The story of the UMass Minutemen in their second season of FBS play has been that they are a team anchored by a strong defense that wears down thanks in large part to a dysfunctional offense. On Saturday, the offense found enough footing to score 17 points while the defense took advantage of a weaker Miami (Ohio) RedHawks offense to the tune of three turnovers. The result? UMass came away with a 17-10 win over the RedHawks to improve to 1-5 on the season and 1-1 in the MAC.
The Minutemen's defense held Austin Boucher and Miami to 290 yards of total offense and three turnovers while doing their part to get off the field, holding Miami to just 1-of-11 third down conversions. Stanley Andre and Khary Bailey-Smith led the way with 14 and 10 tackles, respectively, with Bailey-Smith adding two interceptions after coming on for ejected safety Antoine Tharpe.
Bailey-Smith's first interception ended a drive that saw Miami get deep inside UMass territory. Boucher overshot his target and Bailey-Smith made the most of the opportunity, ending any threat of Miami gaining the advantage on that possession.
Justin Anderson continued his run of strong play at defensive end, dragging Boucher down once for his third sack of the season and amassing seven tackles of his own. The fifth-year transfer from Maryland was billed as a game-changing talent for the Minutemen and with three sacks in the last two games, he is finally starting to look like that player.
Matching Anderson in tackles -- but adding an interception --was UMass' defensive MVP of the season thus far, safety Devin Brown. Taking the place of the super-talented Darren Thellen, Brown has made more than his fair share of plays in both the run and pass game on his way to a team-high 52 tackles. The fact that he only had seven on Saturday is more of a testament to the play of the much-improved front seven than an indication of Brown losing a step.
All told, the defense looked like the same defense we have seen since Week 1 at Wisconsin. They make most of the plays they should make and have been the best part of this team to date. The biggest difference between this game and the previous five, however, was that they weren't on the field nearly as much and were able to play at or close to full speed for an entire 60 minutes of football.
They showed that while UMass still has a ways to go before being considered a good FBS team, the defense is already capable of competing with any team in the country.
Other things of note
- The offense finally found something of a rhythm with A.J. Doyle at quarterback and Jamal Wilson in the backfield. Doyle found the end zone twice through the air and finished with 249 yards. Wilson made the most of his opportunities in the first half and out-performed Stacey Bedell to take full control of the position in the second. 23 carries and 93 yards for Wilson marked the second straight game of at least 90 yards.
- Rob Blanchflower played like a man possessed, catching five passes for 93 yards and the go-ahead touchdown on the day. Perhaps the most NFL-ready player on the offense, its been clear just how big of a difference he makes for the Minutemen when he plays. He also delivered perhaps the most vicious stiff arm of the weekend and made all of the UMass Twitterverse explode for a few minutes. It was glorious.
- Blanchflower, Wilson, Tajae Sharpe and Elgin Long all had at least four catches on the day and demonstrated the type of talent UMass can trot out every play. That personnel package (called "11" for one back, one tight end) was by far the most used with Bernard Davis representing the other receiver. As top heavy as the depth chart is, the talent at the top is very good.
- Trey Dudley-Giles was brilliant in the return game once again. He had two long returns, including a would-be touchdown, wiped out by penalties. Even so, Dudley-Giles had six total returns for 129 yards. Go Special Teams!
- Blake Lucas finally made a kick, drilling a 25-yard kick in the fourth quarter to extend the lead, but missed another two from 40+ yards. I'd like to see Brendon Levengood get a shot at the position now. 1-for-6 on the year is unacceptable.