In its last game on campus for the immediate future and its last game as a member of the Football Championship Subdivision, the Massachusetts football team didn’t play like it was moving on to the upper tier of Division 1 football for its next season, instead showing a number of glaring holes in its 34-17 loss to James Madison on Saturday.
“They got the win right out of the gate [when they] went down and scored and we were never really able to come back off two [early turnovers],” said UMass coach Kevin Morris. “The kids, I thought, battled all the way through like they’ve done all year and unfortunately this is a game where we came up on the wrong end of the stick.”
The Dukes exposed UMass’ run defense simply by letting its star tailback, Dae’Quan Scott, run all over the field throughout the game. Scott finished with 30 carries for 251 yards and two touchdowns and had his way with the defense, frequently breaking runs for long gains. Scott’s longest rush of the day went for 76 yards and his performance marked the first time since 2008 that the Minutemen have allowed a 200-yard rusher in a single game.
The Dukes’ quarterback, Justin Thorpe, didn’t need to do much in the game, completing just four passes for 41 yards without a touchdown or an interception.
JMU also managed to puzzle Morris and his staff on defense, holding the Minutemen to 118 yards and causing two turnovers in the first half of play. It wasn’t until the third quarter that UMass figured out a way to successfully move the ball, and even when the offense was able to do so, it was inconsistent at best.
UMass quarterback Kellen Pagel finished 20-of-36 for 236 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, running back Jonathan Hernandez ran 15 times for 47 yards and tight end Rob Blanchflower contributed 37 yards on two catches and a touchdown.
While it was tough for UMass to gain positive yards consistently in the contest, the Minutemen came out in the third quarter and moved the ball effectively, thanks to some impressive running by Hernandez. He grabbed a pass from Pagel in the flats and ran 53 yards down to the JMU 11-yard line and Alan Williams punched the ball in with an 11-yard score on the next play.
“We didn’t turn the ball over [that early in the third quarter],” said Morris. “We didn’t throw the ball well early and we kind of got out-of-sync, but Kellen [Pagel] got back on track and execution was better [moving forward].”
UMass continued to move the ball well in the quarter, taking advantage of good field position and a few mismatches on defense to add another score. The Minutemen moved the ball down the field efficiently and capped off their second possession of the half with another touchdown. Pagel tossed a short pass to Blanchflower, who was wide open in the flat, for his first score of the day.
The first half was a myriad of missed opportunities and simple mistakes for the Minutemen. Pagel looked uncomfortable through each of the first two quarters and was under constant pressure from the Dukes defensive front. Pagel was continuously flushed out of the pocket to his left and forced to throw on the run and as a result, tossed two costly interceptions.
The first came on the squad’s second possession of the day as JMU cornerback Mike Allen stepped in front of a pass intended for Jesse Julmiste and took it 44 yards in the opposite direction for the Dukes second touchdown of the day to make the score 14-0 in favor of JMU.
Pagel’s second interception of the day came with UMass driving at the end of the second quarter. The team had crossed into Dukes territory when Pagel, under pressure again, threw off balance to his right and found JMU free safety Dean Marlowe instead of his intended receiver. That turnover killed any momentum the squad may have been gaining going into halftime and represented another chance the Minutemen didn’t move the ball effectively.
UMass finishes the season at 5-6 and 3-5 in the CAA. Without any chance to compete in postseason play because of its impending move to the Mid-American Conference next season, the loss was the final game of the year for the Minutemen and the final game played in McGuirk Stadium on campus for at least the next two seasons.
Michael Wood can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Wood.