Missed tackles loom large for UMass in 63-24 loss to FIU

  • Fiu Golden Panthers wide receiver Maurice Alexander (1) runs for a touchdown in the second quarter as Massachusetts Minutemen cornerback Brian Roberts Jr. (43) defends as Florida International University hosts the University of Massachusetts at Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami, Florida on Saturday, September 15, 2018. AL DIAZ

  • FIU Golden Panthers quarterback James Morgan (12) looks to pass in the first quarter as Florida International University hosts the University of Massachusetts at Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami, Florida on Saturday, September 15, 2018. AL DIAZ

  • FIU Golden Panthers running back Napoleon Maxwell (23) scores in the first half as Florida International University hosts the University of Massachusetts at Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami, Florida on Saturday, September 15, 2018. AL DIAZ

  • FIU Golden Panthers wide receiver CJ Worton (11) on a first down reception into the red zone as Massachusetts Minutemen cornerback Brian Roberts Jr. (43) defends in the second quarter as Florida International University hosts the University of Massachusetts at Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami, Florida on Saturday, September 15, 2018. AL DIAZ

  • Massachusetts Minutemen quarterback Ross Comis (2) throws an incomplete pass as Fiu Golden Panthers defensive lineman Jason Mercier (92) and defensive lineman Anthony Johnson (91) rush the quarterback in the second quarter as Florida International University hosts the University of Massachusetts at Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami, Florida on Saturday, September 15, 2018. AL DIAZ

  • FIU Golden Panthers running back Shawndarrius Phillips (22) and Golden Panthers wide receiver Austin Maloney (15) celebrate in the endzone after Phillips scores in the first half as Florida International University hosts the University of Massachusetts at Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami, Florida on Saturday, September 15, 2018. AL DIAZ

  • Fiu Golden Panthers running back D'Vonte Price (24) runs for a first down in the first half as Florida International University hosts the University of Massachusetts at Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami, Florida on Saturday, September 15, 2018. AL DIAZ

  • Running for yardage in the first half is FIU Golden Panthers running back Napoleon Maxwell (23) as Florida International University hosts the University of Massachusetts at Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami, Florida on Saturday, September 15, 2018. AL DIAZ

  • Fiu Golden Panthers running back Napoleon Maxwell (23) runs in the first half for a first down as Florida International University hosts the University of Massachusetts at Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami, Florida on Saturday, September 15, 2018. AL DIAZ

  • FIU Golden Panthers quarterback James Morgan (12) looks to pass in the first quarter as Florida International University hosts the University of Massachusetts at Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami, Florida on Saturday, September 15, 2018. AL DIAZ

Staff Writer
Published: 9/16/2018 2:04:01 AM

MIAMI — After two weeks of mental mistakes, the UMass football team found itself in the right positions on defense.

The Minutemen just didn’t make the plays when the opportunities presented themselves.

Shawndarrius Phillips and the rest of the Florida International backfield danced their way out of the grasp of UMass defenders on many occasions Saturday night. The Minutemen missed at least one tackle on four of FIU’s six first-half touchdown plays and let a chance to even their record slip away in a lopsided 63-24 loss to the Panthers.

It is UMass’ third straight defeat after opening the season with a resounding win over Duquesne, and a third straight week the defense hasn’t played well early.

“We beat ourselves,” middle linebacker Bryton Barr said. “It’s another frustrating loss.”

Coach Mark Whipple said UMass’ tackling issues have been masked the past two weeks by the mental mistakes, and that was obvious again from the opening drive. The Minutemen (1-3) failed to secure tackles on FIU’s first run of the game when Phillips broke a pair of tackles for a 15-yard gain. Phillips ran for 16 yards on his third rush, gashing the UMass defense almost every time the ball was in his hands with six rushes of at least 10 yards.

The 5-foot-11 running back picked up 124 yards on his first 13 carries and scored twice in the process. He shook off two tackles on a 13-yard scamper and on the next play evaded three tacklers on a 22-yard run that boosted FIU’s lead to 21-7.

When Phillips wasn’t juking his way out of tackles, Napoleon Maxwell was simply bulldozing his way through defenders. The redshirt senior bullied his way through three tacklers on a 3-yard run for FIU’s second touchdown and finished with 101 yards on the ground to complement Phillips’ 117.

As a team, the Panthers (2-1) ran for 329 yards, including 16 carries of at least 10 yards to average 6.2 yards per attempt.

“They did exactly what we watched on film,” Barr said. “It’s just a matter of filling our gaps and getting the ball down, and we didn’t do that today, obviously.”

The blown coverages and missed assignments that plagued UMass in its previous two setbacks weren’t as evident against FIU. There was one miscommunication that led to a 35-yard pass from James Morgan to Phillips on the Panthers’ second drive, but otherwise there were few wide open receivers for Morgan deep down the field.

The longest pass Morgan was credited with throwing was actually one of his shortest of the night. A second-down swing pass to Maurice Alexander that traveled a yard or two downfield turned into a 38-yard touchdown pass when Alexander slithered away from the grasp of a pair of UMass defenders and then beat one more tackler before sprinting to the end zone.

“We didn’t tackle very well, and we haven’t tackled very well in a couple of weeks,” Whipple said. Defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham “and I thought we might need to be more aggressive on defense than just sitting there and move our guys and do some things that way.”

UMass headed into the locker room trailing 42-10 and down both of its quarterbacks. Andrew Ford was injured after being sacked on third down and fumbling the football. FIU was flagged for a personal foul for a late hit after jumping on the UMass lineman who recovered the loose ball.

Ross Comis entered and led the Minutemen on a scoring drive, capping it with a 10-yard quarterback keeper up the middle. But Comis left the game late in the second quarter after throwing an incomplete pass to Marquis Young, leaving Michael Curtis as the first-team quarterback the rest of the way.

For a brief moment, though, it looked like Curtis might lead UMass on an improbable comeback. The Minutemen forced a fumble on FIU’s first second-half drive and Curtis converted the takeaway into points with a 6-yard rush. Lee Moses then intercepted Morgan on the Panthers’ next possession, and the energy grew on the UMass sideline.

However, the ensuing UMass drive ended when Curtis was sacked and then some more missed tackles gave Alexander an opening up the sideline that he followed for a 69-yard punt return touchdown. The score killed all the momentum UMass was building and the Minutemen never harnessed it again.

“It was exciting for a little bit,” senior receiver Andy Isabella said. “We made a play and then we go out there and go three-and-out and then they get the punt return. Someone has to step up, we didn’t play good complementary football. Someone has to make a play when something like that happens, and we just went out there and went three-and-out.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.




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