Florida International runs over UMass for win

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

Staff Writer
Published: 10/5/2019 10:03:26 PM

MIAMI – UMass’ on-field issues only had a one-week reprieve.

All of the problems that led the Minutemen to lose their first four games of the season were back in full force against Florida International on Saturday night. The missed tackles were in abundance as the Panther plowed their way through the sea of white jerseys, sometimes dragging the UMass defender along for the ride. The Minutemen’s pass rush was spotty at best as James Morgan easily found receivers in the soft spots of the defensive scheme.

And the UMass offense grounded to a halt yet again, this time with Michael Curtis leading the charge. The Minutemen picked up just five first downs in the game and Curtis was responsible for three turnovers, hindering UMass from sustaining any type of offensive rhythm. UMass finished with a paltry 115 yards of total offense on just 48 plays compared to 88 plays for 541 yards for FIU.

The 44-0 loss to the Panthers in Miami – the Minutemen’s first shutout loss since a 37-0 loss at Central Michigan on Nov. 23, 2013 – was far from the most concerning thing for the Minutemen. That would be the regression they showed after picking up their first win of the season last week against Akron.

The first defensive drive was a potentially positive omen for UMass (1-5) after it held FIU to a field goal after Curtis had the ball punched out of his grasp on a fourth-down keeper. From there, though, the defensive effort spiraled out of control as the Panthers (2-3) set about establishing the run game with their advantage in the trenches.

They hammered the UMass defense with the combination of Anthony Jones and Napoleon Maxwell, splicing in passing plays from Morgan to whichever receiver happened to be sitting open between the coverage. They weren’t always the flashy explosive plays, but the duo went untouched for five or six yards on many carries and fought through tackles for extra yards on several occasions. On Jones’ six-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter, he literally pushed the UMass defender into the end zone with him when the pair engaged at the three-yard line.

Meanwhile, Morgan was fairly comfortable in the pocket and was able to sidestep the pressure on the few occasions it came. He completed 16-of-27 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns in the first half as FIU opened up a 34-0 lead at the break. His two touchdown passes were both soul-crushing for the Minutemen’s defense.

The first was a 30-yard toss on second-and-long after Isaiah Rodgers made a stop in the backfield with Tony Gaither simply running past the entire coverage and standing alone with no Minuteman within five yards. The second came at the end of the first half as FIU methodically moved the ball down the field in the two-minute drill. Morgan picked up 18 yards on third-and-10 with a toss to Maurice Alexander in the middle of the field. On the next play, he dropped a perfect pass to Austin Maloney between a pair of UMass defenders for a 30-yard score with just five seconds left in the half.

Alexander did his own damage to the Minutemen by returning a punt for a touchdown for the second consecutive year. Last year’s 69-yard score paled in comparison to his 90-yard score off a corkscrew punt from George Georgopoulos that he fielded on a hop then rushed past the five Minutemen waiting to tackle him. He escaped two attempts to shove him out of bounds in the final 30 yards, tip-toeing down the sideline for the touchdown.

While FIU’s offense was pushing around the Minutemen’s defense, the UMass offense failed to find a response with a young offensive line looking the part. The Panthers owned the trenches to swallow up the Minutemen’s running game and harrassing Curtis into a 5-of-19 day with a pair of interceptions. It was hard to blame Curtis for his first interception, which bounced off Kyle Horn’s hands into the air for Sage Lewis to nab. But the second pick fell squarely on the redshirt senior, who underthrew Jessie Britt on the move and it lofted into the hands of  Rishard Dames.

Randall West came on in relief of Curtis, but the Minutemen went three-and-out on every drive he led to add salt to the wound. UMass’ best chance to score came after it sent the house on FIU’s first punt of the day and Samuel Emilus was credited with a block as he and the other rushers deflected the kick enough for the ball to spin out around midfield. UMass entered FIU territory for the first and only time in the game on a run by Bilal Ally, but it sputtered out with Curtis’ second interception.

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