Tyris Lebeau breaking out as defensive playmaker for UMass football

Lebeau is ninth on the team with 24 tackles


Eva Trainer/Daily Collegian

By Dan McGee, Assistant Sports Editor

Coming off a 56-35 loss to Connecticut, the Massachusetts football team is preparing for its second consecutive home game on Saturday, this time against Liberty.

It’s no secret the Minutemen (1-7) have struggled defensively all season. They currently rank dead last of 130 teams in the country in points allowed, giving up 50.3 points per game.

The defensive struggles can continuously be attributed to one fundamental flaw in the defense: tackling. UMass has consistently failed to wrap up opposing ball carriers, allowing offenses to break off big plays, racking up 274.4 rushing yards per game.

“At the end of the day it comes back to basics,” linebacker Tyris Lebeau said. “Doing the basic drills, tracking the hips, making sure we come into balance before making a play. Especially Liberty who has a lot of mobile and agile players, we have to really make sure we make the tackle because at the end of the day it affects the entire game.”

Against Liberty (5-3), tackling will play an especially major role. The Flames roster is full of speedsters on both sides of the ball. The quickness of the Liberty roster presents an additional challenge for the struggling UMass defense.

“You can tell [former Liberty head coach Turner Gill] had a commitment to recruiting team speed,” coach Walt Bell said. “These guys outside the hashmarks run as well in the defensive backfield, outside receivers, [wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden] is a great one, but even on special teams. Just seeing them cover with great effort. A lot of team speed, length on the inside of the defense.”

Despite the tackling struggles and the challenge presented by Liberty, UMass is fortunate enough to have Lebeau return to the field. Lebeau, who missed three games due to injury, still ranks ninth on the team in tackles with 24, also adding a sack and an interception. He accumulated five tackles against UConn on Saturday.

Though he couldn’t contribute for three games, Lebeau think’s the sideline perspective helped him develop.

“Being able to just look within the game from a different perspective gave me a lot,” Lebeau said. “It gave me a lot of things I could work on as a player, especially on some plays I might not understand. It also allowed me to help my teammates where my teammates might also not see something from being on the field.”

In addition to fixing the missed tackles issue, cleaning up mistakes and mental errors on the defense have been major focuses, especially for players like Lebeau.

“I think my role right now is to be as consistent as possible,” Lebeau said. “Try not to make any mistakes, get off blocks and make tackles. At the end of the day, just be a team player and do my job, don’t do anything else special or extra.”

Lebeau, a redshirt sophomore, is the top UMass tackler of players with two or more years of eligibility left. Though the Minutemen have not had an ideal season thus far, his play and development on the field this year could give the team a solid defensive playmaker in future years.

“Every game it’s just trying to get better and better,” Lebeau said. “My main goal every single game is to try and make less mental errors and try to have more positives than negatives. At the end of the day, its hard to have a perfect game, but that’s what I visualize, that’s what I try to have as my motivation.”

Kickoff is set for noon on Saturday at McGuirk Stadium.

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