UMass ends season 1-11 following 44-27 loss to New Mexico

Don Brown has his work cut out for him during the offseason

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Sophia-Zoe Schreyer

Sophie-Zoe Schreyer / Daily Collegian

By Dylan Corey, Collegian Staff

The spiraling Massachusetts football team’s 2021 season sputtered to a halt and ushered in the Don Brown era following its 44-27 loss to New Mexico State University on Saturday afternoon in Las Cruces, N.M.

Headed into the final week of regular season play, UMass (1-11) and NMSU (2-10) were widely regarded as two of the bottom five programs in all of college football. Both schools’ defenses ranked in the bottom four in points and yards allowed per game, while the Minutemen’s offense also ranked in the bottom five of points scored and yards gained per TeamRankings. Following the loss, UMass has now endured three-straight seasons of one win or less, including the abbreviated 2020 season.

“We have good kids and we have kids that play hard,” interim head coach Alex Miller said. “For me, it’s the attention to detail stuff…when you’re building a program, every little thing counts. Getting those guys to understand that going forward is going to be really critical.”

Despite the final score, the Minutemen’s offense was surprisingly explosive. Miller rode with Garrett Dzuro over Brady Olson once again and continued giving Ellis Merriweather a steady dose of touches out of the backfield. A slow start placed UMass in a 14-0 hole, but the teams traded touchdowns on five consecutive drives and the Aggies entered halftime up 27-13.

The Minutemen began their comeback bid on the first drive of the third quarter. Dzuro dropped a dime to Rico Arnold over the middle, who broke tackles before streaking up the left sideline for a 73-yard touchdown.

After surrendering a slow, eight-play drive resulting in a touchdown on the other end, the UMass offense struck again. Merriweather ripped off the longest rush of his collegiate career with a 79-yard touchdown to bring his team within seven but NMSU’s offense iced the game with a pair of scores that put any dwindling hope to rest.

Merriweather remained to be one of the few bright spots for the Minutemen this season. Injuries across the board riddled the offense, but namely Rutgers transfer Kay’Ron Adams who was injured in the beginning of the season, left Merriweather with nearly all of the responsibility out of the backfield. The 6-foot-2 JUCO transfer passed with flying colors. He was the first UMass player to surpass 1,000 rushing yards since 2012, never fumbled, was voted by teammates to be one of the captains and regularly showed why they elected him through his play on the field and encouraging comments off of it.

“I wish I could take a vacation,” Merriweather said on his plans for after the season. “The first week or two I’ll probably take care of my body, but the grind never stops. I’ve got more dreams and goals I’m trying to accomplish so the offseason is probably going to be more vigorous than the season was.”

Earlier in the week, Miller honed in on forcing turnovers as one of the defensive keys against the Aggies. The Minutemen didn’t force a turnover, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the defense’s lackluster performance. They allowed 623 yards including 420 through the air on 34 passing attempts. The defense broke up one pass and surrendered an average of 16.2 yards per every NMSU completion.

“I don’t think it’s an effort thing, I’m not going to say it’s a scheme thing,” Miller said of what the struggles are. “I just think right now with our personnel, the teams that can throw the ball and mix it up give us a little bit of trouble but those kids played hard.”

The responsibility to solve the problems that have plagued UMass and made them the laughingstock of college football now shifts to longtime defensive coordinator Don Brown. Leading the Minutemen from 2004-2008, Brown will be returning to Massachusetts after an impressive stint as defensive coordinator for Michigan and Arizona.

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