UMass closes abbreviated 2020 campaign with 45-0 loss at Liberty

  • Liberty wide receiver DJ Stubbs (5) hauls in a pass as he is defended by Massachusetts player Cody Jones (29) during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, at Williams Stadium in Lynchburg, Va. (AP Photo/Shaban Athuman) Shaban Athuman

  • Massachusetts quarterback Garrett Dzuro (9) carries the ball as he is stopped by Liberty linebacker Tyren Dupree (35) during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, at Williams Stadium in Lynchburg, Va. (AP Photo/Shaban Athuman) Shaban Athuman

  • Massachusetts quarterback Garrett Dzuro (9) makes a pass under pressure during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Liberty on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, at Williams Stadium in Lynchburg, Va. (AP Photo/Shaban Athuman) Shaban Athuman

  • Liberty wide receiver DJ Stubbs (5) hauls in a pass as he is defended by Massachusetts player Cody Jones (29) during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, at Williams Stadium in Lynchburg, Va. (AP Photo/Shaban Athuman) Shaban Athuman

  • Liberty wide receiver Kevin Shaa (2) hauls in a touchdown pass in front of Massachusetts' Noah Boykin (4) during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, at Williams Stadium in Lynchburg, Va. (AP Photo/Shaban Athuman) Shaban Athuman

Sports Editor
Published: 11/27/2020 5:53:15 PM
Modified: 11/27/2020 5:53:05 PM

The one thing the UMass football team can count on moving forward is that the offseason has started.

The Minutemen’s start-stop-and-start-again season came to a close on Friday afternoon with a 45-0 loss to Liberty at Williams Stadium in Lynchburg, Virginia.

From a late restart to its season, to last minute additions to the schedule, UMass saw it all during its pandemic-shortened, 0-4 football season.

“We know so much more about our young players,” UMass coach Walt Bell said. “They also understand, learned a lot of great lessons about preparation, especially as a young football team. That’s a huge thing for us moving forward.”

Since the NCAA has granted players an additional year of eligibility because of the pandemic, this fall has effectively been a redshirt season for the players.

“I’m glad we played,” Bell said. “More than anything else, instead of having 15 practices we had 60. We had 60 really good practices and to me that’s really important ... and honestly, as the season came to an end, we probably bore the brunt of that a little bit knowing that we only had 70 guys on the roster throughout the year without a majority of our scout team with us.”

Not much went right for the Minutemen against the Flames (9-1), who sit just outside The Associated Press Top 25. The Minutemen allowed 378 yards on the ground and 251 yards through the air.

UMass lost defensive lineman Avien Peah to injury early and entered the game minus Donte Lindsey and Osei Dixon in the defensive backfield.

“How young and how thin we are really started to show itself,” Bell said. “We played this whole year with seven DBs. We were down two of them today and that really limited our call sheet a little bit, but even early in the game we weren’t as good as we have been. Just a little bit of a tired, run down group right now and we desperately need a great offseason in front of us so our bodies can withstand the rigors of a football season.”

UMass was also without freshman quarterback Will Koch, who missed the game after suffering a rib injury last week against Florida Atlantic. Redshirt freshman Garrett Dzuro started the game, but rotated with tight end/QB Josiah Johnson in the first half. Dzuro played the entire second half. He finished 9 of 22 for 172 yards.

“We moved the ball well, better than we have honestly at times, but again, we’re driving, have a penalty; we’re driving, drop the ball; we’re driving, turned the ball over. First half, we’ve got chances just critical errors at critical times. We got a lot of work to do this offseason.”

UMass had a chance to answer Liberty’s first touchdown, but fumbled just outside the Flames’ red zone.

The drive started with a Dzuro 7-yard completion to tight end Jaret Pallotta. Johnson’s 9-yard QB keeper gave the Minutemen a first down and momentum.

Later in the drive Dzuro found Samuel Emilus (four catches, 82 yards) for 9 yards on second-and-16. A Liberty personal foul on third down set UMass up on the Flames’ 30. Facing second-and-7 on the 27 Johnson rushed up the middle and fumble.

Liberty recovered and two plays later Josh Mack rushed 59 yards for a 14-0 lead.

“When you’re struggling as much as we have on offense this year, it hurts, especially with a group that doesn’t have great confidence right now,” Bell said. “We’re going to get through this offseason, we’re going to make the changes that we need to make and we will be better a year from now.”

UMass trailed 28-0 when it attempted a fake punt late in the second quarter. Evan Deckers’ pass to Noah Boykin was incomplete, but the officials threw a flag on the play. What appeared to be defensive pass interference, and a UMass first down, wasn’t. The officials picked the flag up and said there was no foul on the play due to the pass being “high and deep.”

“There is some clerical interpretation on the fake punt. By rule, if the pass is high and deep in interpretation, therefore simulating a punt, the interpretation is you can’t blame the kid for PI. You can blame him for holding, but you can’t for PI,” Bell said.

Bell added that he had seen that call made three times over the last 15 years. This was the first time the flag was picked up.

“Just the referee, the white hat, thought it was too high and too deep,” he added. “How you interpret high and deep that’s again, up to those guys. That’s their call. That’s the first time I’ve seen that on four opportunities.”

It was the first of two Liberty pass interference flags that were picked up. Facing fourth-and-4 in the third quarter, Dzuro passed to Jermain Johnson along the Flames’ sidelines but it fell incomplete. A flag was thrown but it was picked up.

Five plays later Liberty QB Malik Willis rushed 54 yards for a 38-0 lead.

“The defensive PI on their sideline was really upsetting,” Bell said. “I probably said some things a man shouldn’t say. That one was upsetting especially where we desperately need that call on fourth down. To have it go against you is tough.”

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




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