UMass falls 42-28 to Eastern Michigan

Brady Olson threw for nearly 300 yards in his second career start

Thom+Kendall+%2F+UMass+Athletics

Thom Kendall / UMass Athletics

By Dylan Corey, Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts football team dropped to an 0-3 record following Saturday’s 42-28 loss to Eastern Michigan.

The same UMass football team that has struggled during the opening quarters so far this season once again fell flat to start the game. The first quarter was the only quarter where the Minutemen were outscored, and head coach Walt Belt put the brunt of the blame on himself.

“Obviously I’m not coaching [starts of games] well enough, but that’s one of the things that matters, starting fast,” he said. “It’s execution and that’s on us as coaches. If we’re not starting fast enough, that’s on me.”

The Minutemen (0-3) avoided a first half shutout on a drive that was jumpstarted by trickery. Freshman quarterback Brady Olson threw it sideways to Isaac Ross, who drew the attention of EMU’s defense before sending it back to Olson on the opposite end of the field and a plethora of blockers to boot. Olson’s first career reception was good for 25 yards and set up UMass’ eventual first score of the game on a 1-yard touchdown with just under three minutes remaining in the first half.

The touchdown for the Minutemen gave redshirt sophomore Josiah Johnson his first career rushing touchdown, and his only carry on the day. Of UMass’s 34 carries, 23 came at the hands of Ellis Merriweather — the team’s primary option out of the backfield this year with Rutgers transfer Kay’Ron Adams sidelined. Merriweather’s responsibilities have continued to grow since his 81 yards and one touchdown performance against Boston College. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound redshirt junior ran for 142 yards and caught two passes for 20 more.

“I don’t know how many plays we played today, but he [Ellis] played every one of them but about three,” Bell said. “We don’t know when we’re going to get Kay’Ron Adams back … we’re thin right now, so just really proud of Ellis and his toughness. I thought he fought his heart out.”

Carter Scudo, a freshman walk-on ran for 33 yards and one touchdown on four carries in his first collegiate appearance.

“When everything is as it’s coached to be, we’re a pretty good football team,” Bell said. “The biggest thing today was the first time since I’ve been here we actually looked explosive at times.”

The Eagles’ season-long quarterback battle was one-sided against UMass. Senior Ben Bryant completed 14 out of 21 attempts for 298 yards and one touchdown, while the younger Preston Hutchinson only appeared in the second quarter for three passes. That’s the most attempts Bryant has had since Nov. 29, 2019 at Memphis. EMU head coach Chris Creighton emphasized importance of having two threats at any given time.

“I thought Ben did a good job today, but we feel as though we have two really good quarterbacks,” Creighton said. “I’ve done this for 31 years, and you need to have two guys that can do it. We’ve been playing both of those guys, and if one were to separate himself then that’s the direction we’ll be going.”

Bryant had no trouble connecting with 5-foot-8 wide receiver Hassan Beydoun, who tied UMass’ Rico Arnold for most receptions in the game with six but totaled 101 yards to Arnold’s 58.

The injury-ridden Minutemen were once again unable to execute Bell’s emphasis of defending the rush prior to Saturday. Senior Jawon Hamilton ran for 122 of EMU’s 184 rushing yards, averaging 7.6 yards per carry. Freshman Darius Boone was less productive from a yardage standpoint but found the end zone twice. The difference in age transcends to playstyle, where Creighton enjoys two separate yet equally powerful options.

“Those two guys are the front runners right now, they’re playing really well,” Bell said. “It’s a nice change of pace to go a little bit more with the thicker power with Darius, and then Jawon’s got the ability to put his foot in the ground and really burst.”

UMass now turns its focus to No. 16 Coastal Carolina — arguably its toughest test yet. The Minutemen are currently riding one of the longest active losing streaks in the country. A win on Saturday would give UMass its first win in nearly two calendar years. Kickoff is set for Sept. 25 at 1 p.m. in Conway, South Carolina.

Dylan Corey can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TheDylanCorey