Missed opportunities, miscues thwart UMass in 27-10 loss to UConn

  • Massachusetts quarterback Brady Olson (12) scrambles for a long gain against Florida State last season in Tallahassee, Fla., AP FILE

For the Gazette
Published: 11/5/2022 12:02:07 AM
Modified: 11/5/2022 12:01:49 AM

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – The result might have been no different than it was seven other times in 2022, and UMass football coach Don Brown said there is no such thing as a "moral victory.”

There was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow after Connecticut beat the Minutemen 27-10 on Friday night at Rentschler Field, though Brown was suggesting that the corner is getting closer to being turned.

"I'm going to give you this – there's no moral victories at UMass. There isn't. There never will be," Brown said. "At the same time, I thought we took some steps as a football team tonight that we can utilize and move forward. We feel like we're going in the right direction."

UMass (1-8) scored first on a Cameron Carson 23-yard field goal in the first quarter and tied the game in the second quarter on a brilliant 53-yard pitch-and-catch from quarterback Brady Olson to wide receiver Cam Sullivan-Brown. But the now Huskies (5-5) took the lead back on a Noe Ruellas 26-yard field goal with 59 seconds to play in the opening half, and never trailed again.

"I thought we played hard the whole night," Brown said afterward. "They battled as well. We held them to 330 yards of offense and we had 351. They finished on a couple of drives.

"The thing that I'm most encouraged about is that [quarterback] Brady Olson did some good things for us tonight and I think he can take this particular game and build on it."

The sophomore from Bellingham made his second consecutive and third start of the season, and had a near personal-best night. He was 19 for 34 for 266 yards and a TD. Olson was 10 for 13 for 155 yards at halftime. It was Olson's second-best passing game of his UMass career, having gone 22-for-38 for 285 yards in a loss to Eastern Michigan last year.

It was also the most yardage thrown for by a UMass quarterback since Tyler Lytle went 15 for 28 for 227 yards in a November 2021 loss to Rhode Island. It had been 11 full games since a UMass quarterback had thrown for that much yardage.

Sullivan-Brown had a career night as well. The transfer from Penn State caught five passes for 124 yards and the touchdown. He said it was the most yardage he had gained in a game since high school in Bowie, Md.

"We had a good week of practice. Me and Brady have had that connection since camp," Sullivan-Brown said. "We just finally got to put it on display this week. I'm just happy that the world got to see it."

The final margin of victory might have been 17 points, but it was a tight game until late in the third quarter.

UConn upped the lead to 20-10 after Olson missed on a third-and-11 pass to Sullivan-Brown. Had the quarterback checked down, he could have picked up the first down with an underneath pass to tight end Josiah Johnson. Instead, a 33-yard punt by C.J. Kolodziey gave the Huskies the ball on the UMass 42.

Four plays, which included a costly facemask call against Jalen Mackie, were all the Huskies needed to get into the end zone. Victor Rosa, who had 87 net yards as part of a 274-yard rushing night for UConn, was enveloped by the pile that helped move him five yards on a second-down run for a touchdown. The PAT made it 20-10, but with 4:55 left in the third quarter, there was still a lot of time for the Minutemen.

UMass started what became the game-turning drive on its own 25. Isaac Ross slipped running a pass pattern on first down, and UConn linebacker Jackson Mitchell almost picked the ball off. 

After Ellis Merriweather, who had 33 yards on 12 carries, gained four yards, Olson and Ross hooked up for a 24-yard pass play and a first down. Olson threw a rainbow that Ross dove for and made the catch. A couple of penalties, including a pass interference call, against the UConn defense gave the Minutemen first-and-10 on the Huskies 19. 

With Olson split out wide, Gino Campiotti took the snap at quarterback and gained seven yards, but on second down, Merriweather was tackled by UConn's Dal'mont Guardine and Mitchell a yard short of the sticks. On third down, Olson tried to hit tight end Jaret Pallotta in the end zone, but threw long. The decision by Brown to kick a field goal, if it were good, would have made it a seven-point game. Instead Carson's 27-yard field goal was wide left. That kept the margin at 10 points.

"Those are the types of things, when you're not winning, that bring you down. I don't regret kicking the field goal, because it was a two-score game. We could have got it back to a one-score game," Brown said, responding to a question about the missed kick. 

"You've got to be careful when you're talking about the ebb and flow. You have to make those kind of decisions," he continued. "It wasn't four minutes left in the game, there was [a whole quarter] left in the game."

Despite the missed field goal, the UMass defense rose up and forced a UConn punt. Taking over at the UMass 35, the Minutemen went a quick three-and-out. UConn answered with a nine-play, 74-yard drive that put the game in the loss column for UMass.

It was the first of three consecutive road games for UMass, which will be at Arkansas State next week and Texas A&M the following Saturday, before finishing up at home Thanksgiving weekend against Army.

"There's a lot that goes into winning," Sullivan-Brown said. "Winning is hard. As a team, learning how to win — as you said — takes these learning experiences and these kind of games that help us push this program forward to be a winning program.

"That's what we're all focused on."

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