We had some MACtion on Wednesday night as team Minutemen defeated team UMass by a score of 21-6 at the Massachusetts Minutemen spring football game. Sticking true to their MAC ties it was only fitting to have their Spring game on a Wednesday night. The crowd wasn't overwhelming, with anywhere from 400 to 1,000 fans but that is a conservative estimate.
The game was either a defensive struggle or an offensive conundrum, and I learn towards the former. The biggest takeaway was the offensive lines on both teams being incredibly porous, and allowing the opposing defensive line and linebackers to have a field day at disrupting both run and pass plays.
The spring debut was four quarters, each ten minutes long. Team UMass included the first team offense along with the second team defense, while team Minutemen was composed of the second team offense and the first team defense. They had kickoffs between scores and all punts were dead.
We previewed the spring game on Tuesday so let's take a look at those three things we outlined and see what the spring game told us.
1) Who is the Quarterback?
A.J. Doyle led the first team offense to just one touchdown in the game. The lone score came off of an 8-yard toss from Doyle to wideout Jalen Williams. He also tossed two interceptions that were thrown into fairly tight coverage.
Doyle faced a pass rush all night and rarely had time to sit in the pocket and go through his progressions without running for his life. When he was able to make completions they were mainly check-downs and short passes no longer than ten yards. He did miss some receivers, and while you could argue that he just didn't have enough time to settle and get in a rhythm, I highly doubt that this offensive line will be able to provide any better protection against opposing teams.
The other two quarterbacks, Todd Stafford and Andrew Verboys, led the second team offensive to one touchdown each. Stafford hit receiver Shakur Nesmith with a fade to the left corner of the end-zone that was tipped, but Nesmith held his concentration and hauled it in. Verboys led an impressive drive that was finished by a 2-yard TD run by Shadrach Abrokwah.
Stafford is the least mobile of the three but has the best arm if he is given time to throw. Verboys may be the best suited for the lack of protection as he evaded more than his fair share of pass rushers. He did however through an interception where Stafford did not. Both QB's had their fair share of bad throws and three-and-outs, but they handled the pressure they faced pretty well.
2) What will Whipple's Offense/Defense look like?
Well we went over the quarterback play which was inconsistent at best. The running game was even worse.
First-teamer Lorenzo Woodley had trouble getting going all night. He ran hard, but the offensive line was unable to produce holes and rarely got him a good initial surge. Jamal Wilson didn't look much better and he came out of the game in the third quarter with an apparent left ankle injury. He had ice on his left ankle and didn't return to the game.
The best running back was easily Shadrach Abrokwah. He scored a touchdown on a short run but he set that whole drive up with two big time runs for first downs. While he was going against the second team defense, he did run hard and was the only one to break away from the defense.
The receivers looked good when they had a catchable ball thrown their way. Jalen Williams seemed to be Doyle's favorite receiving option, and he showed strong hands when hauling in that touchdown snag. Woodley didn't run well but he did create some first downs off of check downs.
Tajae Sharpe was targeted but didn't make any big plays, but because of the lack of protection I wouldn't be too worried as he is a talented player who will make plays come fall. Tight end Brandon Howard looks to be a lock to start as he made several tough catches over the middle. With good size, strong hands, and a good run blocker he should provide a good safety net for the QB. Nesmith had two big plays, one being the touchdown grab and the other was a bubble screen he took for about 40 yards downfield. He's got decent size at 6-4, and could play his way into some playing time.
The offensive line got pummeled all night. The low point of the night was the first team center Matt Sparks' snap that flew over Doyle's head and was recovered by Jesse Monteiro for a scoop and score touchdown. If the O-line can improve their blocking over the summer we should see a rise in the play of the offense dramatically.
The defense on the other hand looked pretty good on both sides. The D-line was active with Peter Angeh providing the first sack of the night that would be one of many. I think Angeh could have a very big year coming off the edge. Kassan Messiah also showed his talent as he harassed Doyle and the running game, and was a fixture in the backfield. Stanley Andre was filling holes with a purpose and produced the biggest pop of the game as he met Woodley right in the hole and won that matchup.
The run defense was stringent and was pretty impressive, especially the first team defense. The pass defense wasn't tested much so it was hard to get a read but overall they did a good job of forcing all the quarterbacks to throw the ball away or scramble for a few yards. UMass has a good pass rush and those rushers are quick with long arms to keep opposing tackles at play. The new 3-4 didn't look too bad at all.
3) Who will kick the ball?
We all remember the Blake show from last year. Blake Lucas did look better Wednesday night, hitting his only PAT with no problem at all. His counterpart Markus Colin didn't look nearly as well. His PAT's looked like low line drives and he even missed one. It didn't appear as though there is any clear favorite as the two switched teams at the half.
In terms of kick off duty, each had a go at it and both were inconsistent. Lucas had some that went into the end-zone, and he had one that only managed to make it to the 25-yard line.
Punting duties were left solely to Logan Laurent. His punts ranged from 30 to 40 yards which would be good but considering all the punt plays were dead you would like to see a little more length on them. Seeing as he will most likely be punting a lot this year he should get a lot of on the job training.
Overall it was a good showing for UMass. The offensive needs a lot of work but they showed flashes of being able to succeed. Short passes will be key if the offensive line troubles continue. The defensive is the strong point of this team right now and will probably be when UMass kicks off against BC. Let's hope the offense catches up to help bear the load.