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 suffers Week 1 loss to Auburn

Tigers outplay Minutemen in 59-14 loss
Sophie-Zoe Schreyer
Daily Collegian (2022)

After the program’s strongest opening week performance in years, the Massachusetts football team suffered a reality check Saturday. In a game that got away from the Minutemen (1-1) rather quickly, the Auburn Tigers ran an explosive offense to a 59-14 victory.

“[My team] just wasn’t good enough [Saturday],” head coach Don Brown said. “[We] had a really nice drive offensively to start us off, to give us some life, and that was it for the day.”

Early on, UMass looked like it could give its SEC foe a scare. After Auburn (1-0) took a 7-0 lead on its first drive of the game, quarterback Taisun Phommachanh led the Minutemen on an eight play, 89-yard drive punctuated by a one-yard touchdown run that tied things up.

After that drive, though, things only went downhill for UMass. Following a 37-yard Alex McPherson field goal that gave Auburn a 10-7 advantage, the Tigers scored four touchdowns on their ensuing five drives.

Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne and Robby Ashford split reps at quarterback, and both left their mark on the Minutemen defense. For Thorne, the highly regarded signal caller threaded the needle in the air, finishing 10-17 for 141 yards, a touchdown and a 147.9 passer rating. Ashford was brought out primarily for zone reads and option plays, and the sophomore would make the most of them, running nine times for 51 yards and three touchdowns. Between both quarterbacks, Auburn’s high-tempo offense worked wonders.

“We practice against tempo every day … I was a little disappointed that that was an issue early,” Brown said. “We practice it every single day of the week and I got to take responsibility.”

Auburn’s rushing attack was another one of the team’s strengths, and it extended far beyond Ashford. All in all, six Tigers ran for over 30 yards on the day, and four of them would find the end zone. Whether it was a two-yard, heavy-set carry from Damari Alston or a 45-yard fourth quarter scamper from Sean Jackson, Auburn rushers were finding paydirt, and it culminated in over 200 team rushing yards.

It was tougher sledding for the UMass offense a week after putting up 41 points and nearly 400 yards on New Mexico State. The Minutemen had just five plays over 15 yards on the day, and two of them came on their first possession. The offensive line struggled to contain Auburn’s front seven, which made life miserable for both UMass ball carriers and quarterbacks in the pocket. After the Minutemen’s opening drive, they only ran the ball for 64 yards throughout the remaining three and a half quarters.

When it came to UMass’ quarterback play, Phommachanh got the start and played for a majority of the contest, with the junior showcasing his grit and toughness in multiple ways. In addition to providing some hard-nosed runs early on, Phommachanh would tweak his ankle during the Minutemen’s second drive but remained in the game until the middle of the third quarter, when Western Carolina transfer Carlos Davis took over. Both quarterbacks combined to throw for 161 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Despite UMass’ offensive struggles, a couple of skill position players stood out. Kay’Ron Lynch-Adams decided he’d put the team’s running game on his back, taking his 14 carries for 101 of the team’s 140 rushing yards. Receiver Anthony Simpson also scored for the second straight game, taking a Carlos Davis pass 58 yards for the Minutemen’s final score.

For Auburn, Saturday represented a resounding start to the program’s Hugh Freeze era, with the former Liberty coach debuting on the sidelines for the Tigers. They’ll travel to California next week while UMass heads home, taking on Miami (Ohio). Kickoff for the Minutemen will be at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN+.

“Not a good day to be a UMass Minuteman for sure,” Brown said. “We will rebound, we will practice hard, and we’ll be back next week ready to go.”

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

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