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

Depin: UMass needs better first half performances

Minutemen allow 31 first half points against Arkansas State
Devin Lippman
Daily Collegian (2023)

It’s a scene that people who have been following the Massachusetts football team have seen before. The Minutemen (1-5) run out of the tunnel, the crowd claps along to the Massachusetts fight song, and UMass proceeds to give up a touchdown on the opening drive. When it was the Minutemen’s turn for their first offensive possession, returning quarterback Taisun Phommachanh threw an interception on his third pass, giving their opponent prime field position that it capitalized, making the score 14-0 early.

This was the opening sequence of UMass’ conquest against Arkansas State, but I could have been describing its game against Auburn, Miami of Ohio, Eastern Michigan or New Mexico. All five Minutemen losses came on the heels of them falling behind by at least two scores at some point within the first 30 minutes. In order of the previous teams listed, UMass fell behind 31-7, 21-0, 10-0, 14-0 and was behind 31-10 against the Red Wolves (3-2) at the end of the first half on Saturday, the same amount of points that the Minutemen allowed in the first half against Auburn.

In three of these five games, UMass attempted a comeback, especially last weekend, pushing its game against New Mexico into overtime with a touchdown and two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter. However, all three of these comebacks were all for naught, with the Minutemen falling just short in each of the three contests.

Had UMass not fallen behind by at least two scores in each of those games, it’s very possible that it could be 3-3 after Week 5, and would be very much still in contention for a bowl game.

Head coach Don Brown has emphasized in both postgame and midweek media that something the Minutemen are working on is for them to allow no points in the third quarter. Third quarter scoring from the opposition is what sunk the Massachusetts ship last year, and that is a plug that UMass has filled to keep the boat from capsizing.

But while they have plugged the hole that sunk the ship last year, now the sails are slashed in half and the anchor won’t drop. In this metaphor, a healthy defensive secondary are the sails and the anchor successfully dropping is a one score game at halftime. You need intact sails for your boat to leave the dock, even before considering the status of the anchor. With starting corner Isaiah Rutherford leaving the game with an injury after the first defensive play and Jordan Mahoney going down and eventually being stretchered out in the second quarter, it’s quite possible that the Minutemen will have to make do with slashed sails for a while.

On Saturday, Arkansas State quarterback and true freshman Jaylen Raynor tied the school’s record for touchdown passes in a game with five while accumulating 383 yards in the air. That is the most yards that the UMass defense has allowed an opposing quarterback to throw for this season, and it’s unsurprising that the Red Wolves targeted a depleted Minutemen secondary.

Brown relayed that four of his five starting defensive ends are out with injury, but also noted that that is just how football works; people get injured. With the undisputed toughest part of UMass’ schedule on the horizon (games against Toledo at home and away at No.6 Penn State), it must find some way to patch its sails together so that the ship is able to make it to open sea.

If the Minutemen can’t find a way to turn around their first half defensive performances, then comebacks, no matter how much momentum it seems they might have, will always fall short.

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

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