Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Ally leads a strong running back group into matchup with Akron

UMass averages 137.5 yards per game on the ground
(Eva Trainer/Daily Collegian)

With a matchup with Akron on the horizon, Bilal Ally and the rest of the Massachusetts backfield will try to continue to be a bright spot for the Minutemen (0-4) offense.

UMass’ offense has scored touchdowns 11 times this year. Of those 11 touchdowns, six were scored on the ground. In an era of air raid offenses and gaudy passing numbers, the Minutemen have been at their most dangerous when putting the ball in the hands of their running backs.

Utilizing a three-headed attack, spearheaded by redshirt junior Bilal Ally, the Minutemen have rushed for 137.5 yards per game. Ally himself accounts for 64 yards per game on the ground and is averaging 4.92 yards per carry.

“We put a lot of pressure on us in the offense,” junior running back Cam Roberson said. “We know the game goes as we move. We know we can open up a lot more for the offense if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do.”

Ally’s leadership has been key for a position group that features two other backs in their first seasons with the Minutemen.

“Bilal does everything right,” Roberson said. “He doesn’t take shortcuts. He’s a leader in the weight room. He’s consistent, and he brings a great attitude every day. If he’s down we’re going to pick up because we know every day, he brings that consistency.”

Roberson, moving from wide receiver at Bakersfield College, is still learning the specifics of the position.

“The adjustment has been good,” he said. “Every day I’m learning something new and something I can improve on as a running back. Me playing receiver means I’m also able to come out of the backfield and catch some passes.”

Through four games Roberson has tallied 187 yards on the ground and a touchdown. Signs of the converted receiver’s development showed in the season opener against Rutgers where he scored his only touchdown of the season and against Charlotte and carried the ball 10 times for 73 yards. In last week’s lost to Coastal Carolina, Roberson featured more heavily in the offense as well, taking a season-high 14 carries.

“They run the ball hard,” Ally said of his fellow running backs. “They’re good in pass protection and I like where its going. Having a three running back rotation is good to take the load off each other so we’re always fresh for the next drive.”

One area Ally preaches that gets lost when evaluating running backs is his role in the passing game. While Ally only has a single seven-yard catch in 2019, he prides himself in his role as a pass protector.

“We can’t just be a running back when we have the ball,” Ally said. “We have to be able to be three-dimensional, be able to do multiple jobs.”

Pass protection has been mostly a success for a young UMass team. Through four games, the Minutemen have been sacked just five times. Its something Ally thinks will continue to improve as the running backs continue to learn to fit into the offensive line’s blocking schemes.

“We know that in blitz pickup,” Roberson said, “which is probably the most important thing we emphasize everyday is, we’re an extra blocker so whenever we can step in front of a linebacker and give the quarterback a little more time to throw, that’s a positive for the offense.”

Operating out of a spread look, UMass’ backs have often faced boxes of just five or six defenders as the opponents try to account for the three or four wide receivers split out wide.

“The beauty of having different looks is it throws the defense off,” Ally said. “They’re always guessing so when we catch them by surprise, we’re going to be able to see the hole and just hit it.”

On top of spreading out the defense, Bell pointed out the ground game being able to run the same few concepts out of a variety of looks keeps defenses guessing.

Akron’s defense has struggled to slow down opposing offenses in 2019, the Zips (0-4) rank 120th of 130 FBS teams. Allowing 187.3 yards per game, UMass may be presented with an opportunity to set the tone in the running game.

“This week, I think we’re going to be really fast and effective offensively,” Ally said. “I think we’re going to get this thing going, have good drives and get in the end zone.”

Noah Bortle can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @noah_bortle.

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