Shallow UMass football team preparing to take on volume passing attack against Akron

Akron has scored six of seven touchdowns in the air this season

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Eva Trainer

By Dan McGee, Assistant Sports Editor

Ahead of Saturday’s game, the Massachusetts football team is preparing to face an Akron team with a heavy passing attack.

“Offensively, there’s a lot of volume to their offense,” coach Walt Bell said. “They play really pro-style; you’re going to see every formation and motion. They do a really nice job of putting pressure on you.”

Akron (0-4) uses the passing game to their advantage, having scored six of their seven touchdowns this season through the air. Quarterback Kato Nelson has done the brunt of the offensive work for the Zips this season, throwing for 922 yards and six touchdowns to just two interceptions.

Bell called the structure of the Akron offensive game plan similar to an NFL offense.

“The amount of volume you’re going to see, it’s going to cause you problems,” Bell said. “The amount of shifts, motions, formations. [Nelson] does a nice job of getting the ball out of his hand quickly too. So, it’ll be another tough day for us, but have to find a way to get better.”

“They’re going to air it out,” cornerback Isaiah Rodgers said. “That’s exactly what I’ve been waiting on. I feel like as a defense, we just have to do our jobs and get the ball out of the air.”

The pass-heavy offense of Akron comes a week after UMass (0-4) fell to run-dominant Coastal Carolina. While the Minutemen have struggled against both the run and pass this season, allowing 283.8 rushing yards and 277.5 passing yards per game, Bell believes his team should be able to stop both kinds of offenses.

“I think the system on defense is built to handle whatever,” Bell said. “I think more importantly within our system right now we have so many depth issues that whether it’s a run-heavy team or throw-heavy team, whether it’s generating pass rush or stopping the run, we’ve got a lot of roster development to do. That’s on our end that when they’re here to do a better job coaching and teaching and making sure we’re putting our guys who are really inexperienced in the best position they possibly can to be successful.”

Bell’s point about depth isn’t false. Already starting the season thin at many position groups, injuries have plagued the Minutemen, trimming their roster to only 56 scholarship players compared to the 85 that are allowed by FBS standards. The influx of injuries, including injuries to quarterback Andrew Brito and offensive lineman Jaylen Larry, saw UMass practice in shorts on Tuesday, instead of in full pads.

“It’s football, you know,” Rodgers said. “That next-man up mentality if someone’s down. You never know who’s going to go down so you just got to be reviewing film and be locked in and focused. You never know when your time will come, and a lot of people’s time is coming now.”

Despite the injuries, playing the Zips gives UMass its best shot at their first victory of the season. Also in its first year with a new coaching staff, Akron is in the early challenging stages of developing a young roster and creating a team culture, much like Walt Bell and the Minutemen.

“Defensively, they’re going through the same things we’re going through,” Bell said. “A lot of changes in their lineups, they’re playing a lot of young guys. That would probably indicate to me more than anything else that they’re trying to develop their program.”

Shorthanded and young, both teams will have to overcome early obstacles heading into Saturday’s game. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m. from McGuirk Stadium.

Dan McGee can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @DMcGeeUMass.