UMass football: Injury status of QB Taisun Phommachanh unknown as Minutemen prep for home opener against Miami (Ohio)

  • Massachusetts quarterback Taisun Phommachanh (3) carries the ball as Auburn linebacker Austin Keys (6) brings him down from behind during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill) Butch Dill

  • Massachusetts head coach Don Brown talks with linebacker Tyler Martin (5) as he walks off the field during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Auburn Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill) Butch Dill

Staff Writer
Published: 9/8/2023 4:05:28 PM

AMHERST – Home sweet home; it’s about time.

After two long road trips to New Mexico and Alabama, the UMass football team is finally geared up for its home opener. The Minutemen welcome Miami (Ohio) Saturday at 3:30 p.m., a game that UMass head coach Don Brown and his team have had circled from the get-go.

“It’s big,” Brown said. “It’s one we’ve been pointing. It’s really good when you have the chance to play at home after being on the road for two weeks. The kids have been anxious about playing at home, and they’re gonna get their chance for sure.”

Bouncing back from a tough loss like the one last week at Auburn (59-14) isn’t the easiest thing to do. Not everyone can just flush it and act like it didn’t happen, and that’s fine. Brown just wants his players to not let the disappointment carry over, rather let it fuel them when taking the field this weekend.

His message to the team was straightforward.

“It’s real simple,” Brown said. “Move on.

“You only get 12 of these Saturdays. We got our first win, and then played our second game. Didn’t get our second win. Alright, move on. There are a lot of good football games left to be played. That’s really the message.”

Of course, the Minutemen didn’t leave Auburn unscathed, as they suffered some injuries – most notably to starting quarterback Taisun Phommachanh and linebacker Jerry Roberts Jr.

Earlier this week Brown said in a press conference that it was too early to tell whether or not Phommachanh would be available for this Saturday, but did provide some optimistic information.

“He’s feeling good,” Brown said. “He’s in good spirits, he’s moving around good.”

UMass saw promising things from quarterback Carlos Davis, who came in and threw for 106 yards and a touchdown while completing 75-percent of his passes. It’s worth considering Davis even if Phommachanh is cleared, because if Phommachanh isn’t fully healthy, it limits the most dangerous asset of his game: the ability to use his legs.

Either way, the Minutemen feel comfortable giving the nod to either quarterback

“Carlos has been getting equal time in terms of practice,” Brown said. “We know what we’re gonna get from him. We feel good about his ability to come out and run the offense if [he had to].”

Miami’s offense is similar to that of New Mexico State. The RedHawks have two running backs capable of breaking long runs in South Carolina-transfer Rashad Amos and junior Keyon Mozee. They also have a veteran quarterback in junior Brett Gabbert, who had an amazing season in 2021 before missing most of 2022 with an upper-body injury. 

Brown is expecting a lot of standard schemes from the RedHawks, but will have his defense prepared for potential gadget plays.

“They’ve got a couple tailbacks that can carry the rock,” Brown said. “A lot of one-back run game. Tight zone, which is when the tailback stays on the midline. Long zone, when they try to take it to the perimeter… Pretty traditional in the run game. I’m sure they’ll have a wrinkle or two for us.”

On the outside is Gabbert’s favorite target Gage Larvadain. The junior transferred from Southeast Louisiana for the 2023 season, and made an immediate impact in Miami’s first contest down in South Florida against Miami (Fla.). Larvadain hauled in eight catches for 80 yards and poses as a big threat for the Minutemen secondary.

“[Larvadain] is a really good receiver,” Brown said. “I think he is their marquee guy, and we’ve gotta do a good job on him.”

UMass’ defense has hovered around 30-percent on third downs since Brown took over as head coach. Last week, Auburn converted 60-percent of its opportunities and picked up 27 first downs. A lot of it had to do with poor execution on early downs, giving the Tigers easy third-and-short looks. That’s something that needs to change if the Minutemen want to improve to 2-1 this weekend.

“We’re looking at scheme, we’re looking at the things that we’re doing,” Brown said. “Sometimes you have to look at first and second down to make sure you’re taking care of business there. I think there’s a combination. We’ve gotta do a little better job on first, second down, which means we’re in third-and-long on third downs… that usually promotes success in getting off the field.”

Although the Minutemen took a reality check against Auburn, which was expected as 35-point underdogs, they still have plenty of winnable games right in front of them – starting with Saturday against Miami (Ohio). Brown believes UMass matches up well with the RedHawks.

“I think we’re good,” Brown said. “[Against New Mexico State] we certainly measured up. [Against Auburn] we took a bite, let’s face it… With that being said, I feel really good about how we stack up with them. But they’re a good football team, let’s leave no mistake about that.”

There hasn’t been this much hype about a UMass football team in quite some time, especially since they became an FBS program. With the buzz circling around campus, and students moved in and ready to go, Brown hopes to see a packed McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

“Come on in and watch us play,” he said. “I think they’ll feel really good about the product they see.”

NOTES: After back-to-back nationally-televised games on ESPN, UMass’ tilt with Miami (Ohio) will be streamed on ESPN-Plus. … The visiting RedHawks are seven-point road favorites. … Miami leads the all-time series 3-1. The programs haven’t met since 2015, when the RedHawks scored a 20-13 win at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. UMass’ lone win against its former MAC foe came in 2013.


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