Matt Vautour: Observations from UMass football’s promising start at No. 25 Florida

  • Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio (14) scrambles against Massachusetts during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

  • Massachusetts quarterback Ross Comis looks for a receiver during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida , Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Published: 9/4/2016 5:05:53 PM


It’ll take at least a week to know if UMass is a lot better than people expected or Florida is considerably worse, but one game into the season, the Minutemen appear to have some things to build on.

Some observations from Saturday night’s season-opening 24-7 loss.

The defense played better. Some of it was the addition of Teddy Lowery and Ali Ali-Musa and the return of Khary Bailey-Smith. Lowery looks like he can be a difference-maker. The safety-linebacker hybrid made plays in the box and in the secondary and figures to be a big contributor.

But a lot of it was improvement from the returning players too.

Linebacker Da’Sean Downey looked better than he ever has. After making an impression during the spring of his freshman year, Downey has been slowed by injuries at times. He was healthy and productive in the pass rush and stopping the run Saturday.

Defensive back Lee Moses contributed more than he ever had before as well.

On UMass’ best days against elite caliber teams before Florida, the Minutemen have played well for a half or most of a half, before getting blown out. Last year at Notre Dame, some mistakes at the end of the half caused the game to avalanche out of control.

That never happened Saturday. UMass didn’t have enough offensive rhythm to pull of an upset, but Florida could never rest its starters or get comfortable.

UMass coach Mark Whipple didn’t use running back Sekai Lindsay much or linebacker Rod Jones Jr. at all. Lindsay was the bigger surprise. He carried the ball three times for 4 yards, while Marquis Young took a lot of hits on his 19 carries. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues. Lindsay was expected to share the load coming into the year.

Jones, who was a junior college All-American, was behind in preseason after arriving late. If he can catch up, he could be another asset to an improved defense.

People are going to liken Andy Isabella to Julian Edelman or Wes Welker when he plays in Gillette. The small-statured, speedy slot receiver comparisons will be impossible to ignore.

Isabella had three catches for 95 yards Saturday.

“He had a really good camp and a really good spring. He can run. He made some plays and he did a good job,” Whipple said. “I think he’ll gain confidence from this.

UMass was a bad third-quarter team in 2015 as competitive games got away from the Minutemen early in the second half. On Saturday, especially on defense, they adjusted and improved, and played Florida even as neither team scored in the third.

UMass is not the worst team in the FBS. CBS Sportsline, the Washington Post and USA Today all ranked the Minutemen dead last among 128 teams in the preseason. If Saturday is an accurate reflection, they’re better than that. Florida was the best team they’ll play and the Swamp is the toughest environment. There’s no reason UMass can’t win some games going forward.

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