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 looks to extend winning streak at No. 25 Liberty

Minutemen winless against the Flames since 3OT win in 2018
Parker Peters

After winning consecutive games for the first time since 2018, the Massachusetts football team faces one of its toughest tests of the season when it travels to Lynchburg, Virginia to take on the Liberty Flames, the fifth matchup between the two programs. The Minutemen’s (3-7) last two wins have come off the heels of three-touchdown performances from their running backs, Kay’Ron Lynch-Adams against Army and Greg Desrosiers Jr. against Merrimack.

The Flames (10-0, 7-0 Conference USA) are off to their best start in recent memory, sitting atop the CUSA standings just ahead of New Mexico State, whom UMass beat in Week 0. With an average margin of victory hovering around 19 points per game, Liberty presents the toughest challenge for the Minutemen since Penn State.

“Obviously they’ve gotten off to a good start, and they’ve just kind of kept going,” head coach Don Brown said of Liberty. “We’re excited about the challenge, that’s for sure. And obviously excited to have two weeks to prepare. And we had a really good bye week in terms of our preparation.”

Even if it is the running backs making the headlines the past few weeks, starting quarterback Taisun Phommachanh provides a steady hand and enough of a threat in the passing game to open the floodgates for his backs. Across the consecutive wins, Phommachanh is 26-of-43 in passing, good for a touchdown and no interceptions.

Phommachanh, after suffering an undisclosed lower body injury in the opening minutes of the Minutemen’s contest against Auburn, has brought stability to the most important position on the football field after Carlos Davis, Brady Olson and Ahmad Haston all saw playing time as the signal caller in his absence.

“Thank god, that’s all I can tell you,” Brown said of stability at quarterback. “We were struggling after he went down in the Auburn game. [Davis] came in and did a really solid job, and then we lost him. There was kind of a juggling act going on there, and just to have some continuity at the position for the last few weeks has certainly been a positive.”

Liberty is led by sophomore quarterback Kaidon Salter, who’s thrown 26 touchdowns this season to just four interceptions. In addition to those 26 scores, he’s rushed for nine touchdowns as well. Quinton Cooley is the team’s leading rusher, clocking in at 1,074 rushing yards, right in front of Salter who sits at 771 rushing yards.

The Flames run the ball more than they pass it. They average 278 yards on the ground per game compared to 218.4 yards in the air. The touchdown numbers are strikingly similar, with 25 touchdowns coming by way of the rush while Salter’s 26 passing touchdowns make up the entirety of Liberty’s air attack.

“Well, [Salter] does a good job of not only getting his eyes downfield and [getting] the ball downfield fairly quickly, but he has the ability to run and get out of trouble,” Brown said. “Those guys always make your day a little bit longer. We’ve got to do an outstanding job of keeping him in front of us … you want all of your rushers in front … so that we have a chance to get this guy on the ground when he decides to move and groove.”

With defensive starters Isaiah Rutherford and Jordan Mahoney dealing with injuries since the beginning of the season, UMass looked to players such as Juan Lua, Tristan Armstrong and Darius Gooden to patch the sails of a slashed secondary.

Handling injuries throughout the roster for the entirety of the season, with the secondary absorbing the most punishment, Brown says there’s a good chance the Minutemen will be the closest they’ve been to 100 percent since the season opener.

“From a conditioning standpoint, from a standpoint of getting healthy, that’s certainly happening [during the bye week] as well,” Brown said. “I think we’ll be very close to 100 percent attendance going into Saturday, as long as nothing happens during practice. So I feel really good about [our health].”

Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Saturday from Williams Stadium in Lynchburg, VA. The game can be viewed on ESPN+.

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

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