The 2012 UMass Spring Game was a change of pace in several respects.
For starters, the Minutemen unveiled their new up-tempo offense. Secondly, the new kids faced off against a number of alumni – including all-time great Marcel Shipp – during the first half of the game. Out of the gates it was clear that the old boys were taking it seriously as Shipp barreled into UMass linebacker Perry McIntyre during the first sequence of the game.
There was some playful banter throughout the half, and UMass head coach Charlie Molnar thought the experience went well.
“Playing the alumni was a lot of fun for our guys. They took it very seriously,” he said. “We talked about being physical but appreciating the alumni coming back and making sure that we respected them, and I thought our guys did it.
“Some of those guys are better than the guys we’re running out with, I’ve got to be honest,” Molnar added with a laugh.
The new-look Minutemen beat the alumni 14-0 during the one-half game, and Molnar said the old timers were glad to be back in the fold.
“They’re so proud, and they said even when they were in school they talked about moving up to big time college football, and since they can’t be part of it on the field, they certainly want to be part of it as supporters,” he said.
After the alumni left the field, the younger Minutemen had an inter-squad scrimmage that was a little sloppy. UMass fans that showed up and stuck around had a chance to see the good, the not-so-good and the ugly with next year’s team.
Football aside, the most promising aspect of the Spring Game was the crowd. Last year, only a few diehards watched the Minutemen go through a glorified practice. This time around students tailgated outside the stadium, alumni showed up early, and the home bleachers were lively during the first half.
While Boston College had a reported 200 people at its Spring Game, Coach Molnar guessed that 2,000 showed up to watch current and former Minutemen scrimmage. He used the occasion to take a quick jab at the Eagles.
“We beat them by about ten times that, we had 2,000. We’re well ahead of B.C. in so many areas right now,” Molnar said.
He also spoke about a potential rivalry with the Eagles.
“A rivalry has to be two ways. A rivalry has to be were both teams can beat the other team. We haven’t played B.C. with this staff and as a I-A team, so I think the rivalry will really begin on the recruiting trail and when we play them in 2013, but let’s get through 2012 first.”
On the field, the Minutemen appeared to have adapted to the speed of the no-huddle spread offense. The offensive line moved as a unit and stayed in position, and the running backs picked up on their blocking assignments and ran with decent aggressiveness. The quarterbacks didn’t light up the scoreboard, but they seemed to have a good grasp of the offensive sequence.
Particularly impressive was the play of redshirt freshman tight end Brandon Howard, who reeled in a few catches and absorbed contact well.
Coach Molnar was pleased with the play of sophomore running back Jordan Broadnax, who carried much of the load after Alan Williams went down with an apparent ankle injury. Molnar stood behind Broadnax for much of the second half to see how he would handle the grind.
“I wanted him to get some work and see how he handled the work volume. I thought he did very well,” Molnar said. “He ran very, very tough for a young guy. He needs to get bigger and he needs to get stronger like so many young guys do.”
Molnar also thought the defense “looked sharp” throughout the game. The linebackers appeared as good as advertised as McIntyre had some powerful hits in the first half, and D.J. Adeoba led the team with nine tackles.
While the Minutemen appeared to understand the scheme behind the no-huddle spread offense, execution was another matter.
“I had mixed emotions, but we didn’t force too many balls. We held onto it. I would have liked to see a few guys make some plays that we didn’t make, but I’m sure as time goes on we’ll do that,” Molnar said.
Quarterbacks Kellen Pagel and Mike Wegzyn threw a lot of passes into the flats, and for the most part were unable to connect on a deep throw. Pagel hit sophomore wideout Marken Michel for a 61-yard touchdown pass against the alumni, but the pass was underthrown and a blown assignment allowed for a flat-footed reception.
The quarterbacks did well with some standard bubble screen passes and were able to locate the tight ends on short routes, but neither was particularly accurate when the play calls were more complicated.
“They were OK, their pocket poise was OK. Their accuracy left something to be desired today,” Molnar said. “I’ve seen both of them a lot sharper than they were today, and I think it’s just going to come through repetition. Their footwork sometimes gets off, and that affects their ability to throw.”
While the quarterbacks weren’t particularly accurate, UMass’ inexperienced wide receivers seemed to be out of synch for most of the game. On a day when Julian Talley was picked up by the New York Giants, his absence was particularly noticeable.
“The receivers were spotty. They made some nice catches. I just didn’t see us make any big plays down the field like we had been doing in practice, so that left something to be desired,” Molnar said.
In general, the team executed what appeared to be a skeleton version of the no-huddle spread offense – as in, they set up the formation and never huddled. There were not too many exciting play calls, the team ran a lot of quarterback-action draw plays, and the tempo was slow for what is typically a fast-paced offense.
“Offensively we only did a few things that are in our offense, and sometimes we executed and looked really, really good. We’re a work in progress,” Molnar said.
UMass is in desperate need of a reliable kicking game.
While Brendon Levengood put some leg behind the opening kickoff, his field goal attempts were inaccurate and dangerously low. He hit a 33-yard attempt in the second half, but even that kick lacked the confident punch a FBS kicker needs. Levengood may be the guy for kickoffs next year, but he needs to work on kicking field goals if he plans on competing in the inevitable kickers’ duel this fall.
Jeff Strait had a tough time punting, and seemed to top out at about 35 yards. The alumni did not attempt to actively field any punts in the game, so some of Strait’s punts went farther than they would have during a live game. It will be interesting to see if any of next year’s kicking crew can challenge Strait for the position.
NOTES: Senior linebacker Chad Hunte and redshirt sophomore quarterback Brandon Hill were on the sideline in street clothes and slings … Brandon Potvin was also in street clothes … Williams was in crutches after the game, but Molnar said he was fine … there were a number of recruits on the sidelines for the game, including a few from Boston College High School and the Hun School in New Jersey … Greg Lis, a 2013 linebacker from New Jersey was also in attendance. He is a former teammate of current Minuteman Dan Foesel at De Paul Catholic High School … Stacey Bedell, a 2012 signee, was at the game.