Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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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

Wendel: Takeaways from UMass football spring game

With modified scoring format, defense beats offense 18-17
Sophie-Zoe Schreyer / Daily Collegian

Saturday saw the Massachusetts football team return to McGuirk Alumni Stadium for the first time in just over five months, as the spring game marked the beginning of head coach Don Brown’s second season at the helm.

With a modified scoring system that gave as many points to an interception as it did a touchdown, the White team (defense) defeated the Red team (offense) 18-17. The game came down to a 48-yard field goal attempt that was blocked by junior defensive tackle Billy Wooden.

To make things clear, any conclusions from this game, my own included, should be taken with a grain of salt. As is the case with most schools’ spring games, Saturday looked closer to a spring practice than it did a fall kickoff, and the game clocked in at just over one hour long. With that being said, here is what I took away from the UMass spring game:

Signal-Caller Battle

In a revamped quarterback room, all three of the Minutemen’s new additions saw snaps Saturday along with last season’s primary starter Brady Olson. Olson looked the best in the short and medium passing game, albeit versus the third-string defense. During a third quarter drive which resulted in a 44-yard Cameron Carson field goal, the sophomore looked comfortable delivering passes through run-pass options and other fast-developing routes.

It wasn’t all just quick throws from Olson, though, as the sophomore delivered the longest completion of the game to George Johnson III on the opening drive of the third quarter, setting up a Kay’Ron Adams rushing touchdown.

Of the new additions, true freshman Ahmad Haston and Georgia Tech transfer Taisun Phommachanh had opportunities to display their speed, while former Western Carolina starter Carlos Davis made an impressive throw on the run in the fourth to fellow transfer Mark Pope. Haston in particular had a solid series of plays in the beginning of the fourth, leading UMass down the field in a drive that ended with their only passing touchdown of the day, a catch over the middle to Johnson.

“Each one of [the quarterbacks] had a moment where I just liked the way they went about their business,” Brown said. “They’re all doing good things.”

Defensive Success 

While the offense has much more room for improvement heading into the 2023 season, the Minutemen defense can still get better, which the unit showcased Saturday.

On the defensive line, players were collapsing the pocket all day, leading to some rushed throws and bad decisions from UMass quarterbacks. Freshman Sahnai Swain-Price made his presence felt, recording a sack and a pass deflection on the same drive in the second quarter. Wooden also showcased his impact in the run game.

The Minutemen defensive back group flexed its muscles, with multiple members of the secondary making big plays. Vanderbilt transfer Dashaun Jerkins made numerous plays in coverage, while sophomore Dorian Helm had the game’s lone interception.

Fresh Faces

While Brown says the roster’s still yet to be finalized, Saturday gave fans their first opportunity to see 17 new players in a UMass uniform. Of those, 14 were transfers while three freshmen early-enrolled this spring.

Among the team’s newest additions, a player who made a big impression was running back Jackson Paradis, who moves from Amherst, New York (University at Buffalo) to Amherst, Massachusetts. At 6-foot and 225 pounds, Paradis is the biggest running back the Minutemen have, and he played up to his size and more Saturday. The tailback made his few carries matter, at one point taking nearly half the defense for a ride en route to around a 12-yard gain.

“Jackson Paradis showed that 230-pound frame today, which obviously that’s a role that we’re looking for him to grow on,” Brown said.

Paradis offers a unique alternative in size to the other primary tailbacks, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in short-yardage situations during the fall.

Pope, a wide receiver transfer from Jackson State and formerly Miami (FL), made multiple high-level catches throughout the game. The former top-100 recruit looks to get his career back on track at UMass after off-field issues led to his dismissal from the Tigers. Former Minnesota defensive back Steven Ortiz made some key plays at safety as well.

The Minutemen start fall camp in late July, before opening their season at New Mexico State on Aug. 26.

Dean Wendel can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @DeanWende1.

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