UMass defense keeps game competitive

Minutemen force three takeaways

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Sophie-Zoe Schreyer/ Daily Collegian (2022)

By Johnny Depin, Assistant Sports Editor

The Massachusetts football team followed a similar script on Saturday afternoon that it has followed for the entire season: the defense gave the offense every opportunity to claw its way back into the game. After a shootout loss against Arkansas State last Saturday, the Minutemen (1-10) went back to their defensive roots in their 20-3 loss against Texas A&M.

The Aggies (4-7) opened the game as 32.5 point favorites (originally 34 point favorites), despite not scoring over 30 points this season since their season opener against FCS Sam Houston, where they scored 31 points in a shutout. The Massachusetts defense assured that Texas A&M wouldn’t reach the heights that it was expected to reach, allowing 20 points despite 404 total yards from the opposition.

That number is a little inflated; explosive plays here and there from the Aggies offense doesn’t do the UMass defense justice. The Minutemen continually stuffed the run, and when Texas A&M went to the air attack, it led to freshman quarterback Connor Weigman scrambling for big yardage off a busted play. This is similar to the Minutemen’s game against UConn where one 75 yard run skewed the perception of their run defense.

“The minute we hit College Station, and we could see the stadium in the back, guys got a little amped up,” head coach Don Brown said. “Obviously I thought we showed up and played hard. Really hard.”

The real area where UMass excelled on the defensive side of the ball on Saturday was its ability to force and recover fumbles. On a rainy day at Kyle Field, the Minutemen forced four fumbles and recovered all three of them.

Takeaways have been a big part of UMass’ defensive identity all season, with it having nine interceptions along with 11 forced fumbles. Davis, Rudolph, and Jordan Mahoney lead the way with two forced fumbles each. There could have been even more fumble recoveries, but either penalties or refs whistling the play dead called back the would-be takeaways.

“The first thing that I look at, obviously we had the three fumble recoveries and I felt that we had five,” Brown said. “The effort, the energy, the work ethic and the way the guys are working, I couldn’t be more pleased. [Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher] isn’t going to be happy with the fumbles on the ground.”

All four of the forced fumbles occurred deep in Minutemen territory, with the closest at the Massachusetts 11. The farthest the Aggies were from the end zone when the ball popped out was the Massachusetts 31, which would have been excellent field position for them to score. 

Even if  two of the three Aggie drives ended in field goals, it would have been a 23-point game instead of a 17-point game. By forcing takeaways, the Minutemen gave themselves a fighting chance in a game where they were pegged to be blown out. If not for the forced fumbles on Saturday, this game could have looked a lot like UMass’ second game of the season against Toledo, when it allowed 55 points. The Minutemen forced one fumble in that game but didn’t recover it.

UMass and its defense gears up for the final game of the season against Army on Saturday, Nov. 26. Kickoff is scheduled for 12 p.m.

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