UMass looks to build off bye week against Bowling Green

By Cameron McDonough

Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

With a winless non-conference slate in the rear-view mirror, it’s time for the Massachusetts football team to focus on its next test: the Mid-American Conference.

But that doesn’t mean things will get easier for the Minutemen.

UMass (0-4) opens up MAC play with a stiff test in Bowling Green (4-1, 2-0 MAC), which boasts one of the best offenses and defenses in the conference. The Minutemen do have one thing working in their favor, though, as they had the benefit of a bye week to rest their more experienced players.

“They were really off their legs a lot last week,” UMass coach Charley Molnar said. “We had good, fresh legs, good tempo during practice.”

While the bye week served as time off for the veterans, it was also an opportunity for the younger players to make their mark.

“The older guys on the team were able to recover,” defensive end Justin Anderson said. “We got the chance to get the younger guys in scrimmaging each other and practicing hard, just getting them ready. So I felt that was beneficial for the younger guys as well as the older guys to get the chance to get off their feet for a while, recover for this week. So I’m thankful we had that break.”

The bye week also gave the Minutemen extra time to prepare for the Falcons’ top-tier defense. Bowling Green has the top scoring defense and total defense statistically in the MAC, allowing only 18.4 points and 356.8 total yards per game. That defense was on display last season when it shut out UMass 24-0 at Gillette Stadium.

Molnar expects the Falcon defense to be a tougher test than Vanderbilt was two weeks ago for his young offense.

“They’re just good,” he said. “They’re big, they play very, very hard, very rarely have a mistake, out of their gaps, out of their alignments. They have seven returning seniors starters and four juniors. So I mean it’s a veteran group. It’s what we aspire to be in two years to have that kind of experience and depth.”

But Bowling Green isn’t just strong on defense. It also has a two-headed attack on offense led by dual-threat quarterback Matt Johnson and running back Travis Greene.

Johnson has a 66.7 percent completion percentage for 1,229 yards and six touchdowns with his arm and has run for a net total of 99 yards and one touchdown. Greene is averaging 110.2 yards per game and has scored three rushing touchdowns. Both rank second in the MAC in their respective offensive categories.

So with a potent offense like this on tap, Molnar is expecting a difficult challenge for defense and especially his secondary.

“They’ve got an excellent quarterback, a dual-threat like so many quarterbacks are nowadays,” he said. “This guy’s a cut above. Also they have an excellent running back. I haven’t seen every RB in our league, but he’s got to be as good as the best in the league.”

The defense took a step forward against Vanderbilt, especially against the run. UMass gave up 166 yards on the ground after switching to a 4-3 defensive scheme.

Anderson believes that the change in scheme had a direct correlation with the success on defense.

“I believe the formation change really helped us out having four defensive linemen versus three, especially with Vanderbilt having a tight end all of the time,” he said. “To have a defensive end line up on the tight end really helped us a lot.”

The defense has been sticking with the 4-3 scheme so far in practice, according to Anderson. But ultimately, that decision is the hands of the coaching staff.

The Falcons and Minutemen will kickoff at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Doyt Perry Stadium. The game will be streamed online at ESPN3.com and over the radio in the Pioneer Valley on WEEI 105.5 FM.

Cameron McDonough can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Cam_McDonough.