UMass football run over by UConn in 56-35 Homecoming loss

Minutemen give up 326 yards and six TDs on the ground

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UMass football run over by UConn in 56-35 Homecoming loss

Eva Trainer/Daily Collegian

Eva Trainer/Daily Collegian

Eva Trainer/Daily Collegian

Eva Trainer/Daily Collegian

By Thomas Haines, Sports Editor

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Even against lowly Connecticut, it was the same script for the Massachusetts football team.

UMass (1-7) hung close in the first quarter, but soon enough its run defense turned into a sieve once again and UConn (2-6) was able to pull away for a 56-35 victory.

“We hurt,” cornerback Isaiah Rodgers said. “I think you can see it in people’s faces. UConn didn’t really do anything that we didn’t work on throughout the week. So it’s just, go back in the film room and on to Liberty now.”

After Bilal Ally tied the game at 14 less than a minute into the second quarter, the deterioration began. Graduate student Art Thompkins raced through a gap in the Minutemen’s defense for a 25-yard touchdown, and the Huskies were off to the races. Kevin Mensah topped off a 61-yard drive with a five-yard rush five minutes later, and quarterback James Zergiotis got into the game with a 57-yard touchdown pass on a blown coverage to stretch the lead to 35-14.

The Minutemen closed to within seven shortly after halftime, but UConn pulled away again. Thompkins added a 29-yard run to put the Huskies back in the red zone and set up a trick-play touchdown to extend the lead, and Mensah finished off a long drive with another five-yard touchdown shortly after the start of the fourth quarter.

When it was all said and done, UConn finished with 326 yards rushing. Mensah scored five touchdowns to go with 164 yards, and Thompkins finished with 135 yards and one touchdown.

“They came in and ran the same two runs they’ve been running all year,” coach Walt Bell said. “We had about as many human beings near the tackle box I think as you possibly could, and still weren’t able to stop the run.”

On the UMass side, the offense moved the chains better than it had in weeks. Running back Bilal Ally finished with a career-high 161 yards on 25 carries to power the Minutemen, notching two of UMass’ five touchdowns.

Ally almost single-handedly brought the Minutemen back into the game early in the third quarter, finding a gap in the middle of the field and racing 63 yards to set UMass up in the red zone. Four plays later, he punched it in from one yard out to cut the lead to seven, albeit briefly.

“Just running hard and giving good effort,” Ally said. “The o-line did tremendous up front today, in pass protection up front as well. They got the push we needed and the reads that we needed was key to gashing them up the field. We knew coming into this game we wanted to play hard-knock football, just run it right up their throat.”

In the final minute, redshirt junior Gilberto Torres scored his first touchdown for UMass to push the Minutemen to their second-highest point total of the year.

Quarterback Andrew Brito returned to the lineup for the first time since suffering a concussion against Coastal Carolina on Sept. 21 and finished 20-of-40 with 239 yards to go with two touchdowns and an interception. The interception was one of a handful of poor decisions and bad throws, but overall Brito moved the offense down the field and was a major reason UMass hung around through three quarters.

“For his first time out there in a couple weeks, I didn’t think it was all too bad,” Bell said. “I think one or two choices that he’d probably like to have back in the RPO game, probably being a little too over-aggressive there, but he gave us a chance to win the game.”

UMass squandered that chance, though, even after overcoming three turnovers in the first quarter to tie the game at 14. Once the UConn run game got going, the Minutemen were outgunned.

“We’ll get there, I promise you,” Bell said. “Before it’s all said and done, we’re going to put a defense out there that people are proud of.”

UMass returns to action for the second game of the homestand next week against Liberty.

Thomas Haines can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @thainessports.