UMass defense turns in best performance of the season in win over UConn

UMass defense turns in best performance of the season in win over UConn

By Thomas Johnston, Assistant Sports Editor

The Massachusetts defense knew what was coming when they traveled to New Haven to take on Connecticut.

With the rain pouring down throughout the entire 60 minutes of action—and the main weakness of the UMass (3-6) defense being their ability to stuff the run—the Minutemen expected the Huskies (1-7) to deploy a steady running attack.

The game played out how it was expected to, with UConn running the ball on 44 of its 50 offensive plays, but struggling to stop the run wasn’t the case Saturday as the Minutemen held the Huskies to 3-11 on third down and made two fourth down stops to pave the way to a 22-17 victory.

“It was a defensive kind of game,” UMass coach Mark Whipple said. “We knew it was going to be with the weather predictions. There was a lot of energy. Coach Pinkham and his staff did a really nice job.”

The biggest play of the game for UMass came late in the fourth quarter, with the Minutemen leading by five with 3:39 remaining after a Marquis Young touchdown run. The Huskies had one final drive to go down and take the lead, but on the first play UConn quarterback David Pindell put the ball in the air for just the sixth time in the game.

The ball was underthrown, and cornerback Lee Moses was able to box out the receiver and intercept the ball, giving UMass possession where they would gain a first down and run out the clock to win the game.

On the day, the Minutemen held Pindell to just 15 yards passing on just four completions.

“They had the lead,” Whipple said when asked if he expected the Huskies to run the ball so often. “Pindell can run and that’s their strength. They were probably trying to keep the ball away from us offensively. We finally got a takeaway at the end and that’s what sealed the game.”

The first big Minutemen stop came in the second quarter, with UConn driving just outside the UMass red zone, at the 24-yard-line. On a third and three, Pindell was stuffed at the line by Jake Byczko to bring up fourth down.

The Huskies decided to go for it, and Pindell faked a throw and ran a quarterback draw, but linebacker Bryton Barr sniffed it out, slowing Pindell down before Chinedu Ogbonna came in and finished the tackle to stop UConn short of the first down.

“I trust the defense,” quarterback Ross Comis said. “I’m always on them on the sideline to stay up no matter what happens. Whether they let up a touchdown or a field goal, I tell them to just give me the ball back and we’re going to go score. I think they believed in us as an offense today that when they made the plays, we were going to make plays in the fourth quarter and that’s what we did.”

The second fourth down stop came later in the second quarter, with the Huskies driving deep in UMass territory after a turnover and looking to add to their 7-3 lead before the half.

Instead of sending the field goal unit out on a fourth and one, UConn kept the offense on the field and attempted a quarterback sneak with Pindell, but the Minutemen got deep penetration and were able to hold the senior signal caller short of the sticks.

Whipple feels that having their whole defense healthy and available has been the difference in the units improved play the previous two weeks.

“I thought last week they played better,” Whipple said. “From the bye week, the first time we had all 11 guys on the field that we thought we’d have at the beginning of the year, those guys playing together and communicating helps and allows you to do a few more things and make some adjustments that we made.”

Thomas Johnston can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @TJ__Johnston.