UMass football: Quarterback situation continues to be unknown as Minutemen set to host Arkansas State

  • Umass wide receiver Anthony Simpson (8) runs upfield for a first down against New Mexico in the second quarter Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 9/29/2023 4:51:48 PM
Modified: 9/29/2023 4:51:01 PM

The UMass football team will suit up for its third home game of the season on Saturday afternoon against Arkansas State (2-2), and the Minutemen are still looking for their first victory at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

This will be the second consecutive year that UMass takes on Arkansas State; last year’s matchup was a nail biter, ending in a 35-33 loss for the Minutemen. The Red Wolves come into Saturday’s game fresh off a 44-37 win against Southern Miss; they’re riding a two-game win streak after handling Stony Brook 31-7 the week prior. 

On paper, UMass (1-4) has the edge over Arkansas State on both sides of the ball. The Red Wolves average just 19.5 points per game, while the Minutemen average 26.2 per game. Both teams are allowing more than 30 points per game — the Minutemen a little stingier defensively at 36.6 points against per game to Arkansas State’s 38.5. That said, the UMass defense will need to play consistently to make sure they limit the Red Wolves’ offensive chances – they’ve struggled to stop opponents in the first half of games this year, trailing by double-digits going into halftime in their last four games.

“We've talked about it as a staff,” UMass head coach Don Brown said on his team’s slow starts. “We actually got off on the right foot (last week against New Mexico), we were three and out on defense the other night. I think there's some delay there from just getting into it and just letting it go, getting into a rhythm. And for us, everything counts, everything matters. We're analyzing everything, trying to rectify situations.”

When the UMass defense is on, they’re on – they’ve shut three of five opponents out completely in the third quarter, something that defensive lineman Billy Wooden said the defense takes pride in. They’ll need to play that way more consistently to earn a win against Arkansas State. They’ll need to be especially careful of Arkansas State’s rushing game – the team has averaged 162.2 rushing yards per game, and the Minutemen give up over 200 rushing yards per game. The Red Wolves offense has been balanced this fall, which should keep the home team on their toes. 

With Arkansas State quarterback J.T. Shrout out with an injury, it’s likely that the Red Wolves will turn to true freshman Jaylen Raynor as the team’s starting QB against the Minutemen. Raynor got his first career start last week in Arkansas State’s win over Southern Miss and he played quite well, completing 11 of 21 passes for 233 yards and rushing for 97 yards and a pair of TDs.

“(Arkansas State) is going with a new quarterback, who’s a true freshman … obviously has some running ability and has shown that ability in the last game and a half,” Brown said. “He also has the ability to throw the ball down the field. We’ve got to be ready for not only the run game part of it and his ability to run, but also throwing the deep ball.”

It’s not clear whether UMass quarterback Carlos Davis, who left the field in the middle of the fourth quarter against New Mexico with an abdominal injury, will be available for Saturday’s game. Brown said that it was too early to know during Monday’s media availability, and the school didn’t provide an update on his status during the week. Brown did mention that Taisun Phommachanh has been working hard in his rehab, but didn’t indicate whether he would be available for Saturday. 

If those two quarterbacks are out, it’s possible Ahmad Haston could get the first start of his collegiate career. It was Haston who replaced Davis last weekend, completing five throws on five attempts, including a touchdown, and rushing for 25 yards. Brady Olson is also available for the Minutemen.

The two teams will clash at McGuirk at 3:30 p.m. and the game will stream on ESPN-Plus. 


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