ve got a goose egg on the scoreboard. You’re talking about coming back and winning the game, but everybody’s really wondering inside, ‘Is the offense gonna get in the end zone?’ ”

Molnar said Wednesday that his offense has looked better in practice, largely because of the play of freshman offensive lineman Al Leneus, who Molnar said is in the hunt to start at one of the guard spots on Saturday. Molnar said Leneus has helped stabilize the pass protection in practice this week.

After missing three games due to academic-related issues, suspended guard Nick Speller returned to practice on Wednesday as well and Molnar expects him to play, but not start.

“If he shakes off the rust quickly, then he’ll be able to play more and help us,” Molnar said of Speller. “If he isn’t able to shake off the rust, then he’ll be doing more watching than playing Saturday afternoon.”

Other injuries

Defensive back Ed Saint-Vil is out for Saturday’s game, Molnar said, despite practicing on Wednesday.

Running back Jordan Broadnax is doubtful for the game with an upper body injury.

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