Third quarter woes continue for UMass football in Saturday loss to Toledo

By Anthony Chiusano

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian
Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

FOXBOROUGH – The Massachusetts football team found itself 30 minutes away from its second win of the season and its first victory over a ranked team in its four-year Football Bowl Subdivision history after a strong first half Saturday.

But then the third quarter came and everything unraveled.

No. 19 Toledo (7-0, 3-0 Mid-American Conference) scored 38 unanswered points in the second half Saturday at Gillette Stadium to overcome a 28-10 halftime deficit and hand UMass (1-6, 0-3 MAC) its third straight loss.

“(Toledo) made some good second half adjustments,” UMass defensive back Randall Jette said after Saturday’s loss. “We had to make in-game adjustments to (match) their second half adjustments that kind of slowed us up.”

Over the past few weeks, coach Mark Whipple talked about the Minutemen’s inability to find consistency on both sides of the ball in the same game. It appeared UMass finally found this balance, forcing three interceptions that each led to touchdowns for the offense in the first half.

But then the Rockets, who boast one of the conference’s top offenses, found their rhythm.

After finishing the first half with three interceptions, a punt, two turnover on downs and a pair of scoring drives, the Rockets scored on each of their seven second half drives, including five straight touchdowns. This doesn’t include Toledo’s two quarterback kneels with under a minute left in regulation.

Toledo quarterback Phillip Ely finished with five touchdown passes – four coming in the second half – and the Rockets combined for 265 yards on the ground behind a three-headed running back corps.

“They can run it, they have a bunch of running backs and a good (offensive) line,” Whipple said. “We just didn’t match them in the second half which was discouraging.”

Toledo has yet to give up a touchdown in the third quarter this year through seven games and the Rockets outscored the Minutemen 21-0 in the third frame Saturday. The Rockets’ final touchdown of the quarter, a four-yard pass to Michael Roberts, allowed Toledo to regain the permanent lead.

According to Whipple, penalties helped kill any momentum UMass built in the opening half and give Toledo extra opportunities on both sides.

This started on the Minutemen’s opening drive of the third quarter when a holding penalty on Tyrell Smith and a personal conduct penalty on Tyshon Henderson on the same play negated a run for a first down by Marquis Young.

UMass was backed up 25 yards and faced a third and 26, which it couldn’t convert. The Minutemen finished with 15 penalties for 134 yards. Ten of those transgressions came in the second half.

“When you have a 25-yard penalty on outside zone, I can’t say I’ve seen that many times,” Whipple said. “We haven’t been very good in the second half, they’ve been really good in the third quarter… We just didn’t stop them and didn’t make any plays on offense. And the penalties were very discouraging.”

Jette said the Rockets made some second half adjustments on offense that allowed the unit to be more effective and go on prolonged drives against the Minutemen’s defense. However, Whipple said the difference in the two halves came down to a lack of execution.

“We dropped a couple (interceptions) and they threw three balls over our head,” Whipple said. “It was the same guys that intercepted them that had the balls thrown over their head. We probably dropped another one in the first half.”

Saturday wasn’t the first instance of UMass failing to produce coming out of halftime. Through seven games, the Minutemen have only scored in the third quarter once – coming against Bowling Green Oct. 10 when they scored 14 points in a blowout loss.

When asked why the Minutemen have continuously struggled coming out of the first half, and particularly in maintaining any momentum gained in the early stages, UMass wide receiver Tajae Sharpe said he didn’t have a definite answer.

“If I knew the answer to that, we would have fixed it by now,” Sharpe said. “We just have to continue to go back to work and continue to practice hard. We can’t put out heads down, we have to continue to fight and continue to make adjustments each and every week.”

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24.