Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass football’s defense can’t keep up with Louisiana Tech’s punishing passing game

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(Alec Zabrecky/Daily Collegian)

FOXBORO –– The Massachusetts football team has had problems holding down opposing offenses for much of the 2016 season. Saturday’s 56-28 loss to Louisiana Tech at Gillette Stadium was no exception.

Those struggles often killed the momentum gained by the offense, which needed every ounce it could take in order to keep up with the high-scoring Bulldogs offense.

“We had to try and match them,” UMass coach Mark Whipple said. “(Carlos) Henderson was the best player on the field and we didn’t have an answer for him and (Trent) Taylor’s a good player. Their quarterback’s a senior. We knew they were really good and I didn’t know if we could get into a shootout – we didn’t really want to.”

Trailing 21-7 with one minute and 54 seconds left on the clock in the first half, the Minutemen orchestrated one of their most efficient drives of the game. In 58 seconds, quarterback Andrew Ford marched his team 58 yards own the field completing four of his five pass attempts. The final of which resulted in an 18-yard touchdown pass to Dan Jonah.

With less than a minute left on the clock, it appeared the Minutemen would head into half time down only one score. However, La. Tech’s quarterback Ryan Higgins and the rest of the offense dismantled the Minutemen defense to score their fourth touchdown of the game 58 seconds later.

Efficient drives such as the one at the end of the first half allowed the Bulldogs to maintain a healthy lead and momentum. La. Tech had five separate scoring drives that all lasted under two minutes.

“Yeah, they have a lot of talented players, but we made too many mistakes and missed too many tackles,” linebacker Steve Casali said. “If you make too many mistakes against a team like that, you’ll pay for it.”

The quarterback/wide receiver duo of Higgins and Carlos Henderson burned UMass and exploited their mistakes on multiple occasions.

In the third quarter, Henderson evaded a tackle and reserved field turning a short gain into 28 yards.

Henderson outplayed the UMass secondary all through out the game. The redshirt junior caught 12 of Higgins passes, amounting to 326 yards and five touchdowns.

“With Henderson, it’s not that hard (to pass the ball) – he’s done it with everybody,” Whipple said. “He’s a really good player. He would have been with the guys I had at Miami, in the draft or playing now. They have a really good team. We just had to match them. Their quarterback is smart, he’s athletic. We just didn’t have enough for him.”

Henderson’s 83-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter was what changed the momentum of the game, according Whipple.

“It felt like the push off really took the wind out of our sails,” Whipple said. “We had a lot of energy, our guys were good at halftime.”

Casali admitted that Henderson’s day was frustrating for the defense.

“It does (frustrate you), but everyone just has to do their job,” Casali said. “We missed way too many tackles to keep ourselves in the game, and we have to fix that.”

The UMass secondary, which lacks depth, showed its inexperience according to Whipple.

“They’re freshmen. We have a lot of freshmen. But that’s who we’ve got. That’s who we are. They had an extra day, Henderson was healthy enough to play and he certainly was. Guys that are ready to go, we have to get them ready.”

Higgins did not make the Minutemen’s job any easier. The redshirt senior completed 26 of his 33 passes, throwing for 484 yards and five touchdowns.

“We just have to prepare well,” Casali said. “We just have to have a good week of practice and just learn from the mistakes, watch the film, and go on.

Casali added: “Yeah (tackling is a tough fix), but you still have to work hard every day and you can’t make excuses. Work on tackling every day, watch the film and we’ll be all right.”

Philip Sanzo can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Philip_Sanzo.

About the Writer
Philip Sanzo, Sports Editor
A six-run fourth inning gives UMass victory over Northeastern at Fenway Park.
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