UMass unable to capitalize on opportunities, losing 35-22 to Rhode Island

UMass drops to 1-8 on the season

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Sophie-Zoe Schreyer/Daily Collegian

By James DiLuca, Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts football team couldn’t hang with Rhode Island at home on Saturday, falling 35-22.

With 12 seconds to go in the first half the Minutemen (1-8) appeared to take a chance, as on the kickoff, C.J. Kolodziey kicked a slow rolling ball that seemed to make for a perfect onside kick as Tristan Armstrong fell on the ball on the UMass 46-yard line.

With now 11 seconds to go in the half and a chance to put points on the board, the Minutemen opted for the conservative approach going with a handoff to Ellis Merriweather instead of taking a shot down field.

“We did not call an onside kick,” head coach Walt Bell said. “We called a squib and the kicker slipped and mishit the ball. There’s 11 seconds left, it’s a one score game and we haven’t up until this point been very good in terms of field goals…we just thought it was the wise thing to do to get it into halftime.”

The Minutemen went into the half down 21-16, but had they tacked on a field goal before halftime, the rest of game could have potentially unfolded differently.

This game marked the first time Tyler Lytle had taken the field since September 4th, as a wrist injury sidelined the graduate student for seven straight games. Lytle completed 15 of 28 passes for 227 yards in his return, to go along with a touchdown and an interception. The 6-foot-5 signal caller also added a rushing touchdown.

The Rhode Island (6-3, 3-3 Colonial Athletic Association) pass rush got to Lytle frequently, sacking him four times. L.B. Mack III had 3.5 sacks on the game.

Wide receiver Rico Arnold had one of his better games of the season hauling in six catches for 99 yards. Lytle and Arnold showed chemistry throughout the game as the pair seemed to be in sync on timing routes.

Arnold even bailed out his quarterback on an underthrown ball into double coverage, making a 25-yard contested catch on the sideline with two defenders right in the area. This play helped UMass score before halftime, as the offense worked its way down to the goal line. Lytle was able to find Josiah Johnson for a 3-yard touchdown off a play action pass with 12 seconds to go in the half. Johnson’s touchdown capped off an eight play, 75-yard drive.

The Minutemen defense who have had problems stopping the run all season were having success slowing down the Rhode Island rushing attack up until late in the 3rd quarter. Facing 3rd and 17 from their own 28 yard line, the Rams decided to take a low risk approach and run the ball.

The play call proved to be a wise one as Jaylen Smith took the hand off and found running room which allowed him to outrun the UMass defense en route to a 72-yard touchdown.

This touchdown essentially iced the game for URI putting them up 35-16 with 13 seconds to go in the 3rd quarter. Up until Smith’s 72-yard burst, UMass had only allowed 35 yards rushing on the game.

The Minutemen got off to a hot start running the ball as Merriweather in the first quarter alone tallied 13 rushes for 87 yards. However, the Rams defense slowed down Merriweather, holding the back to 31 yards on 17 attempts for the remainder of the game.

Rhode Island’s Kasim Hill accounted for four total touchdowns on the day, while throwing for 169 yards and rushing for 32.

With this loss Bell’s coaching record at UMass drops to 2-23. The only two wins Bell has gotten during his tenure in Amherst have come against winless teams. Bell and the Minutemen will hope to pick up at least one more win this year, as they have the easiest strength of schedule in the country during the last three weeks of the season.

“We got to do a better job coaching, and ultimately it starts with me,” Bell said. “I’ve got to do a better job and our staff has to do a better job… critical errors at critical times and this is what happens.”

The Minutemen have another good opportunity to get into the win column next week as they play the 4-5 Maine Black Bears, who are a member of the FCS. Maine defeated URI 45-24 on Oct. 30. The game is scheduled to be played next Saturday at noon at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

James DiLuca can be reached at [email protected].