Aliberti: UMass reminds everyone that there’s still a long way to go

Minutemen blown out on the road by No. 17 Coastal Carolina 53-3

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Nina Walat / Daily Collegian

By Joey Aliberti, Assistant Sports Editor

In back-to-back games of 28-point performances, true freshman Brady Olson threw for 499 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions in those two games. For the first time in a long time, real promise glimmered through what has been a troubling stretch for the Massachusetts football team.

My former colleague Evan Marinofsky wrote about UMass (0-4) head coach Walt Bell’s bamboo analogy in terms of growing a football program. Just like the bamboo in Bell’s analogy, the Minutemen are going to need at least six years to grow into a program that competes in bowl games.

It’s very easy for fans to get excited for the future of Olson and UMass after a strong start. The reality is that this entire team was grinded to the stump after the departure of former head coach Mark Whipple. What little success UMass was able to achieve with that regime was now gone when Bell took over in 2019.

The team has certainly improved from 2019 and the four games played in an odd COVID-19 plagued 2020 season, but what does that actually mean?

Coastal Carolina will be the best team that the Minutemen face this year, as the Chanticleers now sit at 4-0 and are No. 17 in the AP polls.

It should be expected for UMass to have its worst game against the best team they face all year. But that should not mean scoring only three points on a garbage-time drive with backup quarterback Garrett Dzuro leading the offense down the field, as Bell already elected to sit Olson for the remainder of the game.

Even the Citadel — a below average FCS team — was able to put up 14 points against Coastal Carolina.

The Chanticleers are a great team, but this is reminiscent of a 2019-2020 Minutemen game. 158 total yards on offense while allowing 313 just on the ground and 558 total. It could be just an awful week for the Minutemen, but maybe this is a real sign that the progress of this program is not as fast as we think.

Constant mistakes were made on snaps, resulting in the first punt of the game getting bobbled to the four and the third punt resulting in a safety. Granted, the second punt was likely the best punt of the year, as George Georgopoulos kicked his classic line-drive punt that rolled all the way to the 1-yard line. Olson also received a bad snap which was the play that allowed another bad fourth down snap to lead to a safety. The Minutemen kept tripping over themselves, making it extremely hard for any sort of success to come to fruition.

Olson was struggling to find anyone downfield, finishing 14-of-23 for just 86 yards. To put that into perspective, Olson also completed 14 passes against Boston College for 214 yards and three touchdowns.

The defense has been plagued by injuries, with Josh Wallace having to get carried off the field and Donte Lindsey also getting injured later in the game. Coastal Carolina has one of the best offenses in the nation, which led to zero punts for the Chanticleers. Yes, they’re good. Yes, the Minutemen are injured. But they make UMass look like the worst team in the nation again, which is not what anyone thought after the two weeks prior.

The Minutemen will see Toledo next week, a team that was able to only lose to No. 12 Notre Dame by three points. That game is likely to finish in a similar manner to the Eastern Michigan game.

UMass is likely to win just around three, maybe four games this season. Two against FCS opponents in Rhode Island and Maine and another coming Oct. 9 against presumably the worst team in the nation in the University of Connecticut.

This game exposed the many flaws in a bamboo plant that still is in its third year of growth, likely three more years away from real progress. What looked like a quick turnaround from 2020’s misfortunes look to actually be the Minutemen making steps in the right path, but still sitting as a team that isn’t too far off from worst in the country.

Joey Aliberti can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JosephAliberti1