Mark Whipple seeking for better trust between offense, defense against Colorado

By Mark Chiarelli

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UMass head coach Mark Whipple keeps a watchful eye from the sidelines. (Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

UMass head coach Mark Whipple keeps a watchful eye from the sidelines. (Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

Massachusetts football coach Mark Whipple spent time poring through film following his team’s season-opening loss to Boston College.

All the usual suspects made the list – he looked at offense, defense and special teams execution as well as individual performances – but he was also keeping tabs on his own sideline as well. Whipple checked for accountability, for enthusiasm and even for respect between players on his team.

It’s all part of building continuity and trust. And after just a single game, he’s seeing both the positives and the negatives.

“I didn’t see any finger pointing, that’s one good thing,” Whipple said. “I didn’t see the enthusiasm and excitement I needed to see on the sideline when some big plays happen, I pointed that out.”

Part of Whipple’s mantra throughout training camp centered on building trust between the different facets of the team. When he arrived last spring, he believed the offense didn’t trust the defense and vice versa. Whipple believes it’s important for both sides to understand what the other is doing. Without trust, it’s difficult to play as a cohesive unit and ultimately affects production on the field.

Going about building that trust is much more difficult. Unless wins and losses are the only baseline, it’s difficult to tangibly evaluate improvements through trust. According to Whipple, it’s something that develops over time in practice, especially when the starting offense practices against the starting defense and increases the speed element of practice.

Against Boston College, the Minutemen struggled to complement each other as a team.

“I just didn’t think we played well helping one another out,” Whipple said. “When the highs were highs, everybody celebrated and then forgot to play. So we have to work on that, that’s just a mindset. That’s just a team thing.”

Linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox also recognized the lack of cohesiveness.

“I think it was a lot to do with trust,” he said. “We can’t overcompensate for one part of the team, you just have to do your job and that’s it. I think if everyone does their job, they play complementary football.”

The most jarring sequence of events came when UMass failed to capitalize on a Randall Jette interception, losing 11 yards on the ensuing possession. Kicker Blake Lucas missed a 47-yard field goal attempt and the Minutemen walked away with no points.

“I was disappointed in the complementary offense, defense,” Whipple said.

“When the defense had a big stop or held them to a field goal, the offense just didn’t get a first down and try to give them some wind. When the offense finally scored a touchdown, the special teams gave up a longer kickoff return and three plays later or four plays later they’re in the end zone.”

Scouting Colorado

The first thing Whipple pointed out about Colorado is its overall team speed, which is a significant step up over Boston College’s.

The Buffs faced Colorado State a week ago and carried a 17-7 lead into the third quarter before giving up 24 points in the final 21 minutes to lose 31-17. Colorado rushed for 134 yards in the game, which could be an area to watch against UMass as the Minutemen struggled to stop the run against Boston College.

Sefo Liufau starts at quarterback for Colorado. The 6-foot-4 sophomore completed 24-of-39 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns a week ago. Last season, the Buffs compiled a record of 4-8 and lost every game it played on the road.

Ryan Johnson returns

While it’s unclear what his role is moving forward, UMass offensive lineman Ryan Johnson will suit up against Colorado without any restrictions.

Johnson awaited an eligibility ruling from the NCAA clearinghouse throughout the summer and could not participate in training camp after transferring to UMass from Garden City Community College. Johnson took summer classes and finally earned clearance last week, but technically could not play until five days after his clearance per NCAA rules.

Whipple acknowledged that Johnson would be added to the two-deep depth chart and there’s a possibility he could earn immediate playing time. At 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, Johnson offers mammoth size at the offensive line position.

Johnson – who paid for all his schooling expenses on his own while waiting for clearance – is relieved and excited to finally get on the field.

“”There were a lot of sacrifices I had to make to become eligible, but it was worth it,” Johnson said.

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.