When a team gets upset the opening week of the season the way that Kansas State did, you tend to overanalyze things following up. When is, if any, the next big hiccup? Where do the Cats need to improve? As Coach Snyder would probably say, no team is perfect. I spotlighted the running backs and linebackers last week, and while John Hubert is still looking to bust onto the scene in 2013 (Hubert had 56 yards on 18 carries for a 3.1 average, but did contribute 2 TD’s), we did see a vast improvement on the ground game. This came from a game plan to get Daniel Sams more involved, rushing for 63 yard on 8 carries, including one touchdown. It was a unique sight to see the backup quarterback leading the team in rushing.
As for the linebackers I felt the unit continued to grow together and the experience will only benefit Jonathan Truman and Blake Slaughter. After letting the North Dakota State Bison convert countless 3rd downs, the Cats held the Raging Cajuns to 0/6 in the first half, helping build a 34-3 score into the 3rd quarter. But Louisiana-Lafayette went on to convert seven out of 10 3rd conversions after that to make the game a much closer finish of 48-27 then many expected. As the Minutemen of UMass travel to Manhattan tomorrow, I wanted to focus on the secondary this week as we move along the 2013 season.
The Massachusetts Minutemen travel to Bill Snyder Family Stadium reeling, sitting at 0-2 after two disheartening losses. The Minutemen were blown out in a game they were expected to lose, opening the year at Wisconsin 45-0. They then followed that by giving up 514 total yards of offense to the Maine Bears. The Minutemen scored first and then allowed 24 unanswered points before falling 24-14 as Maine picked up only its second win over an FBS opponent. The one bright spot for the Minutemen that Saturday was wide receiver Tajae Sharpe contributing 11 catches for 85 yards and 1 TD.
The UMass Minutemen have given up a whopping 556 yards of offense during the team’s first two games (320 on the ground, 236 through the air). On the other side of the ball, the Minutemen offense hasn’t been much better, averaging only 238.5 total offense (156.5 passing, 82 rushing). For Kansas State, new starters Dorrian Roberts (Senior), Randall Evans (Junior), and Dante Barnett (Sophomore) join Preseason All-American safety Ty Zimmerman (Senior) to form the new Wildcat secondary. Gone are former cornerbacks Nigel Malone (5 Ints, 14 Passes Defended) and Allen Chapman (5 Ints, 10 Passes Defended) and second leading tackler last season, former strong safety Jarard Milo (58 tackles, 5 Passes Defended). Randall Evans contributed heavily last season, coming in third on the team with 49 tackles, and also contributed 1 interception and 7 passes defended.
Evans now must move from his nickel back position and continually cover the team’s best receiver. Last week, the defense allowed the momentum to turn as the Ragin’ Cajuns scored 14 points in two minutes and besides an interception return for a touchdown by the before mentioned Ty Zimmerman, the Ragin’ Cajuns scored 24 points in the late third/early fourth before the Cats squashed the momentum and won 48-27. Some of this can also be attributed to the pass rush and the defense as a whole. The secondary was not scorched or burnt in the Cats victory, but did need some more seasoning to strengthen the unit. As they face the Minutemen this week, can the Wildcats feast on this opportunity on a down team? If players like Dante Barnett and Dorrian Roberts can start finding their stride this week, then the Wildcats defense can continue to grow. We already know what Ty Zimmerman can do, but who is next in line? I’ll be watching to find out.