Joseph Norwood stands out in first action as Minuteman

  • University of Massachusetts junior Sadiq Palmer, left, hugs Brennon Dingle after the sophomore wide receiver scored the first touchdown against Duquesne on a 32-yard pass from Andrew Ford in the first quarter of the Minutemen's 63-15 win over the Dukes in their home opener at Warren McGuirk Stadium in Amherst on Saturday, August 25, 2018.

Staff Writer
Published: 8/26/2018 12:34:22 AM

AMHERST — Joseph Norwood was the only true freshman on UMass’ depth chart leading into Saturday’s season opener against Duquesne.

How much the safety would play was a question mark because he was behind two senior leaders of the defense. But coach Mark Whipple sent Norwood in during passing situations in the first half, reversing his normal trend on freshmen.

In the past, Whipple said he wouldn’t always play the talented players early, electing to keep the redshirt on them as long as possible. Yet, Norwood was different, someone who Whipple said didn’t miss a play during preseason camp and clearly was athletic enough to be successful as a true freshman.

In order to unlock that potential, though, Whipple made sure seniors Tyler Hayes and Brice McAllister were on the field as well to make sure the freshman didn’t have to overextend himself in his first college game.

“It’s letting a guy go play,” Whipple said. “We don’t want to put those young guys out there in a situation where they have to think and make checks. We just let him play and I think he did a good job on special teams and he’ll get better as the year goes along.”

Norwood finished with five tackles while playing both on defense and special teams in UMass’ 63-15 win. He came up with the special teams play of the game for the Minutemen, too, recovering Duquesne’s muffed punt in the fourth quarter, leading to UMass’ final touchdown.

He brought the energy to the pregame huddle, too, breaking down the UMass huddle before the team warmups. McAllister said that charisma is what has allowed Norwood to excel early in his career.

“What stood out about him was his confidence,” McAllister said. “Right from stretch lines, his confidence was there. He has a long way to go, but he’s right there, he’s going to help us a lot down the road.”

SOUND THE HORN: Tight end Kyle Horn helped eased any concerns about UMass losing Adam Breneman to graduation after last season. The redshirt junior hauled in five passes, four of which went for first downs, including three on third down.

All four of Horn’s first-down receptions eventually led to touchdowns, something quarterback Andrew Ford noted several times postgame. The senior said being able to get those critical catches from the tight ends will make a difference for UMass this season.

“Being able to move the sticks with the tight end in those situations is going to be huge for us,” Ford said. “Kyle did a great job stepping in today.”

WIZARDLY ISABELLA: Senior Andy Isabella provided some magic for UMass with his five catches against Duquesne.

He ditched his man on UMass’ third play and ran himself wide open for his 60-yard touchdown catch from Ross Comis. The 5-foot-10 receiver showcased great patience on his one carry of the game, waiting for his blocks to set up and bouncing outside to turn a 1- or 2-yard gain into a 14-yard score.

But his best trick was his third-quarter touchdown catch from Ford. With his quarterback flushed out of the pocket, Isabella started to come back for the catch and sat behind the defender. After securing the grab, the senior was able to juke his way out of a tackle and cruise into the end zone for UMass’ sixth score of the day.

“Andy did a really good job on that play, seeing me scramble and starting to come back to me knowing I would probably throw a little bit deeper,” Ford said. “You can’t really teach that, that’s just a guy who’s been around college football for a couple of years and he’s confident enough to make those plays.”

GOOD AND BAD OF COMIS: The good thing about Comis’ speed is the senior quarterback can salvage any broken play with his feet. The bad thing about Comis’ speed is he thinks like a running back more than a quarterback sometimes.

In the second quarter, Comis took off for open field after not finding an open receiver on third-and-5 from the Duquesne 47. He successfully converted the first down and more when instead of sliding he tried to fight for a few extra yards and ended up having the ball jarred free. Instead of a 27-yard run that would put UMass in the red zone, Duquesne forced its only turnover of the game.

Comis redeemed himself, however, in the third quarter when he escaped a circle of defenders in the pocket and ran 18 yards for a touchdown to put the Minutemen up 56-9.

RECORD BREAKERS: The 63 points were the most UMass scored in a game since a 62-20 win over Connecticut on Nov. 20, 1999. The 48-point victory was the program’s biggest win since a 49-0 win over Rhode Island on Nov. 1, 2008. ... Ford’s 44-yard touchdown throw to Isabella in the third quarter was the 50th of his UMass career, becoming the third quarterback to hit that mark.

Josh Walfish can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at

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