A.J. Doyle was healthy enough to start at quarterback for the Massachusetts football team on Saturday despite battling an ongoing ankle injury. But that didn’t necessarily mean good news for the Minutemen’s offense.
Doyle completed just 6 of 16 passes for 45 yards and threw three interceptions as the UMass offense was held out of the end zone in a game for the third time this season in its 37-0 loss to Central Michigan at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. It was the second time the Minutemen were shut out this year.
Doyle was one of the few healthy pieces to the UMass offense as left tackle Anthony Dima, tight end Rob Blanchflower and running back Lorenzo Woodley were all held out of the contest.
Their absence was certainly felt, and the Chippewas took advantage, turning three of UMass’ four turnovers into 17 points, which was more than enough to handle the Minutemen in arguably their worst offensive showing of the season.
“Turnovers kill every football team, especially one like us,” UMass coach Charley Molnar said after the game. “They were able to capitalize on a couple of them. It’s just poor ball security in the run game and then of course in the passing game. Some of those are head scratchers, how and why.”
The offensive burden was instead left to freshman Shadrach Abrokwah in his first career appearance. Abrokwah entered the game in the second quarter and ran for 93 of the Minutemen’s 169 yards of total offense on 20 attempts, including a 31-yard carry.
With so much depth in the backfield heading into the season, it seemed likely Abrokwah would simply sit out and redshirt this year. But injuries to Woodley, Stacey Bedell and Jamal Wilson changed that.
“Since this was my first time playing college football, I didn’t really know what to expect,” Abrokwah said. “But I went out there, did my job, ran hard.”
Molnar said afterward that he expects to use Abrokwah in the season finale Friday at Ohio as well.
“There was really no need to use him earlier in the year,” Molnar said. “We had plenty of depth at that position, as I have talked about all year. But we’ve been DEFCON 3 for the last several weeks. Every game we’ve gone into, we may have to use Shad, and we’ve been able not to.”
The Minutemen converted on just three of their 12 third downs and were 0-for-2 on fourth down for the game. That offensive ineptitude turned costly in the second quarter when the Chippewas erupted for 20 points to take a 27-0 lead into halftime.
Trailing 10-0, Doyle threw an interception to Tony Annese that was returned 34 yards for a touchdown to make it 17-0 CMU. The Chippewas extended their lead to 24 on their next offensive possession when Cooper Rush connected with Titus Davis for a 34-yard touchdown pass.
Davis finished with a game-high seven receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns, the second of which came with 5:41 left in the third quarter on a 30-yard reception. Davis’ performance put him at over 1,000 receiving yards for the season.
The one bright spot for UMass was the defense’s ability to slow down running back Zurlon Tipton. The same Tipton that burned the Minutemen’s defense for 185 yards and four touchdowns last season was held to just 50 yards on 16 carries.
“If (Tipton) gets a corner, if he gets a seam, gone. This week in practice we emphasized the run so much,” defensive tackle Galen Clemons said.
Unfortunately for UMass, the offense simply couldn’t pick up the defense, particularly Doyle, who had arguably the worst performance of his career on Saturday.
“They played great today,” Doyle said of the defense. “We didn’t have their backs on offense. And that lays all on me.”
Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.