UMass’ receiving core looks bright in loss against Eastern Michigan on Saturday

UMass had nine players record a reception on the day

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Thom Kendall/UMass Athletics

By James DiLuca, Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts football team appears to have found its stride on the offensive end after scoring 28 points for the second straight week in a row. The Minutemen (0-3) had 519 yards of total offense on the day, which marks their highest total of the year. UMass also exceeded 300 yards passing for the first time in almost three years.

“At times we executed well,” head coach Walt Bell said. “When everything is as it’s coached to be, we are a pretty good football team. I thought the biggest thing today was it was the first time since I have been here that we actually looked explosive at times.”

For the Minutemen, multiple wideouts had career bests against Eastern Michigan (2-1). Sophomore Tray Pettway had career highs in both receptions and receiving yards catching five passes for 57 yards. Rico Arnold Jr. had 58 yards receiving on six catches which tied his colligate career high.

Receiver Melvin Hill also set career highs in both catches and receiving yards as the redshirt junior had four catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. Hill’s touchdown came late in the 3rd quarter, losing his defender with a double move so quarterback Brady Olson could hit him in stride for a 45-yard touchdown.

On UMass’ ensuing drive the Minutemen were set up with great field position at Eastern Michigan’s 42-yard line, down 28-14. On the second play of the drive Olson hit Hill on a quick hitch route. Hill initially bobbled the pass but was able to secure it. As Hill tried to fight forward for extra yards, he proceeded to fumble which proved to be a costly turnover for UMass.

“Everybody that carries a ball in this program should have their wrist up, and rub their number,” Bell said. “Any time there is a threat of contact they should take their second hand over their wrist. I don’t believe he did any of those things, so that’s poor coaching.”

Despite the loss, the Minutemen found success on the ground, rushing for 206 yards as a team. Running back Ellis Merriweather filled in for an injured Kay’ron Adams in a big way, rushing for 147 yards on 23 attempts. Merriweather became the first UMass running back to run for 100 yards since Bilal Ally hit the mark against BYU on November 23, 2019. Freshman running back Carter Scudo added 33 rushing yards and touchdown.

“I know Coach Bell prides himself on being a run first team,” Merriweather said. “The way the game was happening, passing was probably the best option…we want to be as balanced as possible, but I definitely think we pride ourselves off of being a tough power run team.”

Quarterback turned tight end Josiah Johnson stepped up in a big way for the Minutemen scoring two touchdowns. Johnson first touchdown came with 3:25 left in the 2nd quarter taking a direct snap from Eastern Michigan’s one-yard line and powered it in. Johnson also caught a receiving touchdown late in the 4th quarter as Olson hit Johnson from 29 yards out with 53 seconds left in the game.

“Josiah has a very interesting role,” Bell said. “He came here as a quarterback. He’s 6’5’’, 225 pounds… he’s tough enough to block, he can make plays in space, he’s a great perimeter blocker.”

“The thing that’s the most impressive about Josiah is how invested he is in our football program. There’s not a person in our program that isn’t more broke up about not being at our best as a football team.”

The Minutemen are set to face off against Coastal Carolina next Saturday with kickoff set for 1 p.m.

James DiLuca can be reached at [email protected]