UMass football blown out at home by FCS opponent Southern Illinois

Penalties, missed tackles and mistakes proved costly for the Minutemen

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UMass football blown out at home by FCS opponent Southern Illinois

(Eva Trainer/Daily Collegian)

(Eva Trainer/Daily Collegian)

(Eva Trainer/Daily Collegian)

(Eva Trainer/Daily Collegian)

By Dan McGee, Assistant Sports Editor

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Well, it certainly wasn’t pretty.

The Massachusetts football team dropped its home opener to Southern Illinois on Saturday, losing to the Salukis (1-1) 45-20. Falling behind 17-13 late in the first half, the Minutemen (0-2) offense faltered again and again in the second half, failing to score until late in the fourth quarter.

“I want our kids to understand whatever what happens, whatever the scoreboard says, I think the most important thing to understand is that we still love our guys,” coach Walt Bell said. “We’re going to continue pour our heart and soul out every day to ensure the things that happened today don’t happen again.”

UMass opened the game with the same up-tempo offense that worked successfully in the first quarter against Rutgers. Driving the ball downfield, running back Bilal Ally was able to accumulate 36 yards and make it into the red zone before being stopped on fourth down.

After successfully holding SIU to a three and out, starting quarterback Randall West successfully scrambled his way into the end zone for the score to put the Minutemen up 6-0.

Holding strong throughout the first quarter, the Minutemen defense was able to hold the Salukis scoreless through 15 minutes. However, the start of the second saw SIU quarterback Stone Labanowitz find Javon Williams Jr. on a wheel route for an 85-yard touchdown, putting the Salukis ahead 7-6.

Williams Jr. played a huge role for the Salukis in the win, seeing time at wildcat quarterback, running back and wide receiver and amassing 171 all-purpose yards to go along with three touchdowns.

“Watching film, we knew [Williams Jr.] had a role, especially on the goal line where a running quarterback can do a lot of things,” linebacker Jarvis Miller said. “I knew he was going to play but how much of a role he was going to have, I didn’t know obviously… We knew that we had to stop him in certain situations but he’s a good player and he made plays at the end of the day.”

After faltering offensively the next few drives, West connected with receiver Zak Simon to set up a two-yard touchdown run by Kevin Brown, putting the Minutemen ahead 13-10 with 1:26 left in the half.

While stopping SIU would have given UMass the lead going into the half, Labanowitz and the Salukis stormed down the field with the remaining time, with D.J. Davis hauling in a 32-yard touchdown with eight seconds remaining in the half.

“The score before halftime definitely hurts,” said Miller. “Those are definitely the situations that you try to avoid on defense, but it happened. You have to respond to it. That’s football, you can’t play perfect. Obviously that’s something we didn’t want to happen but it’s up to us to keep playing and keep fighting.”

The second half is where things got ugly for the Minutemen.

Though an interception put them in prime scoring position to start the second half, an unsportsmanlike conduct call moved UMass away from the goal line, forcing UMass to throw on third and long, resulting in a West interception, a momentum killer.

Following the pick, West was replaced by Andrew Brito for the remainder of the game.

“I just felt like we wanted to give [Brito] a chance and see what happened,” Bell said of the quarterback change. “By no means does that mean Randall is out forever or that Brito is somehow anointed as the starting quarterback. Just trying to bring life to the team and give Andrew a chance.”

By this point, things had begun spiraling out of control for UMass. Penalties, missed tackles, dropped passes and mistakes proved costly as the Salukis began to pour it on after the quarterback change. Williams Jr. added two more scores in the third to bring the score to 31-13 by the end of the third quarter.

With 2:44 left in the fourth quarter, Brito was able to find Taylor Edwards in the back of the UMass end zone for the score, but it proved too little too late. The Salukis had already run away with the game, 45-20.

Two games into the season, Bell is raising the expectations for his team the remainder of the way.

“We’ve got a lot of young players that are out there playing, and we’ve got to make sure they know they’re not young players anymore,” said Bell. “They’ve been in two football games and they’ve got to improve.”

UMass will seek to improve as they take on Charlotte next Saturday. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.

Dan McGee can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @DMcGeeUMass.