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Depth Charges: The Massachusetts Minutemen's Defensive Issues

While the Massachusetts Minutemen struggled on both sides of the ball last season, the defense actually saw improvement. Will the Minutemen be a defense to fear in 2014?

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

We already covered that the Massachusetts Minutemen are on a wing and a prayer on offense next year. While the Minutemen performed poorly on defense as well last season, the defensive unit did see an improvement in their second year of FBS play compared to the offense.

2013 vs. 2012 Comparison
Year Yards: Offense Points: Offense Yards: Defense Points: Defense
2013 282 ypg 140 426 ypg 396
2012 278 ypg 152 461 ypg 490
% Change 1% -8% -8% -19%

The defense cut opponent's scoring by almost 20 percent and opponent's yardage by almost 10 percent. Both scoring and yards allowed still rate in the bottom half of the MAC, but if the Minutemen can keep improving, they might be respectable yet. If there's one place to continue improving, it could be depth.

Points Allowed by Quarter
1st 2nd 3rd 4th
Points 71 151 95 79
Distribution 18% 38% 24% 20%

While analyzing a team's defensive performance based on points allowed by quarter does have some flaws—such as not taking into account field position and counting opponent's defensive scores—it does still have value in finding outliers.

Here our outlier is the second quarter, which sticks out like a sore thumb. To craft a narrative, it's quite possible that the Minutemen were fatigued in the second quarter and let the game get away from them. The third and fourth quarters probably don't suffer the same issue's since the players probably had fresher legs after halftime for the third quarter, and most games were out of hand by the fourth. When teams are up three scores, the offense is probably on its second unit and just focusing on killing clock.

If we compare the Minutemen's points allowed distribution to the rest of the MAC, the Minutemen's second quarter issues are even more apparent.

Points Allowed Distribution by Quarter
1st 2nd 3rd 4th
UMass 18% 38% 24% 20%
Rest of MAC 26% 27% 22% 25%

Most teams do see an increase in second quarter points allowed followed by a dip in third quarter, possibly the result of fatigue followed by rest and defensive adjustments. The Minutemen just have taken this to an extreme.

It gets even worse when we isolate just MAC opponents, in order to make sure that non-conference strength of schedule doesn't skew data.

Points Allowed Distribution by Quarter (MAC Only)
1st 2nd 3rd 4th
UMass 17% 42% 20% 21%
Rest of MAC 25% 27% 24% 24%

The Minutemen are an above average squad for the first quarter before collapsing in the second. They rebound in the third and fourth quarters but by then it's too late, the rout is on and the fans are leaving early.

UMass was just two years removed from FCS play last season and as a result was still building to a full sized FBS roster. While it's possible that the small sample size of the data set, just one year, is presenting skewed data, no other team in the MAC had a single quarter make up such a large percentage of their points allowed.

Top 5 Quarters: Percentage of Points Allowed
Team Percent Quarter
UMass 38% 2nd
Toledo 36% 4th
NIU 35% 1st
Miami 34% 2nd
EMU 34% 1st

The Minutemen's issue might very well be depth, and between another year of experience for the young squad and the infusion of another year of FBS level recruits, it's entirely possible that this unit will thrive in 2014.