UMass football preparing for run-option heavy offense in Army

The Black Knights are second in college football with 54.4 rushing attempts per game


Parker Peters

By Dan McGee, Assistant Sports Editor

The run defense for the Massachusetts football team has struggled all season long.

The Minutemen (1-8) have allowed 270.8 rushing yards per game, the most in college football. Mental errors and miscues tackling have allowed opposing offenses to do whatever they want to do in the trenches against UMass.

This Saturday against Army, the Minutemen will have their hands full stopping the running attack.

Utilizing the triple-option offense, the Black Knights (3-6) run the ball almost more than any other team in college football, ranking second in rushing attempts per game with 54.4, trailing only Air Force. They also sit 12th in rushing yards per game with 248.6, and 11th in the country in rushing touchdowns with 24.

“I think this week, more than anything else, is so needed for us,” coach Walt Bell said. “It’s going to make you be a tough guy, it’s going to make you drive your eyes where your supposed to go and do your job.”

Not many positives could be taken away from UMass’ 63-21 blowout versus Liberty on Saturday, but the Minutemen run defense did look a bit better than in previous games. While they still allowed 242 yards on the ground, UMass only allowed one run of over 20-yards. Though this isn’t anything to write home about, showing some improvement is a positive to an otherwise dismal season for the Minutemen.

“We’ve got to make individual plays,” Bell said. “We fed up the run better than we have since we’ve been here. We got guys in position to make the plays we just couldn’t get them on the ground. We’ve got to improve and keep trucking, keep recruiting and keep developing.”

Army relies on a three-headed monster when it comes to rushing the ball. Running backs Connor Slomka and Sandon McCoy have combined for 857 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, while quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. has run for 381 yards and five touchdowns on his own. To stop Army on Saturday, Bell claims the Minutemen need to stay with their assignments on every play.

“The biggest thing is eye discipline,” Bell said. “Eye discipline, assignment football. More than anything else, I think what makes Army so special is that they’re going to turn the game into a battle of will. To me that’s what makes those kids so special. We’ve got to be a tough group — a mentally tough group and physically as well. It’s going to be a great challenge.”

While they have already seen the triple-option offense this season when they fell 62-28 against Coastal Carolina, Bell believes Army’s variation of the game plan is much different. The Minutemen will also hope for a different result against the Black Knights, having suffered 334 yards and six touchdowns on the ground to the Chanticleers.

For an already thin roster — finishing with only 40 healthy scholarship players against Liberty — fatigue could also play a major role against Army. The Black Knights offense often consumes a lot of the play clock by bruising its way through the trenches, which tires out opposing defenses. They rank 28th in time of possession at 31:55 per game.

“They’re going to shorten the game, they’re going to limit your possessions,” Bell said. “They’re going to put more pressure on you to do right in the limit amount of times [you get the ball]. It’s not only the physical pressure, but the mental pressure as well.

While the defense as a unit has struggled all year, UMass’ leading tackler Cole McCubrey is on pace for a 100-tackle season. He currently has 70 on the season with three games left. McCubrey has stepped up as the leader on the defense and is a key factor into getting the young Minutemen defense ready to take on Army.

“We had a physical practice [on Tuesday],” McCubrey said. “We’re just getting ready to stop the run because we know they’re going to run the ball. They’re going to run dive a bunch, so we just really have to prepare ourselves that way. It really comes down to everyone reading their keys and various assignments. We just have to be physical.”

Kick off on Saturday is set for noon from West Point, New York.

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