Tape shows missed opportunities for UMass in loss to Rutgers

  • UMass wide receiver Brennon Dingle (4) in action during an NCAA college football game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • UMass wide receiver Melvin Hill (82) runs up the field during an NCAA college football game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • UMass quarterback Randall West (13) makes a pass during an NCAA college football game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • UMass cornerback Isaiah Rodgers (9) runs up the field with the ball during an NCAA college football game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • UMass quarterback Randall West (13) looks to make a pass during an NCAA college football game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • UMass defensive lineman Johnathan Weir (54) in coverage during an NCAA college football game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • UMass cornerback Isaiah Rodgers (9) looks to catch the ball during an NCAA college football game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • UMass quarterback Randall West (13) looks to make a pass during an NCAA college football game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • Rutgers Scarlet Knights defensive back Christian Izien (12) attempts to intercept a pass intended for UMass wide receiver Sadiq Palmer (6) during an NCAA college football game, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • UMass quarterback Randall West (13) avoids a tackle from Rutgers Scarlet Knights linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi (3) during an NCAA college football game, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • Rutgers Scarlet Knights wide receiver Bo Melton (18) makes a catch during an NCAA college football game against UMass, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • UMass cornerback Isaiah Rodgers (9) dodges a tackle from Rutgers Scarlet Knights defensive back Naijee Jones (24) during an NCAA college football game, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • UMass cornerback Isaiah Rodgers (9) in coverage during an NCAA college football game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • UMass cornerback Isaiah Rodgers (9) attempts to dodge a tackle from Rutgers Scarlet Knights defensive lineman Mike Tverdov (97) during an NCAA college football game, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • UMass cornerback Isaiah Rodgers (9) intercepts a pass intended for Rutgers Scarlet Knights wide receiver Isaiah Washington (83) during an NCAA college football game, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • Rutgers Scarlet Knights defensive back Tim Barrow (21) in coverage during an NCAA college football game against UMass, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • UMass wide receiver Melvin Hill (82) lifts up Massachusetts Minutemen running back Bilal Ally (22) after Ally scored a touchdown during an NCAA college football game, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • UMass wide receiver Melvin Hill (82) looks to break past Rutgers Scarlet Knights defensive back Avery Young (2) during an NCAA college football game, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • UMass defensive lineman Johnathan Weir (54) in coverage during an NCAA college football game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • UMass head coach Walt Bell walks on the sidelines during an NCAA college football game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • UMass cornerback Isaiah Rodgers (9) runs the ball up the field during an NCAA college football game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • UMass wide receiver Zak Simon (11) and Massachusetts Minutemen wide receiver Cam Roberson (23) celebrate after Roberson scored a touchdown while the Rutgers Scarlet Knights cheerleaders look on during an NCAA college football game, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

  • UMass cornerback Isaiah Rodgers (9) dodges a tackle from Rutgers Scarlet Knights defensive lineman Mike Tverdov (97) during an NCAA college football game, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 48-21. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) Steve Luciano

Staff Writer
Published: 9/3/2019 9:58:27 PM

AMHERST — Head coach Walt Bell only asks two things of his football team – play hard and play smart.

In one area, UMass passed with flying colors and set a strong benchmark for future games under Bell. In the other one, the Minutemen struggled and it was a big reason why they left New Jersey with a 48-21 loss to Rutgers instead of a victory.

“The effort was really good, so when we talk (playing) hard, I thought it was hard,” Bell said. “The effort was a fantastic start for eventually what we want for years to come. From a play smart (perspective), we weren’t there yet. ... We had some guys make some uncharacteristic mistakes.”

On Friday, it was easy to pinpoint the exact plays where the execution lacked for UMass, but the reasons behind those lapses were less clear. Rutgers running back Raheem Blackshear and wide receiver Bo Melton were not supposed to be left unattended like they were on a handful of plays, but whether it was a missed assignment, poor play call or miscommunication could only be decided once the coaches reviewed the game tape.

Yet it wasn’t just the glaring errors that stood out to Bell, it was also the little mistakes that came at smaller critical junctures of the game. He said there were obvious issues with Melton’s 33-yard touchdown catch over Isaiah Rodgers and the 57-yard game-tying run by Isaih Pacheco, where one missed tackle at the line of scrimmage opened up the entire field for the running back. Yet he also highlighted the two third downs Rutgers converted on its second drive that could have taken the UMass defense off the field and given the offense a chance to extend the lead past two scores.

“When we’re up 14-0, they had two third-down conversions – (4) and 14 (yards),” Bell said. “One’s a mental issue from a kid who rarely makes mistakes and the other we were right there to make the play. The two touchdowns that kind of gave them momentum to take the lead, we’re not where we’re supposed to be. So we’ll improve, that’s coaching more than anything else.”

UMass only ran 70 plays against Rutgers, a surprise given how much Bell has talked in the offseason about wanting to run a lot of plays per game and tire out teams with its pace. But Bell said he never had a specific goal for the number of plays he wanted UMass to run, just how much the Minutemen would take advantage of those snaps. He said the Minutemen left too many big plays on the table in the final three quarters against the Scarlet Knights, placing the blame both on starting quarterback Randall West and his receiving corps.

Bell said there was a third down when West should have handed off the ball to the running back for the first down, but instead kept it and the Minutemen punted. There were also a few throws Bell and West would have liked to have had back, including an overthrow of Josiah Johnson in the middle of the field and an underthrow of Jermaine “OC” Johnson. But there were also receivers not taking advantage of the openings the Rutgers defense gave them and left West with no one to throw to.

“The number of plays used to be a bigger deal, but more importantly it’s how explosive you are within those plays and we were not that,” Bell said. “We gave up a few opportunities down the field. We missed one when we had a guy open and collisioned on a (defensive back) as opposed to being able to go run by the guy working a release technique. We gave away some shots down the field, but I didn’t feel like we were explosive as we needed to be.”

Every coach will say that the most improvement is made between the first and second games, but Bell reiterated that his goals for the team don’t change based on how early or late in the season it is. He said he just wants his team to be better than the previous day, and that starts this week with the small mistakes that cost the Minutemen on Friday.

“The emphasis of the week is details,” Bell said. “If we can just clean up the details and play with the same effort, we have a chance to be OK.”

WAITING ON PACE — Bell is very sympathetic to referees in college football.

He admits it’s a job that can produce a lot of headaches for those in the striped uniforms and wouldn’t wish the job on anyone. He understands they have a job to do as well, and sometimes that interferes with a football team in minor ways.

One of the manners in which the refs affected UMass on Friday was slowing down the pace of the up-tempo offense Bell would like to run. The first-year coach said he understands that spotting the ball quickly after a play is over isn’t a priority for most officiating crews at most times of a game, but that there were some delays in the Minutemen’s offense caused by waiting on officials to mark the ball ready for play.

“We did a great job playing with as much pace as they would allow us to early in the game,” Bell said. “Big Ten officiating crew, they’re not in a huge rush to put the ball down. We’re throwing it to the center judge and flying to get set, the center judge is walking, hands it to someone else, who wipes it off. ... Pace of play was good early, I thought that pace of play had something to do with (Rutgers) not being where they were supposed to be early.”

Bell said he does chat with the officials before the game about the tempo, but that he can’t control how fast they spot the ball after receiving it from a UMass player. All he wants to see is his players move at the right pace and be prepared for the ball to be marked ready.

STATE SECRETS — The biggest question about UMass since Bell assembled his staff was who would call the plays. Although the Big Ten Network broadcast Friday claimed Bell was in charge of calling the plays, it is unclear if that was the case or if he was just relaying those plays to the quarterback.

Bell had previously claimed a competitive advantage when declining to discuss who would call plays. He dodged the question again Tuesday in his first media availability since Friday’s loss.

“At the end of the day,” Bell said before a long pause that signaled a potentially insightful deflection. “State secret,” he concluded and walked away.

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.



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