UMass’ defense showed improvement in loss against Boston College

Freshman defenders lead the Minutemen on Saturday

Christopher+Tucci%2FUMass+Athletics

Christopher Tucci/UMass Athletics

By Dylan Corey, Collegian Staff

Entering Saturday, the Massachusetts football team knew defense was key against a Boston College offense that picked apart Colgate, winning 51-0 in week 1. UMass (0-2) was on the opposite end of a similar beatdown against Pittsburgh but was encouraged by stalling most of the Panthers’ productivity in the first half.

Saturday afternoon’s matchup at McGuirk Alumni Stadium began in a similar fashion. The Eagles (2-0) were held to 14 first half points and redshirt freshman Devin Baldwin blew up a rushing play early in the third quarter that set up UMass’ 56-yard touchdown pass for its highlight of the game. Baldwin ended the best game of his career with two of his three tackles being for a loss. Head coach Walt Bell was encouraged by the effort throughout the young defense.

“When we were in the right spot with a young group, I thought we played well,” he said. “When we didn’t, we did not. That’s very typical of defense.”

Following a 97-yard first quarter rushing clinic by Boston College, the Minutemen front seven allowed just nine yards on the ground in the second quarter. Credit some of that to freshman linebacker Gerrell Johnson, who ended the night with a game-high 13 tackles. Johnson recorded just six tackles in the abbreviated 2020 season but had five in week one this year against Pittsburgh.

By the midway mark of the third quarter, both defenses slowed. UMass scored all 28 of its points in the second half, including three touchdowns in the third quarter. Ellis Merriweather and Kay’Ron Adams carried the load out of the backfield and mixed up Boston College’s defense with a steady run/pass combo.

But the Minutemen’s highest scoring output since Oct. 26, 2019, still wasn’t enough to stay with the Eagles. Boston College went shot for shot in the third quarter, also scoring 21. A fatigued front seven for UMass lost its second quarter magic and allowed 134 yards on 12 rushes in the third.

Despite an inexperienced true freshman Brady Olson and backup quarterback Dennis Grosel playing for their injured starters, neither defense forced an unnatural number of turnovers. Both squads coughed the ball up twice, but one UMass fumble led to a 41-yard touchdown return by Jaiden Woodbey. Boston College picked off Olson twice including a high tip that gave the Eagles the ball back on their own four-yard line.

UMass dominated the penalty comparison, being whistled five times for 50 yards. Boston College committed 11 penalties for 99 yards, something Bell wasn’t surprised by.

“It’s two blue-collar, hard, tough-[expletive] teams,” he said.

Neither team recorded a sack, but the Minutemen tallied five tackles for loss, good for 19 yards. Boston College followed right behind with 4.5 for 14.

UMass now looks to its week three matchup against Eastern Michigan with multiple sources of encouragement. One being the youthful defense that has displayed promise and an ability to improve against a pair of power five schools.

Dylan Corey can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TheDylanCorey.