Aliberti: UMass football found a new gear in its passing game

The Minutemen passed for a season-high 307 yards Saturday

Sophie-Zoe+Schreyer%2F+Daily+Collegian+%282022%29

Sophie-Zoe Schreyer/ Daily Collegian (2022)

By Joey Aliberti, Managing Editor

Brady Olson, Garrett Dzuro and Gino Campiotti all started games for the Minutemen (1-9) this season. Olson started the past three and it looks like a competent passing game for the first time under coach Don Brown and offensive coordinator Steve Casula.

That encapsulated itself Saturday afternoon against Arkansas State, where UMass threw for a season-high 307 yards. It’s the second time the Minutemen surpassed 300 passing yards in the past four seasons.

Casula’s offense was heavily predicated on the run throughout the first seven games of the season. In the beginning of the year, the only offenses that ran the ball more than UMass were the military teams (Army, Navy and Air Force).

Pass attempts per game have doubled (34.6) compared to the first seven games (17.7), and the offense benefitted. Despite the 35-33 loss to the Red Wolves (3-7), the Minutemen had their season-high in points and showed flashes of production.

It was an up and down night for Olson, who threw two first half interceptions, including a pick six. He also threw for two touchdowns, 178 yards and led the offense to two consecutive touchdowns before getting injured and replaced for Dzuro.

Olson and the offense figured something out. He’s made multiple impressive downfield throws the past two weeks that put the UMass offense in much better scoring position.

“I think Brady’s been able to give us a good shot in the arm [passing] and that’s his strength,” Brown said.

These don’t sound like impressive feats, but for an offense that’s last in the nation in points per game and bottom five in virtually every important offensive statistic, it’s improvement.

It’s been a roller coaster ride for the Massachusetts football team’s quarterback situation for the past four seasons. There hasn’t been stability and for a multitude of reasons, little to no production has been the norm.

Here’s a short timeline of the revolving door of quarterbacks since Olson and Dzuro joined the team last season:

Olson was thrown into play in the second game of the season as a true freshman after a Tyler Lytle injury. Olson flashed potential against Boston College and played even better in his second start against Eastern Michigan. He looked like an actual answer at quarterback for the Minutemen (1-9).

It went downhill from there, and his production started getting worse. His accuracy became inconsistent and eventually Olson was benched for Lytle and Dzuro in three of the final four games.

Olson started the first game of this season but after another poor performance was benched for Gino Campiotti.

Campiotti started five straight games, including UMass’ sole win of the season against Stony Brook. Brown even said he was comfortable saying Gino was the guy going forward.

Campiotti was benched less than a week after Brown called him the guy, with Dzuro replacing him. Dzuro started two games before dealing with a lower body injury.

The injury paved the way for Brady to make his return as QB1 for the past three games.

That leads us to present day, with Olson suffering an undisclosed injury midway through the third quarter Saturday. The final two games of the season could go in any sort of way depending on how severe Olson’s injury is.

Brown has gone from feeling comfortable to calling Campiotti his guy, to gushing Dzuro with praise for making the right plays, to now sounding confident in Olson and his ability to lift the passing game above what the other two couldn’t do.

Saturday’s 300-yard performance was against an Arkansas State team that isn’t great against the pass, and the Minutemen’s offense still has a plethora of concerns and is well below average. But the past couple weeks showed that there’s major strides from their 17-yard passing performance against Tulane in the season opener.

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