The final home game this year for the Massachusetts football team was strikingly similar to an earlier game this season.
No. 14 UMass (6-4, 4-3 Colonial Athletic Association) lost to No. 2 Delaware (9-1, 6-1 CAA) on Saturday, unable to slow down a high-powered offensive opponent ranked among the top schools in the nation.
From a talented quarterback to a speedy running duo, Saturday’s match-up was almost a facsimile of the Minutemen’s trip to The Big House on Sept. 11. Even the Delaware and Michigan helmets bear an uncanny resemblance to one another.
Like the game at Ann Arbor, quarterback Kyle Havens was unwilling to concede anything to his opponents after the game. During the postgame conference, Havens (17-31, 228 yards, four touchdowns, one interception) stressed that the difference in the game was execution, not talent.
“That was not the New England Patriots,” Havens said. “We could have beaten that team. They’re a good team, I’m not going to take that away from them. I don’t think we were outmanned at any position.”
Had it not been for three missed field goals, the Minutemen, theoretically, would have held a lead for most of the first half. Yet, as well as the offense played (424 total yards), UMass could not halt a Blue Hen rushing attack which entered the game ranked first in the CAA in yards per game and a quarterback who is nominated as the best in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Pat Devlin, a Walter Payton Award candidate, engineered seven scoring drives on the day, leading a Blue Hen offense which averaged a shade under seven yards per offensive play throughout the game and racked up six plays of 30 or more yards.
Running backs Andrew Pierce, the likely pick for CAA Rookie of the Year, and David Hayes, combined to rush for 174 yards on 28 carries, mirroring the Wolverines’ threat of Michael Shaw and Denard Robinson.
In looking back at the box scores for each game, it is hard to ignore the congruencies.
Devlin threw for 240 yards on 16-of-22 (72.7 percent) passing with four touchdowns and one interception. Robinson threw for 241 yards on 10-of-14 (71.4 percent) passing with two touchdowns and one interception.
Delaware scored 45 points on Saturday, gaining 510 total yards on 270 net yards rushing. Michigan finished with 42 points against the Minutemen on 525 total yards and 284 yards rushing.
Both teams were efficient on third down and split the turnover margin with UMass at two apiece, losing one fumble and one interception. Remarkably, each team only punted the ball twice.
Aside from the box score equivalencies, the biggest similarities between the two games came in the Minutemen’s inability to stop the big play. Delaware had six plays go for 30 yards or more, including nine of 10 or more yards.
In the first quarter, Delaware and UMass were deadlocked on the scoreboard at 7-7, with the Blue Hens possessing the ball for just under five minutes. Of their 12 plays in the opening frame, seven went for first downs.
Delaware’s first play of the game was a 15-yard completion to Mark Schenauer. Two plays later, Schenauer caught another pass, this time for 42 yards, which set up a 10-yard Rob Jones touchdown catch for a 7-0 lead.
After tying the game late in the first quarter, the Minutemen allowed Devlin to scramble for a career-long 34-yard run, which led to a field goal and a 10-7 second quarter lead.
The most deflating play may have been Hayes’s 61-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. UMass appeared to be stopping the Blue Hen offense for its first three-and-out of the game when Mike Lee swatted a pass attempt out of the hands of Jones on 3rd-and-3. But Lee was called for pass interference.
The ball was marked off at the Delaware 39-yard line and Hayes rumbled through the defensive line for the long score on a play that may have altered momentum, much like the long scoring drives at the end of the first half against Michigan.
Against the Wolverines, the Minutemen had a 17-7 lead with under two minutes to go before halftime when Michigan scored two touchdowns in 38 seconds to gain the lead going into the locker room.
The first score took one play, a 66-yard throw from Robinson to Darryl Stonum, while the next drive was keyed by a 36-yard catch and run by Shaw.
The Minutemen won time of possession (37 minutes, 38 seconds) and ran 22 more plays than the Wolverines, but allowed seven plays of 20 yards or more, including three throws of over 40 yards.
UMass uncharacteristically allowed Delaware to dominate time of possession by over ten minutes and its 11-for-17 third down conversion rate was one reason for the discrepancy.
Whether or not the Minutemen were “outmanned” during Saturday’s game, implementing strategies to stop leading players in the country is often easier said than done.
“[Delaware] did everything the scout team showed,” co-captain Tyler Holmes said. “It was more so us making mental mistakes and making it easier on them.”
Great teams often have a way of forcing teams into mistakes. As their records show, it might not be all coincidence.
Dan Gigliotti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.