UMass football focusing on pace, explosiveness and intensity ahead of Saturday’s game versus Southern Illinois

Up-tempo offense allowed the Minutemen to open to 21-7 lead versus Rutgers

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UMass football focusing on pace, explosiveness and intensity ahead of Saturday’s game versus Southern Illinois

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Dan McGee, Assistant Sports Editor

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Following a disappointing season opener in which they allowed 41 unanswered points, the Massachusetts football team is making the necessary adjustments offensively to bounce back against Southern Illinois on Saturday.

Though they held a 21-7 lead over Rutgers at the end of the first quarter, things fell apart quickly for the Minutemen (0-1) in the season opener. The second quarter saw the Scarlet Knights (1-0) put up 31 points and take a 38-21 lead into halftime, a result of forcing three straight UMass punts and intercepting UMass quarterback Randall West.

“Obviously there were some things that were good and some that were bad,” West said. “But we cleaned it up on Sunday and broke it down. We just have to move forward, build off the good things and try to eliminate the bad things.”

To make improvements, Minutemen head coach Walt Bell is focusing on what went right for UMass early in the game.

“I thought we did a great job playing with as much pace as they would allow us to early in the game,” Bell said. “I thought pace of play may have had something to do with [Rutgers] not being all the way where they were supposed to be [defensively] early.”

Running a no-huddle offense for most of the first quarter, UMass was able to strike early, scoring twice in the first five minutes. However, as the Rutgers defense adjusted throughout the game and began to pressure West in the pocket, they shut down UMass again and again, keeping them scoreless after the first quarter.

Though facing a more talented Rutgers roster isn’t something Bell can control at this point in the season, missed opportunities are one area where Bell believes his team can improve upon.

“We were seven of 16 on third down which isn’t bad for a first day against a healthy competition,” said Bell. “But I think if we do better and just do our jobs, we have a chance to get two more of those [third downs] which allows us to extend drives and play more plays.”

“I think even more important than the number of plays is how explosively you play within those plays and we were not that,” Bell added. “We missed a few big downs. We gave away some shots down the field and I feel like we weren’t as explosive as we need to be.”

First quarter explosiveness showed for UMass in the form of West’s 20-yard touchdown pass up the seam to Kyle Horn and in Cam Roberson’s 39-yard touchdown run, but the Minutemen failed to capitalize on that early success. The lack of explosiveness from the UMass offense showed as they could only muster 4.3 yards/play, compared to 7.4 for Rutgers.

Though being shut down offensively for three quarters to end the game is not how UMass envisioned the season opener to go, positives can be found in Randall West’s growing confidence as the starting quarterback. Now having his first career start under his belt, West knows the direction he needs to trend toward to continually improve as a quarterback.

“Really what we’re trying to do is build off that start that we had and get back to the things we were doing well during that stretch of time,” West said. “Just to keep that consistently going throughout the game because a play here and a play there and it’s a lot closer than the final score indicates. Just going to try to build off that moving forward.”

No matter the opponent, one constant Bell expects out of his team is the highest amount of effort. Bell said post-game Friday that if the team plays their best football with high effort, then good things will happen for the Minutemen.

“We need to match their intensity, match their effort and exceed their effort to play hard for the duration of the game,” said West. “If we do that, like last week coach said we played phenomenally hard, but there is always room for improvement. It’s really about proving you can do it two, three, five weeks consistently.”

With Southern Illinois (0-1) also dropping its first game of the season last week, Bell knows that both teams will be hungry for victory come Saturday

“I think you’ll see two teams fighting, scratching and clawing to improve and see who takes the bigger step in week two,” said Bell.

Kickoff for Saturday is set for 3:30 p.m. against the Salukis at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst.

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