There comes a time in the history of any organization -- sports or otherwise -- where the powers that be take a step back, look at where they can improve and then take the necessary steps towards making them competitive in whatever they do. Sometimes it's a change in leadership, other times it is a change in philosophy.
For the UMass Minutemen that time has come just two games into their second season. A 24-14 loss to Maine revealed that while the Minutemen have started down a good road, they aren't going nearly fast enough to escape the voices of doubt or rivals from their past.
There are lessons to be learned from losing by six touchdowns to a ranked opponent. There is little positive to be taken from mustering just 14 points against an FCS opponent that probably could have won by more than 10. At some point, someone needs to take a step back and ask "what are we doing, and how can we do it better?"
Defensively the Minutemen got pushed around by Maine. The Black Bears averaged 5.5 yards per carry en route to gashing the UMass front seven for 247 yards on the ground. The three-man front that the Minutemen decided to feature this week was lackluster evidenced by the fact that two of their top three tacklers were defensive backs Joe Colton and Devin Brown.
Linebacker Ed Saint-Vil led the team with 14 total tackles, but at 190 pounds he has no business playing inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Maine recognized this, abused the Minutemen between the tackles, and as a result Saint-Vil and the secondary were forced to make more plays than they probably should have.
That's a personnel problem.
The swap from a 4-3 front to a 3-4 set up was a bit confusing considering the defense wasn't the problem against Wisconsin -- at least not in the first half. Square pegs can be jammed into round holes if you try hard enough, but jamming personnel into a scheme that puts it in a less-than-advantageous position is never, ever a good idea.
That's a coaching problem.
Offensively the Minutemen looked sharp on the first drive before coming up well short of that for the rest of the game. After going 54 yards in four plays and scoring a touchdown in just 1:28, the offense regressed enough that the final per-play number fell to a dismal 4.1 yards.
That's an execution problem.
And then finally, with the game suddenly at arm's length with 7:25 to play in the fourth quarter, UMass let Maine run the ball every single play and watched the clock tick all the way down to zero. 13 plays, 75 yards, 7:25 off the clock.
That's a competitiveness problem.
Things won't get easier for awhile and there are a lot of things UMass has to figure out. Year 2 was supposed to be hard, but it wasn't supposed to be embarrassing.
Other things of note
- Charley Molnar doesn't seem like he wants to pick a quarterback. Mike Wegzyn and A.J. Doyle have combined to be a below-average quarterback and the offense has been equally ineffective for both signal callers. Personally, I think Wegzyn has to be the guy and can't be looking over his shoulder for the hook any time things go sour. That's no way to live.
- UMass faced 12 (!) third-and-long plays on Saturday which contributed to their terrible 5-for-16 showing on third down. Staying on schedule is important to developing a rhythm on offense and when you face just four third-and-short/middle situations it is almost impossible to get anything going.
- Tajae Sharpe had his best collegiate game, catching 11 balls for 85 yards a score. Until Rob Blanchflower is healthy again, they need Sharpe to keep doing that. In other receiver news, Derek Beck had no catches after catching six last week and Stacey Bedell went 47 yards on his first catch but finished with two for 52 yards. There's saving the screen for big plays and then there's not maximizing your personnel.
- Trey Dudley-Giles continues to look good on kick returns. He returned three kicks for 102 yards with his 41-yard return setting up the opening touchdown drive. Hooray special teams!
- Bedell was solid on the ground again, averaging 3.6 yards per carry. He has been UMass' best offensive player this year, and he needs more touches.