Ellis Merriweather caps off impressive season despite UMass’ 1-11 record

Merriweather totaled 1,303 scrimmage yards

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Alex Schreyer

Sophie-Zoe Schreyer/Daily Collegian

By Joey Aliberti, Assistant Sports Editor

Nobody held more value on the Massachusetts football than Ellis Merriweather, who capped off a 1,138-yard season with his fifth consecutive game over 100 yards rushing.  He finished Saturday with 168 yards and two touchdowns rushing along with four receptions and 22 yards in the 44-27 loss to New Mexico State.

Since Kay’Ron Adams was ruled out for the season after the fifth game of the season for the Minutemen (1-11), the offense has revolved around Merriweather. He took that role and became the first 1,000-yard rusher since UMass moved up to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in 2012.

“In all reality, it’s remarkable,” Minutemen interim head coach Alex Miller said about Merriweather’s consistency this season. “I wouldn’t have bet on it… Just what he’s done from practice to prepping his body during the week to taking 25 or 35 carries, its special and he deserves a lot of credit right now.”

In the seven games after the Toledo loss, Merriweather averaged 24.3 carries per game, one of the highest marks in the nation. In that same span, he averaged 127.7 rushing yards per game, which includes a 10 rush, one yard output against Florida State. If that game is not added to the others, Merriweather averaged 148.8 rushing yards in the second half of the season.

These numbers speak to the strides of improvement Merriweather and the offensive line made after an even worse season in 2020 for the UMass offense. In a shortened four-game season in 2020, Merriweather finished with 42 rushes for 115 yards — an average of 2.7 yards per carry — and caught one pass for four yards.

“I learned from what my mistakes were last season and I tried to capitalize on them this year and leave no doubt,” Merriweather said.

Regardless of the heavy workload, Merriweather did not fumble the ball once this entire season. 240 total touches and no turnovers. He has not fumbled in a UMass jersey, handling 43 touches last season with a clean slate, making 283 total touches and zero turnovers for Merriweather.

“It’s huge, [my coaches] told me that the ball is the program, so I can’t be running without the ball,” Merriweather said. “Every day, I just try to protect the ball first and everything else just comes after that.”

For the second straight year, Merriweather was named as a captain for the Minutemen. Both years captains were voted on by his peers, though this year the vote was conducted once Miller was appointed the interim head coach. The other three captains this season were cornerback Josh Wallace, defensive lineman Billy Wooden and left tackle Max Longman.

“I thought the team picked the right guys,” Miller said of the players selecting captains. “…I wasn’t shocked that those four guys [were selected].

Merriweather alone had 1,303 offensive scrimmage yards this season. The entire offense had 3,596 yards, meaning Merriweather accounted for 36 percent of the offensive yards in seven games of lead-back usage. He was also the only player on UMass that rushed over 20 times and averaged over five yards per carry.

This leads to questions as to whether Merriweather will return to a program that is in the middle of a complete rebuild and no indications of major improvement following a 1-11 season. A new coaching change will provide a fresh look in Amherst, but that does not translate to immediate success.

When asked about his decision to stay in Amherst for next season, Merriweather told media he is “planning on it right now.”

Joey Aliberti can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @JosephAliberti1.