UMass’ 2020 football debut a dud: 41-0 loss to Georgia Southern

  • UMass quarterback Mike Fallon, center-left, is brought down by Georgia Southern’s Raymond Johnson, Saturday in Statesboro, Georgia. UMass loss 41-0. AJ HENDERSON/GEORGIA SOUTHERN ATHLETICS

  • UMass quarterback Josiah Johnson is hit by Georgia Southern, Saturday in Statesboro, Georgia. UMass loss 41-0. AJ HENDERSON/GEORGIA SOUTHERN ATHLETICS

  • Noah Boykin, right, dives at Georgia Southern’s Matt LaRoche, Saturday in Statesboro, Georgia. UMass loss 41-0. AJ HENDERSON/GEORGIA SOUTHERN ATHLETICS

  • UMass wide receiver Samuel Emilus is tackled by Georgia Southern’s Quin Williams, Saturday in Statesboro, Georgia. UMass loss 41-0. AJ HENDERSON/GEORGIA SOUTHERN ATHLETICS

  • UMass quarterback Josiah Johnson throws under pressure against Georgia Southern, Saturday in Statesboro, Georgia. UMass lost 41-0. AJ HENDERSON/GEORGIA SOUTHERN ATHLETICS

Sports Editor
Published: 10/18/2020 12:09:45 AM

The UMass defense had a chance to get off the field on Georgia Southern’s first drive.

Facing third-and-2 at midfield, J.D. King just pushed the ball across for a first down. On the next play, UMass freshman safety Te’Rai Powell got caught watching quarterback Shai Werts, who found a streaking Malik Murray behind him for a 47-yard touchdown.

It was the first of four TDs over five possessions for the Eagles, who shut out the Minutemen 41-0, Saturday in Statesboro, Georgia.

It was UMass’ first game of the season. The Minutemen initially postponed football in August due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but resumed last month. The game against Georgia Southern, which was announced last week, is the only one currently on the schedule.

“Obviously the result is not what we wanted but just to get to this point, just really proud of our kids,” UMass coach Walt Bell said. “Proud of our administration and everything they’ve done to give us the opportunity to play football.”

UMass went three and out on its first possession – a sign of offensive struggles to come. Junior running back Ellis Merriweather was stopped twice and redshirt senior quarterback Mike Fallon’s first attempt fell incomplete. A poor punt of 8 yards by George Georgopoulos led to a short field and a second Eagles touchdown.

Fallon, who drew his first career start, completed a pass to Samuel Emilus for 11 yards on the first play of UMass’ next drive. Three shorts runs followed as the drive stalled.

Georgia Southern quickly moved the ball down field, as Werts used his legs, arm and pitching ability to drive their triple option.

The drive ended when Werts’ fumble was recovered by UMass’ Gerrell Johnson inside the 10, but the tone was set. Werts found Beau Johnson for a 10-yard touchdown, then rushed 4 yards for another before halftime.

“There’s a speed aspect to (their offense) that you don’t catch up to until a drive or two into the game,” Bell said. “You just do everything you can and hope you survive it. We didn’t help the defense very much offensively, which kind of made matters worse knowing those guys were out there for a while.”

The Eagles gained 308 yards on the ground to UMass’ 111.

Merriweather had 21 yards on 16 carriers. Only three other carries went to running backs. Freshman quarterback Will Koch actually led UMass with 41 yards on the ground, but 34 came on the final drive with him in the game. Fallon had 31 yards rushing. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Josiah Johnson added 18 yards on the ground.

“I honestly in my heart thought we would run the football better, but need to watch the tape to kind of find out what the ills were,” Bell said.

Werts finished 11 of 16 for 128 yards passing and three touchdowns. He added 76 yards on the ground and another TD.

Wesley Kennedy III had a game-high 106 yards rushing.

“Their great at what they do,” Bell said. “The biggest thing moving forward is we have to find a way to be more productive on offense to keep our defense out of bad situations.”

Bell started Fallon but worked Josiah Johnson in on couple plays in the first half. Johnson took over in the third quarter before giving way to Koch late.

Fallon’s “been around and played some football but I was really pleased with both those young guys,” Bell said. “Moving forward depending on who are next opponent is, you’ll probably see all three of them again.”

UMass Director of Athletics Ryan Bamford has said he expects the football team will play between four and six games this fall. While nothing has been announced, Bell is eager to get back out there.

“Those guys want to play and I can’t wait to get back together with them and watch the tape,” he said. “We can be critical of ourselves as a staff, our kids can be critical of themselves and what they need to improve on and go get better. That’s what we need to improve. We need to take all these young players and make them older.”

Despite UMass’ youth, Bell has talked all preseason about how much more physical and bigger the Minutemen got in the offseason. Bell said he saw it on Saturday in how UMass looked, but not how it played.

“Physically we looked much better, we looked much more prepared, obviously you’re proud of the work Coach (Matt) Shadeed and our kids have done, but it did not manifest itself on the field today and I’m interested to find our why.”

RED ZONE — UMass failed to reach the red zone during the game.

A drive before the half ended at the Georgia Southern 21 and Cameron Carson hit the left upright on a 39-yard field goal attempt.

Late in the third quarter, a drive was kept alive when, on fourth-and-2, Johnson found Melvin Hill, who made an acrobatic one-handed catch along the sideline, spun and ran for 12 yards. UMass reached the 27, but Josiah Johnson’s pass was picked off at the 10.

“We had a chance to have a big hit there ... but didn’t connect the dots,” Bell said.

Mike Moran can be reached at Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.

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