It was a second quarter to forget for the Massachusetts football team.
Already trailing by seven, the Minutemen (1-3) surrendered four touchdowns on four defensive possessions in the second quarter, paving the way for yet another tough loss, falling to Florida International, 63-24.
Following a UMass punt, FIU running back Shawndarrius Phillips ran one in from 22 yards out to put the Panthers up 21-7 with 11:53 remaining in the second. The Minutemen hit a field goal on the following possession, but FIU followed that up with an eight play, 79-yard drive capped off by a Sterling Palmer touchdown pass from James Morgan.
The onslaught continued, as Morgan hooked up with Maurice Alexander for a 38-yard strike, and following a UMass fumble by Avian Peah, D’Vonte Price ran one in to put the Panthers up 42-10 just before the half.
While the Minutemen couldn’t get a stop defensively, their offense wasn’t able to get anything going. Starting quarterback Andrew Ford exited the game in the first quarter with an injury and was replaced by Ross Comis, who went 5-12 for 60 yards and a rushing touchdown before also exiting the game with an injury.
“We lost two quarterbacks in the first half but we have to make some stops on defense,” UMass coach Mark Whipple said. “We dropped a touchdown pass, we dropped a third down pass early in the game and they got some momentum. We have to stop some people on defense, we have to figure out a way there.”
With its top two quarterbacks down, UMass turned to third-stringer Michael Curtis for the second half of the game, who completed 8-of-15 passes for 158 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
“It’s the first time that’s ever happened in my career,” Whipple said of losing two quarterbacks in the first half. “Mike did a good job. He made some good plays; he made some bonehead plays. He hadn’t had the reps.”
While the FIU offense was kept at bay in the second half, it was still able to find ways to put the ball in the end zone. After a Curtis touchdown run, Maurice Alexander took a punt back 69 yards to the house. On the following possession, Rocky Jacques-Louis picked Curtis off and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown to put the Panthers up 56-17.
The Minutemen had no answer for the Panther running game, who averaged 6.2 yards-per-carry. Phillips led FIU with 117 yards and a pair of touchdowns while Napoleon Maxwell also eclipsed 100 yards, rushing for 101 yards and finding the end zone twice. With their ability to get the run game going, it allowed them to win the time of possession, controlling the ball for 36 minutes of the game.
“We didn’t tackle very well,” Whipple said. “We haven’t tackled very well in a couple of weeks. We have to look at the tape – Coach Pinkham and I talked about how we have to be more aggressive on defense rather than just sitting there and move our guys and do some things that way.”
UMass was unable to get any pressure on Morgan, who threw for 207 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The Minutemen offense struggled to stay on the field due to their inability to convert on third down, where they were just 4-for-10 on the game.
UMass will look to end their losing skid Saturday, taking on Charlotte at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.
Thomas Johnston can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @TJ__Johnston.