Posted: 10:00 a.m. Friday, Aug. 16, 2013
By Jimmy Kelley
The UMass Minutemen lost their top running back, Michael Cox, to the NFL Draft and the skill position players left on the roster tip the scales significantly towards the passing game. Mike Wegzyn has looked strong in camp at the quarterback position and the receiving corps, led by tight end Rob Blanchflower, has looked like a formidable unit with both size and speed.
Meanwhile, the running back depth chart is crowded and unproven with the exception of Jordan Broadnax, whose 138 yards last season are just three behind Wegzyn's 141 as the most of any returning player.
This is not to say Charley Molnar should throw out the playbook and start hucking the ball over the field. It is instead a suggestion that the Minutemen learn from their second-most successful MAC outing -- at least in terms of efficiency -- from last season: their 37-34 loss to Ohio.
In that game, UMass carried a 27-20 lead into the fourth quarter before Beau Blankenship did Beau Blankenship things and the Bobcats left with the victory. Wegzyn turned in a 373-yard performance with four touchdowns on 51 attempts while UMass ran the ball 41 times for 158 yards. Those are per-play averages of 7.3 yards per pass attempt and 3.8 yards per carry.
Both of those numbers, if sustained for an entire season, would make the Minutemen a middle-of-the-pack offense in terms of efficiency instead of bottom-of-the-pile. That shift alone could be enough to push the Minutemen miles ahead of where they were last season and with the weapons already in place, UMass should make a concerted effort to make those weapons the focus of the offense.
Those weapons include Blanchflower and sophomore Tajae Sharpe, both of whom averaged over 10 yards per catch last season despite having different sample sizes. Sharpe will have to step up his production from 2012 (20 catches, 206 yards) to match that of departed senior Deion Walker (59 catches, 667 yards), but by all accounts his chemistry with Wegzyn is at a level where that should be possible, if not expected.
Game plans change from week to week but for UMass to go from a one-win team to a two- or three-win outfit, repeating NCAA-average efficiency numbers on a weekly basis is a nice first step to take.