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

UMass defense paves the way for a competitive game against Eastern Michigan

Minutemen’s first-half defense holds back the Eagles
Kayla Wong

Despite the Massachusetts football team hitting the turf with a slow offensive start, the Minutemen’s (1-3) defensive squad kept the Eastern Michigan Eagles from running away on the scoreboard in the first half, only allowing the Eagles (2-1) to put up 10 points in the first 30 minutes of play.

After escaping UMass defenders in the second quarter, Eastern Michigan’s Samson Evans appeared to be breezing into the end zone unphased by the three defenders on his heels. In a split moment, about two yards away from adding a second touchdown to the scoreboard, linebacker Gerrell Johnson knew he was not going to take the running back down. Instead, Johnson powered through, punching the football out from under Evans’ arm. The forced fumble fell into the endzone and put quarterback Carlos Davis and the rest of the offensive Minutemen at their 20-yard line on the touchback.

Holding off the Eagles from extending their lead was key to the competitive nature that came barreling in the second half on Saturday. The defense refused Eastern Michigan from launching off in the run game, only allowing one touchdown in the first half. Though UMass had four turnovers offensively, three of which plagued the first half, its defense short-stopped the Eagles. They were contained to short-yard gains, coming to a halt after about three or four yards per play.

“On defense, we survived four turnovers [overall] and kept that game close,” head coach Don Brown said. “You go in at the half, [the score is] 10-3 and you survived three turnovers.”

With no choice but to attempt a field goal nearing the end of the first quarter and put three points on the vacant scoreboard, Jesus Gomez knocked in the football with 2:31 remaining on the clock. This drive began with a pass deflected by Nahji Logan and was followed plays later by Marcus Bradley scooping up Evans’ run leaving the Eagles on third-and-eight.

On the Eagles’ second drive of the game, quarterback Austin Smith searched deep down the right side of the field after escaping the building pressure from the Minutemen. Scrambling for a deep right shot, Smith launched the football intended for tight end Max Reese. Waiting between the quarterback and Reese was cornerback Jordan Mahoney who broke up the pass, itching for an interception. After bobbling the ball, though, the pass was ruled incomplete but allowed UMass to hold off the Eagles as they were forced to punt the football away five plays later.

Smith continued to feel the pressure of the Minutemen’s defensive line and was forced to find an escape route from the incoming rushers. Logan, Bradley and Billy Wooden crept up on the quarterback time and time again. On a third-and-six short pass attempt, Wooden read Smith’s movements and deflected the pass, immediately batting it down and prompting the Eagles’ special teams to take the field once more.

“[I] thought we got around the quarterback really well,” Brown said.

On a second down for Smith and his Eastern Michigan offense, Logan and Bradley tag-teamed a sack. The junior quarterback was brought down hard to the turf. In similar fashion with 2:39 remaining in the first half, the senior defensive tackle broke free of the offensive line and caught up to running back Jaylon Jackson who was Smith’s go-to on Saturday. Tackling the senior to the ground, Wooden pushed the Eagles back one yard for a loss with the football loose from Jackson’s hands.

Bradley and Wooden both walked off the field after the game with a sack each. In addition, the defensive end locked in six tackles throughout the afternoon. Tyler Rudolph followed Bradley’s performance with four tackles.

“[Bradley] had a sack, [Wooden] had a sack, we had a number of pressures and knocked the quarterback down,” Brown said. “I’m sure we’re going to see that we achieved seven or more knockdowns of the quarterback.”

The Minutemen return to McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 23 for their second home game of the season. Kickoff against the New Mexico Lobos is set for 3:30 p.m.

Sydney Ciano can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @SydneyCiano.

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