UMass football falls to Florida Atlantic 24-2

Offense disappoints in loss

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Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

By Dan McGee, Assistant Sports Editor

A tough defensive performance that held Florida Atlantic to only seven first half points was not enough for the Massachusetts football team as they fell to the Owls (5-1) 24-2 on Friday.

The Minutemen (0-3) were highlighted by the stout play of their defensive front. Senior Jake Byczko, redshirt senior Avien Peah and redshirt sophomore Uchenna Ezewike caused problems for the Owls all night, each forcing two tackles for loss.

“It’s everything, it’s preparation, it’s a part of our culture and how we play and what we want to look like when we play football,” head coach Walt Bell said of what drove the defensive success. “For the first time since we have been here in the past 19 months, you start to see kids play with some confidence, play with an edge. To me, that’s the exciting part.”

After forcing Florida Atlantic to fourth down and short on its opening drive, quarterback Javion Posey broke his way up the middle of the UMass defense, rushing 31 yards to the goal line. As Posey was about to cross the plane for the touchdown, Minutemen cornerback Donte Lindsey stripped the ball, but the Owls jumped on it to retain possession. On the very next play, Owls halfback BJ Emmons forced his way into the endzone for a one-yard touchdown to take the lead 7-0.

On offense, the Minutemen struggled to put together a drive longer than 25 yards all game long. OC Johnson led UMass in production, snagging eight catches for 42 yards.

True freshman Will Koch started at quarterback for the second consecutive game but was ineffective. He completed 12 passes for 67 yards and an interception before being replaced by Garrett Dzuro in the fourth quarter. Koch was also sacked twice and rushed for an additional 16 yards.

To start the second half, the Owls received the ball and patiently made their way downfield with a 15 play, 65 yard drive that lasted over eight minutes. The UMass defense stopped Florida Atlantic on the 33-yard line, but an untimely facemask penalty by Peah extended the drive.

Six plays later, Owls backup quarterback Nick Tronti tossed a fade to receiver Brandon Robinson who double clutched the catch, coming down with the score to extend the lead to 14-0. Josh Wallace blanketed Robinson on his touchdown reception, but the perfectly placed throw was just out of reach of the sophomore cornerback.

Overall, the UMass pass defense performed well. Wallace, Noah Boykin and Cody Jones each forced a pass breakup. The Minutemen largely played out of zero coverage, sending various blitzes without safety help, forcing their defensive backs to play man-to-man on the outside, a huge challenge for any group of young corners.

“We’ve got a really good young secondary group,” Bell said. “[Defensive backs coach] Tudryn has done a great job with those kids and how they prepare and how invested they are in each other as a position group. We’ve got a good group and we’re excited for them moving forward. I’m really proud of those kids.”

After another three-and-out from UMass, FAU took little time to add on to its lead. On the very first play, Posey rushed up the middle and down the field for a 70-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 21-0. He finished with 276 all-purpose yards.

Later, with the Owls backed down and forced to punt within their own 10-yard line, the Minutemen special teams unit came up clutch. Tanner Davis rushed off the edge of the Florida Atlantic line, blocking the punt out of the endzone for a safety, the lone UMass score of the evening.

Florida Atlantic would add a field goal to extend its lead to a final of 24-2. The Minutemen defense finished with six sacks and four pass breakups in their terrific effort.

“We’ve got to continue to improve,” Bell said. “There’s not very many more ways I can say it. We have just got to be better.”

The Minutemen will look to rebound as they take on Liberty next Friday at noon.

Dan McGee can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TheDanMcGee.