Curtis provides spark, propels UMass to first win of season

  • Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Photographed on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.

Staff Writer
Published: 9/28/2019 6:56:26 PM

AMHERST – The Michael Curtis experience once again proved successful for UMass.

The redshirt senior quarterback improved his record to 2-0 as the Minutemen’s starting quarterback with a highlight-filled 37-29 victory over Akron at McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Saturday. Curtis was thrust into the starting role with Andrew Brito sidelined by a concussion and Randall West suspended for the game after missing curfew on Thursday.

For the first time since the opening three drives of the season opener at Rutgers, the UMass offense looked explosive, and much of it can be credited to Curtis. After being hit while he threw on the first drive and being picked off, Curtis made things happen for the Minutemen (1-4) with both his arm and his legs. His 173 passing yards were the most by a UMass quarterback in a game this season and were more than the Minutemen had as a team in two of its previous four losses.

He showed a willingness to push the field and take some risks in the passing game, which paid off for the Minutemen. Curtis tossed three passes of at least 20 yards, each time fitting the ball in a spot where only his receiver could catch the ball. His second touchdown pass – a six-yard connection with Sadiq Palmer – was another example of this, throwing into what seemed like tight coverage only for Palmer to turn around and haul in the pass while tiptoeing inside the sideline.

Curtis’ ability to run the ball also made a difference for the UMass offense as it added a new dimension with the quarterback keeper. His 20-yard scramble on the second drive of the game flipped the field in UMass’ favor and jumpstarted the Minutemen to their first score of the game. He also had a 15-yard scamper on third down early in the third quarter to keep the Minutemen’s drive alive and eventually help UMass extend its lead again.

The redshirt senior finished with 69 rushing yards on just 10 attempts, all of which came in the first three quarters. In the fourth quarter, Bilal Ally took advantage of how much Curtis and freshman Kevin Brown had worn down the Zips. After Akron cut the deficit to a single score in the middle of the fourth quarter, Ally got the handoff on each of UMass’ first nine plays of the next drive to carry the Minutemen from their own 25 to the Akron 1 before the Minutemen ran out the clock. 

Ally finished with 97 yards on 15 carries.

UMass functioning offense also helped give its thin defense some much-needed rest between drives and it showed in the unit’s performance. The Minutemen were able to harrass whichever of Akron’s three quarterbacks was in the backfield and force some early throws. UMass made seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage with six different defenders recording a tackle-for-loss.

The unit was also very opportunistic with its chances. Xavier Steele forced a fumble with Akron driving to take the lead in the middle of the first quarter. Isaiah Rodgers gave the Minutemen the lead for good with a 58-yard interception return for a touchdown, the third of his career – a new UMass record. Jordan Adams then added to the Zips’ misery with a 45-yard interception return that ended when he was tackled by his collar from behind at the Akron 4, resulting in a personal foul penalty and a Curtis rushing touchdown on the next play.

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