Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass football hangs close in 20-3 loss to Texas A&M

The Minutemen’s offense goes 3-of-16 on third downs
Dylan Nguyen/Daily Collegian (2022)

Two struggling programs in the Massachusetts football team and Texas A&M took the field at Kyle Field in College Station Saturday. The Aggies (4-7) struggled, but did enough to hand the Minutemen (1-10) a 20-3 loss.

Neither team won a game since September, UMass lost seven straight and Texas A&M six. The Minutemen held on for much of the game, but couldn’t generate any offensive opportunities to give them a legitimate chance of winning. The Aggies win Saturday snapped their longest losing streak since 1972.

Regardless of the outcome, this was a game that spelled blowout loss for the Minutemen when looking at this game on the schedule. The Minutemen haven’t won more than four games since moving into the FBS and took on a team that hauled in a historic recruiting class, which included eight 5-star prospects according to 247 Sports.

“I have to say that our guys have bought in,” UMass coach Don Brown said. “Now you can turn around and say ‘Well coach you got one win’ … the bottom line is if the guys haven’t stayed the course could they have gone out and competed like they competed today against an opponent with that kind of ability.”

Injuries derailed Texas A&M’s chances at contention in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) this season. Yet it still remains a high-level Power-5 program with a history and prestige the Minutemen don’t have. The Aggies program that defeated UMass Saturday was the same program that was two yards away from defeating Alabama five weeks ago in Tuscaloosa.

The Minutemen kept their offense on the field for two consecutive fourth downs when they were down 13-3 in the fourth quarter. One resulted in a strip sack while the other was thrown out of bounds by quarterback Brady Olson.

Long drives came far and few for a UMass team that converted 3-of-16 third downs. The Minutemen had one drive all game that exceeded four minutes because of it. Olson struggled against the Texas A&M secondary on third down plays. The running game was fairly successful for UMass but stalled whenever it needed a first down.

“[The Aggies] are drop eight, rush three, some pressure, but they kind of lean on the coverage piece a little bit more to kind of change up the way they function on third down,” Brown said. “I think part of that is they see some really athletic wide receiver groups throughout the year so they kind of lean more on different coverages.”

Brown compared this to his style of third down defense: a lot of pressure and blitz packages to attack the opposing team’s blocking protection schemes. Along with man coverage to force the offense to make a play in short time before the pressure gets to the quarterback.

“Both plans can be certainly effective for sure,” Brown added.

And both were. A&M converted two third downs on 10 opportunities, which turned into two field goals, two missed field goals and four punts. Brown’s defense constantly pressured Aggies freshman quarterback Connor Weigman and forced him into sacks, throw aways and bad decisions.

“That’s one of our things we strive for,” Brown said of his defense’s third-down success. “[Just making] sure we do a really good job of scheming up third downs so we give ourselves a chance to get off the field. Over the last several weeks, that is not uncommon. We’ve had 2-of-10, we’ve had 0-of-12, we had 4-of-12. We’re doing a really good job there.”

Turnovers also factored into UMass keeping the game close. In rainy conditions the Minutemen forced four fumbles against the Aggies, none of which translated to points on the following drive.

Olson had a down week passing the football after back-to-back successful games. He finished with 55 yards, completing 9-of-22 passes for no touchdowns or interceptions. Olson was the primary reason UMass’ passing offense found life, averaging 222 yards through the air in the two prior contests.

“I thought it was up and down,” Brown said of Olson’s performance. “I thought he competed really hard, I thought he had a great week of practice, but I thought it was up and down. I’m sure if you asked him he’d say the same. I thought he handled athletes up front pretty good and thought he did a pretty good job staying in the picture of what coach [Steve] Casula wants him to do in terms of functioning within the offense.”

Ellis Merriweather and Kay’Ron Adams both established a presence in the Minutemen’s rushing attack, combining for 105 yards. It was them who allowed UMass’ offense to move the chains while the pass game stagnated. The offensive line gave the two runners enough room to work with and get its team up to double-digit first downs Saturday.

Army is the sole opponent left on the Minutemen’s schedule. The Black Knight’s triple option offensive scheme is something Brown used multiple weeks to prepare for because of the difference compared to most other college programs. That game takes place in Amherst on Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium, kickoff is at noontime.

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

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