UMass football’s offensive line issues doom offense in loss to SIU

The Minutemen averaged 2.6 yards per carry

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UMass football’s offensive line issues doom offense in loss to SIU

Eva Trainer/Daily Collegian

Eva Trainer/Daily Collegian

Eva Trainer/Daily Collegian

Eva Trainer/Daily Collegian

By Noah Bortle, Assistant Sports Editor

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With 14:16 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Massachusetts football team’s matchup against Southern Illinois, Saluki (1-1) defensive lineman Anthony Knighton burst through the UMass (0-2) offensive line virtually untouched to sack quarterback Andrew Brito for an eight-yard loss.

The play wasn’t overly meaningful in the grand scheme of what was a 45-20 loss for the Minutemen. SIU held a 38-13 advantage and nothing UMass did was going to change the outcome. The play did however serve as a microcosm for the Minutemen’s issues on Saturday afternoon: poor offensive line play.

“We’ve got to improve,” head coach Walt Bell said. “We’ve got to physically take the details, the techniques and the fundamentals that we take from practice and we have to be able to take them to a game.”

After a 55-yard opening possession in which the Minutemen opened holes for Bilal Ally to tally 36 yards on the ground, UMass managed only 87 rushing yards the remainder of the game. Taking on an FCS opponent in the Salukis, the Minutemen were favored by 6.5 points, however their offensive line failed to create running room for much of the game.

As a team, UMass averaged 2.6 yards per rush. That is including Bilal Ally’s 87 yards in 16 carries. If you take his performance out of the equation, the Minutemen carried the ball 31 times for 75 yards. That is good enough for 2.4 yards per carry.

“As a running back,” running back Bilal Ally said, “I feel like we still had success throughout the game. Three yards, four yards, five yards, that’s still a big play for us when it comes to moving the ball.”

For much of the first half, the offensive line was able to keep a clean pocket for quarterback Randall West. The redshirt senior was only sacked twice before he was removed with 11:47 left in the third quarter. While West’s replacement Andrew Brito was only sacked once, he consistently was forced out of the pocket early in his pass progressions having to improvise, never showcasing his ability within the offense.

One of UMass’ most impressive plays, a completion by Brito up the sideline to Samuel Emilus for 21 yards, resulted from a broken play where multiple Saluki d-linemen broke through the Minuteman pass protection almost immediately.

Brito showed what he could do when given a clean pocket late in the fourth quarter when he delivered a 32-yard strike to Jessie Britt to set up the offense up inside the 10-yard line.

“We have to eliminate the little mistakes that we’ve made,” Ally said. “Keep moving forward when it comes down to executing the offense that we have.”

A lack of solid protection meant that UMass’ offense was limited to 321 yards total. That number is in stark comparison to SIU’s 502 yards of total offense.

On top of the obvious struggles in blocking, the Minutemen offensive line ran into trouble with their snap counts. Seven of UMass’ 10 penalties were false starts, an issue that Bell knows his team needs to fix. On one drive, the Minutemen moved themselves backwards on three occasions thanks to false starts. With UMass struggling to put up points, key penalties like these made it impossible to keep pace with an opposing offense that put up 45 points.

“Having six or seven penalties on the offensive line,” Bell said, “which probably more than we’ve had in fall camp and the first game together.”

If the Minutemen are to turn around their season after an 0-2 start, it is going to start with improvement in the trenches. The offensive line will have their first opportunity to shore up their protections next week when UMass heads to Charlotte to take on the 49ers next Saturday at 6 p.m.

“We’re going to find a way or we’re going to make a way,” Bell said.

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