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UMass returns home to McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Saturday, seeking its first win of 2019 and hosting a red-hot opponent in Coastal Carolina.
Who: Coastal Carolina (2-1) at UMass (0-3)
When: Saturday, Sept. 21, 1 p.m. ET
Where: McGuirk Alumni Stadium; Amherst, Massachusetts
Watch: LIVE on FloFootball
The Chanticleers scored a historic win in Week 2 when it beat Big 12 Conference member Kansas, 12-7 — one week before the Les Miles-coached Jayhawks went up to Boston College and doubled-up the Eagles.
Coastal Carolina’s seeking its third straight win before it begins Sun Belt Conference play. The Chants routed Norfolk State last week, 46-7, rolling up 404 rushing yards. Twelve players got in on the action, paced by C.J. Marable’s 101 yards and Reese White’s two touchdowns.
“Coming off the big Power Five, we were concerned about how we’d show up,” Coastal coach Jamey Chadwell said on the Sun Belt teleconference call on Monday. “Our defense really came out and played well, and set the tone early.”
Defense has indeed been the theme for Coastal Carolina through its first three games. The Chanticleers’ 14.7-point per game yield is better than that of ballyhooed defenses at Notre Dame and Boise State, and just behind Auburn, Florida and UCF.
The Chanticleers have flourished against the pass, holding opponents to 123.3 yards per game. Only five teams in FBS have been better — among them, Charlotte. Last week, the 49ers held Andrew Brito to 127 yards through the air, thanks in large part to a tenacious pass rush that generated five sacks.
This year’s matchup marks the third in as many seasons between the programs. Coastal Carolina won each, 38-28 in 2017; and 24-13 last season.
Through each of its three losses, UMass went through a critical stretch when it was deluged over a brief stretch. The Minutemen’s two-touchdown lead Week 1 at Rutgers became a three-score, halftime deficit when the Scarlet Knights scored four touchdowns and a field goal over 12:29 of the second quarter.
In Week 2, Southern Illinois extended a 17-13 lead to 31-13 quickly in the third quarter, scoring twice in just over four minutes after intermission.
The mid-game quarters were the Minutemen’s undoing in the first two weeks; at Charlotte, a slow open doomed them. The 49ers put three touchdowns on the board over a nine-minute stretch in the first quarter.
“We need to learn how to play with emotion, but not be emotional,” coach Walt Bell said in his press conference following the Southern Illinois game. “We need to be able to survive the ebbs and flows of a game.”
Surrendering explosive plays has been one factor in those stretches. UMass has allowed 12 plays of 30 yards or more, more than any FBS program save Georgia State. The Minutemen are tied with Syracuse for the most of 40 yards or more allowed.
Quickly yielding possession on the other side of the ball has also been an issue, but not necessarily due to turnovers. UMass is -1 in turnover margin through three games. Rather, a 34 percent conversion on third down creates a snowball effect.
Solving that particular matter comes down, in part, to not playing behind the initial line of scrimmage.
Avoiding the Blitz
Conventional wisdom on converting third downs is pretty simple: Gains of a few yards on first down and a few more on second mean only needed one or two on third. But with the Minutemen surrendering 10 sacks on the season – five last week at Charlotte – and 26 tackles for loss, early-down plays too often move them backwards.
“No matter what level of football you’re playing, you’re only going to go as far as your big people will take you,” Bell said following the Southern Illinois matchup. “So, we need to raise our standards.”
The UMass offensive line’s challenge this week is big – literally. The Coastal Carolina front features 285-pound Sterling Johnson and 290-pound Jalin Walker on the interior, and 270-pound Tarron Jackson on the end.
Johnson’s wreaked plenty of havoc not usual for a player who lines up at a 0-technique, racking up 5.5 tackles for loss through three games.
Chasing the Chants
One of the most famous scenes from the Rocky filmography features the titular character in II chasing a chicken. Consider the challenge ahead of the UMass defense on Saturday similar as it tries to catch the multifaceted corps of ball-carriers in the Chanticleers offense.
Overseeing a prolific and deep rushing attack is nothing new for Chadwell. His teams at Charleston Southern ranked among the best in FCS, and his introduction as offensive coordinator at Coastal brought a new wrinkle to former head coach Joe Moglia’s pass-heavy look.
The blowout of Norfolk State allowed Coastal to go deep into the rotation, but UMass won’t see something quite as unique as the touches spread among 12 players shown last week. Instead, Marable and Jacqez Hairston will shoulder the load.
UMass must cut down on its almost 7-yard per carry average and make Coastal pass more frequently. Fred Payton and dual-threat Bryce Carpenter have handled the quarterbacking duties, with Payton doing the majority of the passing. He has more interceptions (4) than touchdowns (3), and is completing fewer than 60 percent of his attempts.
If there was ever a week for Isaiah Rodgers to come up big in the secondary, this is it.