Progress is a malleable concept.
Sometimes progress is scaring the so-called best team in your conference. Other times, progress is putting points on the board after getting humiliated by a devastating slate of BCS opponents.
Progress also occurs off the field. It occurs when a coach, staring down the barrel of an 0-6 start, benches four contributors because they aren’t abiding by team rules.
Coach Charley Molnar left starters Alan Williams (wide receiver), (EDIT: Jamar Smith, not Antoine Tharpe) and Nick Speller (right guard) and backup Mike Lee (cornerback) home for academic reasons.
“Guys are going to go to class. Guys are going to take care of their academic responsibilities or they won’t play football here. Sometimes when guys are starters, when they’re making plays, they think that they’re above the law, and that’s not the case here,” Molnar said.
The Minutemen were physically overmatched this weekend by Western Michigan, and the presence of the four wouldn’t have turned around a 52-14 loss. However, Molnar’s decision shows that, win or lose, the UMass football team will abide by his rules.
During a season where the Minutemen are trying to find their identity among FBS programs, that’s a sign of progress.
On the field, UMass looked ready for a Bye week.
The Minutemen were picked apart by a calm and protected Tyler Van Tubbergen, who lit them up for five passing touchdowns and one on the ground. The UMass defensive line couldn’t get a good push, the secondary was on the run, and the offense couldn’t find spots in Western Michigan’s hornets nest defense.
After keeping it close with Ohio, the Minutemen regressed a bit on Saturday. From my seat it looked like they were either tired or just couldn’t get up for the game.
One way or another, the Minutemen looked ready for a weekend off.
Scared to Run: Against Miami (OH), UMass sprinkled in a pro style, up-the-middle running attack with the spread and had its best rushing performance of the year. Against Ohio, the Minutemen veered away from the power attack and relied on delayed handoffs and the rarely effective hand-off-to-fake-pass routine. Mike Cox was still able to make things work that day and put up 95 yards. Then, against Western Michigan’s three-man front, UMass never tested the nosetackle. Nearly every run was focused on getting outside the offensive tackle’s shoulder. This sideline-to-sideline attack was destined to fail against a defense that packs the backfield with quick athletes waiting for play actions and outside draws (See: Devon Brant). The UMass offensive line is big, tough and was perfectly capable of opening holes. It was frustrating to watch Cox dance when he should have been driving.
Michel is Almost Back: Marken Michel returned to action after missing two games with a shoulder injury, and it looks like he needs to get his sea legs back. Michel had three catches for 31 yards but seemed to be a step behind on some of his routes. I assume missing Alan Williams put a little extra pressure on the sophomore. It also must have been tough to come back from injury and go against a nontraditional defense that effectively eliminates the middle of the field. I expect Michel will be up to speed in time for Bowling Green. This coming Bye week is going to help a bunch of guys.
That’s Right, More Kicking Moves: So, let’s see if I have this straight. Last week, true freshman Blake Lucas was kicking field goals, and Brendon Levengood was kicking PATs and taking kickoffs. Against Western Michigan, Levengood was still taking kickoffs, but now Lucas has the green light to kick PATs. UMass didn’t attempt any field goals, so we’ll never know who would have trotted out there. If I had to take out my kicker crystal ball, I’d say that Lucas will be kicking for points against Bowling Green and Levengood will continue to boot kickoffs. Who knows though? The Minutemen still have Dylan Thomas on the roster if these guys don’t work out. We haven’t heard much out of him, yet.
You Can’t Teach Experience: The youth of UMass’ secondary reared its head on Saturday. The Minutemen used Randall Jette, Trey Dudley-Giles, Joey Colton and Khary Bailey-Smith against Western Michigan, and while each have had bright spots this season, it’s clear that the secondary is going through expected growing pains. UMass fans should have faith that these kids will be solid two or three years down the road. Against the Broncos, they were dealing with faster receivers who were running routes for a quarterback that had all the time in the world to throw. That combination is a tall order for any secondary.
Defensive Line Met their Match: The Minutemen have seen steady production all year from their defensive line, but the Broncos were just too big, too skilled and too experienced. UMass registered one sack on the day and were never really able to rattle Van Tubbergen. Guys like Hafis Williams and Stanley Andre, who are usually pretty steady, weren’t able to get anything going. I thought games against Michigan and Indiana would have better prepared the Minutemen for the likes of Western Michigan, but the Broncos were too much for them to handle. Luckily the Broncos have the best offensive line in the MAC, and every other team the Minutemen face are at least a slight step down.