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 concludes 2023 season Saturday against UConn

Minutemen looking for best season in five years
Kalina Kornacki
Daily Collegian (2023)

The Massachusetts football team heads back home Saturday to wrap up its 2023 season, as the Minutemen (3-8) take on UConn at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

For UMass, the contest represents one final opportunity for a victory in what has been an improved season across the board. After going 1-11 last season, Don Brown’s team has won three in a row heading into Saturday, with two of their eight losses (Eastern Michigan and Miami of Ohio) occurring in games that came down to the final few plays. Now the Minutemen get to close out 2023 at home searching for win number four in a rivalry game.

“I’ve been on both sides of this rivalry, so that’s kind of an interesting piece,” head coach Don Brown said. “Boy, to play at home in our rivalry game, it only happens twice in your own career.”

“If you can’t get excited about that, you have problems.”

No matter how excited the UMass players will be, Saturday’s contest is far from a guarantee for the Minutemen. In last season’s meeting between the two schools, the Huskies (2-9) came out victorious, winning 27-10 en route to the program’s first bowl game in seven years. ESPN’s FPI analytic model gives UMass approximately a 57 percent chance to defeat a UConn team that’s regressed but remains hungry for win number three.

“[UConn’s] offensive coordinator, Nick [Charlton], does a good job: I worked with him at Boston College,” Brown said. “They don’t do a whole lot defensively, but they’re sound in what they do and, you know, it’s a solid team.”

After two blowout losses to Tennessee and James Madison, the Huskies recovered last Saturday against a local FCS foe in the Sacred Heart Pioneers. UConn’s 31-3 victory came on the heels of junior quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson, who went 22-of-35 for 201 yards and four touchdowns. Roberson, a former Penn State commit, has started the past 10 games for the Huskies after opening-day starter Joe Fagnano went down with a shoulder injury.

In the backfield, UConn has a running back committee of two, as Camryn Edwards and Victor Rosa split the majority of the offensive snaps. The pair of sophomore tailbacks have combined for 995 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns this season. Last season, Rosa ran for 87 yards and two touchdowns when his team met with the Minutemen.

Tight end Justin Joly comes in as the Huskies’ leading receiver, with the sophomore racking up 542 receiving yards on the season. Past Joly, wideouts Cameron Ross and Brett Buckman are the next players to watch in the position group, with the duo contributing 500 and 453 receiving yards, respectively.

With UConn’s defense, the player Taisun Phommachanh should be aware of at all times is senior linebacker Jackson Mitchell. The Ridgefield, Connecticut native ranks in the top 20 nationwide in total tackles with 106. Pryce Yates leads the team with four and a half sacks, while defensive back Chris Shearin is the only Husky with multiple interceptions in 2023.

For UMass, despite postseason play no longer being in contention, senior day and a rival coming into town will likely give the Minutemen extra motivation to finish the season strong. It’ll be the final college football game for a handful of UMass starters, but with how hard the injury bug hit the roster this season, depth pieces have stepped up in times of need and given fans less to worry about when it comes to maintaining or improving upon the football team’s talent level in the offseason.

“I think of Juan Lua, he was a third-team safety and he ends up playing a lot at corner for us, and he had two pass breakups last Saturday,” Brown said. “All he cares about is, you know, getting better. And he’s taking advantage of his last months of being a collegiate football player.”

Lua, along with Billy Wooden, Mark Pope and Gino Campiotti, are just some of the seniors who will be recognized Saturday.

“It’s a good group,” Brown said about the seniors. “Obviously, they’ve been through a lot of change. I can’t say that this group has rubbed me the wrong way or done anything like that. They just come in and [go] to work and they’re doing the very best they can on a day-to-day basis.”

If the Minutemen win Saturday, their 4-8 record will not only be their best since 2018, but it will also tie their best single season record since joining FBS 11 years ago. Saturday’s game from Amherst kicks off at noon on ESPN+.

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

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