UMass struggles to defend triple option

Army scores six rushing touchdowns

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Dylan Nguyen / Daily Collegian

By Johnny Depin, Assistant Sports Editor

Forcing a three and out on the opponents first drive of the game is normally a good sign, yet for the Massachusetts football team it was anything but. In their final game of the year, the Minutemen (1-11) struggled to defend Army West Point’s triple option as they lost 44-7.

The Black Knights (5-6) starting quarterback Tyhier Tyler rushed for three touchdowns in the first half alone, tying his career high for rushing touchdowns. Over 91 percent of Army’s offensive snaps ended in a run, a common statistic for it due to the nature of the triple option offense.

“That’s probably as poorly as we’ve tackled since Toledo, and credit Army, obviously [it] has something to do with it,” head coach Don Brown said. “They’re obviously, you know in their triple deal, they actually had a couple guys hurt and moved some things around and changed their philosophy a little bit. My hat’s off to them. In the fourth quarter, all hell is breaking loose.”

Army averages the second most rushing yards in FBS (only behind Air Force) with just over 300 yards on the ground per game. It’s not only a problem for the Minutemen; no team has been able to quell the Black Knights’ triple option attack. Seven players average over 30 rushing yards per game for Army, with no one averaging 65 or more yards on the ground.

This unselfish style of ground and pound offense was seen on Saturday, with eight players getting two carries or more. Fullback Jakobi Buchanan benefited from the UMass defense worrying about the quarterback and tailback, as he was able to rumble his way through contact for two touchdowns.

The Minutemen came into Saturday’s contest allowing 182.6 rushing yards per game, and against Army they allowed 184 in the first half alone. UMass deserves some credit however; if not for a 54 yard touchdown run by substitute quarterback Bryson Daily, it would have allowed just 91 rushing yards in the second half.

“[Army’s] big fullback was lining up at the slot, we anticipated him lining up at fullback, I thought we made a nice adjustment at the half,” Brown said. “When they went to their tackle-over scheme, instead of being in an inside shade, we moved to an outside shade to draw the two blocks, and then had the rover and the viper play two-on-one off that block. That seemed to be a real positive for us.”

After a game against Texas A&M where the Minutemen recovered four forced fumbles, they couldn’t replicate that success against Army. Even with stacking the box on almost every play, Massachusetts couldn’t force any turnovers, as the two fumbles from the Black Knights were of their own volition. Takeaways have been a staple of the Minutemen’s defensive identity, all the way back to their home opener when Jordan Mahoney returned an interception 94 yards for a touchdown.

With no takeaways against the conservative triple option and four turnovers of its own, UMass gave opportunities to Army that it couldn’t afford to give. As it has done all season, the defense remained on the field too long, spending seven minutes longer than the offense on the turf.

The Minutemen end their season at 1-11, the same amount of wins but with a decidedly different tone than last season. With one of the youngest teams in the FBS, UMass will look to improve on its meager record next season.

“I’m anxious for the challenge ahead. I’m not afraid, now, it’s not my first rodeo,” Brown said. “Not afraid of we’re we are at, what the situation is. There’s some things that got to be fixed; I know that. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

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