UMass' Downey tackles dual role
AMHERST — Da’Sean Downey has led a defensive resurgence on the UMass football team.
The 6-foot-4, 330-pound senior end from White Plains, N.Y., is a hybrid quarterback hound who is equally comfortable attacking the edge from outside linebacker.
The Minutemen (0-5) will need another sound defensive performance from Downey when they take on Ohio University (3-1) in a clash of former MAC rivals this afternoon (3:30) at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.
“He’s been all in and he’s been physical and he brings a lot of energy,” said UMass coach Mark Whipple. “He has shown a lot more leadership than he has and I’m excited about where he is headed.
“He is such a smart player that we can put him in different positions and move him around. He can play coverage on one play and spy him on the quarterback on the next because he is our best pass rusher off the edge.”
Downey is improving on his work from last season when he was ninth in the nation with four forced fumbles and led the Minutemen with 8.5 tackles for loss. In four games this season, Downey has 24 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.
“My speed is my advantage from moving from linebacker to defensive end,” said Downey. “Just the way we move gaps and things it confuses the (offensive) line and that is why we have had so many TFLs the last couple of weeks.”
The Minutemen are winless this season because they haven’t had the defense and the offense show up at the same time. The offense, under the direction of quarterback Andrew Ford, put up 63 combined points in consecutive losses to Hawaii and Coastal Carolina only to have the defense fall flat in the fourth quarter.
The defense found its groove and began making plays in a 17-7 loss to Old Dominion on Sept. 9. The unit became hyper aggressive with 23 combined tackles for loss in road defeats at Temple (29-21) and Tennessee (17-13). In their three previous losses, the Minutemen had only 11 TFLs. Downey was in on the action with two against the Owls and Vols.
“I feel like everybody is buying into the defense,” Downey said. “We were executing poor in the first two games and it was like somebody wasn’t doing their job and the next person thought they had to do something else.
“When we would get out of our gaps that’s when we gave up big plays and things like that. Everybody is 100 percent committed and they trust everyone else to do their job.”
The Bobcats offense is led by quarterback Nathan Rourke, an efficient pocket passer who can scramble and throw on the run. Rourke has completed 52of-81 passes for 632 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions.
“He is a sneaky athlete and he can run,” Downey said. “We are going to have to be focused and wrapping him up and attack him in different ways.
“We have to go out there and execute what we’ve been doing during the week, watch film and watch personnel and know their tendencies. You have to do all the different things like that and we are really focused this week.”