UMass running backs falter in second half in loss to New Mexico State

Minutemen record 27 rushing yards in second half

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Daily Collegian/ Sophie-Zoe Schreyer

By Johnny Depin, Assistant Sports Editor

In a season that has been full of ups and mostly downs for the Massachusetts football team, the running backs once again showed that they were the barometer for success in its loss to New Mexico State University on Saturday afternoon.

Ellis Merriweather and Kay’Ron Adams were the two running backs in the backfield on Saturday, with this being the first game in which Merriweather took the majority of running plays since the Minutemen’s (1-7) Sept. 17 win against Stony Brook.

Merriweather has been dealing with injury for most of the season, as the injury bug struck UMass in many different positions. Merriweather, who last season was the consensus best offensive player for Massachusetts and clear lead back, has had a down year in 2022.

Due to both injuries and improvements in the running back room, the Minutemen fell into a running back by committee situation, with three ball carriers in addition to Merriweather recording over 100 yards on the ground on the season. Adams is a member of this group, and he added 72 more yards to his season total in Saturday’s contest.

In Merriweather’s first performance fully back from injury, he had 23 rush attempts in the game. Over 38 percent of the offensive snaps resulted in a Merriweather run. He finished with 84 rushing yards with an average of 3.7 yards per carry. While the yards per carry may not be eye popping, that’s more of a side effect to how often Merriweather ran the ball.

“I thought that was more of what we should be getting [from Merriweather],” said head coach Don Brown. “I thought [Merriweather] looked fresh, we were smart with him during the bye week, he was getting some practice time, but at the same time we were controlling his workload.”

Merriweather was a grinder on Saturday, with his longest run going for 16 yards. Continually rushing up the gut, he nudged the Massachusetts offense forward step by step. The threat of inside runs allowed other facets of the offense to open, with Adams reaping the rewards when he busted an outside run for 66 yards and a touchdown.

The Aggies (3-5) adjusted their defensive scheme after the Minutemen ran wild in the first half, where they totaled 135 rushing yards. UMass would garner 27 rushing yards in the second half, effectively stunting its offensive identity.

“Too little, too late. I thought the first half, our guys were really competing, hard and at a high level,” Brown said. “Obviously, we’re not able to manufacture anything offensively in the second half. Running the football, [Adams] had the big play, but too little. I feel bad for our guys because they’ve been working at it, I’m just disappointed for them we didn’t get it done.”

The trend of the offense and running backs in general running out of steam isn’t new to the Minutemen. In their contest against Buffalo, they had 84 of their eventual 112 rushing yards in the first half. The workload that was placed on Merriweather’s shoulders coming off injury could be a reason for the run game falling off in the second half.

Merriweather had 65 rushing yards in the first half, which accounted for over 77 percent of his eventual yardage. He averaged just over 4.5 yards per carry in the first half, with that number falling to 2.1 yards per carry in the second. Adams ran three times in each half but found little success aside from his aforementioned touchdown run.

With a matchup against Connecticut looming, UMass will look to sustain its running attack across all four quarters, as the team it’ll face allows almost 30 less rushing yards per game than NMSU. That game will take place on Friday, Nov. 4 at 7:00 p.m.

Johnny Depin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Jdepin101.