A press box is supposed to be a vacuum of sorts.
Separated from the fans behind a giant glass window, journalists are required to feign objectivity. There is no cheering, no booing, no outward “homerism.” Aside from friendly banter, key tapping and stat corrections, the press box is a quiet place where subjective biases are hidden for the sake of the profession. It’s the place where journalism’s greatest lie is supposed to manifest itself.
After two-and-a-half quarters of UMass offense in East Hartford, the vacuum was pierced, and the true colors of many journalists rushed into the press box like an ambulance siren blaring through a now-opened city window.
Laughter. Pure, unadulterated, barroom laughter.
The ineptitude of the UMass spread seemed like a joke to many UConn (and national) reporters. Two journalists in front of me sarcastically clapped when Mike Wegzyn completed a pass. One made a beer-league joke regarding Mike Cox‘s name. A sportswriter a few seat down from them pumped his fist when Wegzyn took a bone-jarring sack. One cackled when Colter Johnson came in to punt.
UMass was the joke that killed objectivity that day. It was the punch line that sent many Minutemen supporters home scratching their heads. It was the knee-slapper that caused head coach Charley Molnar to – perhaps literally – bite his tongue in front of a room of reporters who were asking the same questions that were still scattered in his head like television static.
It was the 59-yard one-liner that currently makes predicting the Indiana game a daunting task.
There is little doubt that Indiana and UConn are far different animals. The Huskies have a deep and experienced defense that has no problem bringing the heat early and often. The Hoosiers limped out of last year as one of the worst BCS defenses in the country. UConn attacks opposing defenses on the ground with a reliable running attack, while Indiana is still trying to figure out who will carry the load.
At quarterback, UConn has a totem pole – Indiana has a gazelle.
The UMass defense will benefit from seeing a spread offense similar to their own. The unit will understand the philosophy, the end-game, and, to a lesser degree, the speed. What the Minuteman defense won’t be prepared for is an athlete like Tre Roberson. Unless Molnar had one of his running backs run scout team quarterback, the Minutemen have no way to duplicate the problems that Roberson can create with his feet. If there is one certainty, it’s the fact that Roberson will leave the pocket, and UMass fans will hold their breath and hope that their defense can contain him without leaving a man open down the field.
Another glaring issue is what the Minutemen will do when Roberson does decide to let one loose. Against UConn, the UMass secondary was seldom tested deep but often failed in the flats. Against the Hoosiers, this same secondary will face off against a team of wide receivers that either: A) have experience, or B) were the cream of the Hoosiers recruiting crop. UMass will do so with questions at the safety position. While Darren Thellen is quality defender, a series of injuries have paved the way for true freshman Khary Bailey-Smith – originally recruited as a wide receiver – to get the starting nod at the other safety position. There is little doubt that his inexperience will be tested.
The flickering light of opportunity for UMass will be in the trenches. Indiana – like UMass – has a few inexperienced athletes on its offensive line. The Minuteman defensive front, the most tenured lot on the team, should have some success getting in the backfield.
I put off talking about UMass’ offense because, to be honest, it’s still a work in progress … and I’m being kind.
Indiana has experienced defensive tackles and linebackers that have been upgraded via the JUCO ranks. If UMass plans to have a more successful game plan against the Hoosiers, it will need to get a good push from its baby-faced offensive line. Against UConn, Wegzyn was running for his life while Cox and Chris Burns did the side-to-side middle school dance, hopelessly looking for a supermodel-small sliver of running room.
It’s nearly impossible to make an educated assessment of the UMass wide receivers. The new kids did what they could, but most of the time were halfway through their routes when Wegzyn began running for his life.
The Hoosiers are not as good as UConn – let’s just put that out there now. Indiana can’t bring the same pressure up front and don’t have the same quality linebackers that the Huskies possess. That, tied with the fact that UMass has had an extra week of practice, is well-versed with Indiana’s offensive scheme and will be playing in front of friendly faces will make this game far less ugly.
On the other hand, Indiana has a full low-end Big 10 recruiting cycle in its back pocket, while UMass is still playing with a smattering of guys that were brought in by a Kevin Morris staff that thought FCS football was the future of the program. Like most opponents UMass will face this year, the Hoosiers will be bigger, stronger and faster. They just won’t be as big, or as strong, or as fast as UConn.
While UMass is likely to go 0-2 after this weekend, the press box at Gillette will likely sound a little more objective and a little less like a whiskey-soaked Dick Doherty’s.
- Indiana: 28
- UMass: 13