UMass football: Minutemen turn the page to Eastern Michigan

  • UMass receiver George Johnson III celebrates a play during the Minutemen’s loss to Miami (Ohio) last weekend. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/15/2023 5:02:59 PM
Modified: 9/15/2023 5:02:26 PM

After coming to life during the second half against Miami (Ohio) last week, the UMass football team is hoping to build off that momentum this Saturday when it travels to Ypsilanti, Mich. to take on Eastern Michigan. 

It’s a critical stretch for the Minutemen. Between the Eagles on Saturday, New Mexico next week and Arkansas State the following week, UMass has a chance to add some tallies to the win column.

In order to do that, it’ll have to keep morale up after a hard fought loss to the RedHawks, a loss that in years past might have doomed the Minutemen for weeks to come. According to head coach Don Brown, however, his team is refocused and will be ready to go when the ball gets kicked off at 2 p.m. on ESPN-Plus.

“Our guys are resilient,” Brown said. “Our guys are in a good frame of mind. We’ll be ready to play. I don’t have any doubt our guys will be ready to play this week.” 

UMass (1-2) has every reason to feel confident going into Saturday. UMass held a 13-0 second half lead against Eastern Michigan (1-1) last fall, but the Eagles scored two touchdowns in the third to take the lead before adding another touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Minutemen passing game, which was led by now-tight end Gino Campiotti, managed just 87 yards passing, and UMass was unable to find points the rest of the way, falling 20-13. 

Through three games the UMass passing game is night and day compared to a year ago. 

Taisun Phommachanh threw for 192 yards while adding 99 yards on the ground in the opening day win over New Mexico State. After he was injured during the week two loss to Auburn, Western Carolina transfer Carlos Davis got the start against Miami (Ohio) and threw for 244 yards and three touchdowns before exiting during the fourth quarter with an injury. 

According to Brown, Davis is good to go for Saturday while Phommachanh’s status is unclear. Either way, the threat of the passing game will be something Eastern Michigan will have to account for. 

“I’m sure our guys will be excited,” Brown said. “That was a good tilt last year for us. We played pretty well and we got out on the right foot. We have to make sure we take care of our business and everything goes our way. How do you do that? Finish every play.” 

Stopping the Eagles starts with slowing down the run game, according to Brown. Samson Evans — who was a second team all-MAC performer last season — is Eastern Michigan’s bell cow, rushing for 52 yards and a touchdown in the Eagles’ 33-23 win over Howard to open the season before gaining 73 yards on the ground in a 25-6 loss to Minnesota last week. Jaylon Jackson is another change of pace back who UMass will have to account for. 

At quarterback, Austin Smith saw some starts a season ago, including against UMass where he threw for 122 yards and a pair of scores. He hasn’t gotten out to a fast start this season, throwing picks in both contests while racking up just 71 yards in the loss to the Gophers. 

Expect the Eagles to look to exploit that UMass rush defense, which through three games has surrendered an average of 214.3 yards-per-game on the ground for an average of 5.54 yards-per-carry. 

“They want to run the ball,” Brown said. “They’re a big run team. They want to run the ball and run it right at you. They have two or three running backs, a banger and a quick guy. They play off each other. I think we’ll be ready to go. I’m excited about this opportunity. It’s a good opportunity for us to get our second win. You better be excited.”

Conversely, the Minutemen should be looking to pound the rock themselves. Howard gained 248 yards on the ground against the Eagles despite playing from behind while Minnesota’s Darius Taylor gained 194 of the Gopher’s 303 yards rushing last weekend. Look for a steady dose of Kay’Ron Lynch-Adams, who has rushed for 237 yards this season for UMass. 

No matter how the beginning of the game goes, last week showed that the Minutemen have the potential to throw their way back into games, proving they’re never out of it. 

“The kind of surge we had in the third and fourth quarter shows we can play our way back in games and make up time and space,” Brown said. “That’s where we’re hanging our hat right now.” 


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