Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Depin: Special teams is the Achilles heel of the Massachusetts football team

Punts average 33.8 net yards on Saturday night
Sophie-Zoe Schreyer/ Daily Collegian

Building a great football team is a lot like building a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You have two pieces of bread (in this case offense and defense), and then the contents of the sandwich (special teams). UMass has two promising pieces of bread, but no peanut butter or jelly, rendering the sandwich no sandwich at all. Without a capable special teams unit, the Minutemen (0-2) will continue to find themselves in early holes that they can’t dig themselves out of.

With an average punt distance of 33.8 yards on Saturday, Toledo was given superb field position almost every time that its offense trotted onto the field. The Rockets (2-0) scored on four of their five first half drives, ballooning to a 28-0 lead before UMass answered with a touchdown of its own as the half wound down. The one first half drive that resulted in a sound defensive stop for the Minutemen was caused by Toledo being pinned inside its own 25.

Towards the beginning of the second quarter, UMass had a fourth and seven, and opted to go for it instead of calling upon the special teams unit, resulting in a turnover on downs, giving Toledo great field position once again, which they used to easily score one minute and nine seconds later. This play call was either due to a lack of trust in special teams, or it was the Minutemen going for broke as they were already down 21-0.

As the game progressed into the second half, special teams improved somewhat, as punts went for an average of 37.9 yards compared to 29.7 yards in the first half. The average distance of punts was an improvement from the season opener against Tulane, where punts went for an average of 25.8 yards.

As was seen on Saturday, if UMass’ opponent isn’t given incredible field position, the defense will more often than not hold up its end of the agreement. If the punting game can find a way to improve, there could be success with this group as a whole sooner rather than later.

One area of special teams that the Minutemen performed marginally better in was kick returns. They returned six kicks on Saturday for an average of 19.3 yards, with Gregory Desrosiers Jr. returning one kickoff for 25 yards, fighting through contact and putting UMass at its own 31. On the contrary, punt returns were not something that the Minutemen will look back upon fondly. Toledo punted once on the day, a punt that UMass returned for four yards.

Special teams is the Achilles heel of this football team. It’s not realistic to believe that improved special teams would garner an undefeated Minuteman squad, but games that are ending in blowouts would be much more competitive. If UMass wants more success in the second Don Brown era, it is going to have to improve on special teams.

A great comparison to these Minutemen could be that of the 2010 San Diego chargers, who had the NFL’s number one offense and defense, but missed the playoffs due to horrendous play by the special teams unit. Not that the Minutemen boast the best offense or defense, but the point still stands: if poor special teams play can halt one of the greatest teams in NFL history, it can certainly stop UMass right in its tracks.

Johnny Depin can be reached @[email protected] and followed on Twitter @Jdepin101.

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