UMass starts fast, shuts downs Charlotte in 49-31 victory

  • University of Massachusetts redshirt junior quarterback Michael Curtis throws a touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Andy Isabella, right, in the first quarter of the Minutemen's 49-31 win over the Charlotte 49ers on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts senior wider receiver Andy Isabella, left, takes Denzel Irvin of Charlotte into the end zone with him on a 15-yard reception from Michael Curtis to put the Minutemen up 13-0 in the first quarter of their 49-31 win over the 49ers on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts senior running back Marquis Young, center, takes Charlotte's opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown in the Minutemen's 49-31 win over the 49ers on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts senior running back Marquis Young, center, scores against Charlotte from two yards out in the first quarter of the Minutemen's 49-31 win over the 49ers on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts head coach Mark Whipple calls to his team in the first quarter of the Minutemen's 49-31 win over Charlotte on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts sophomore defensive lineman Jake Byczko, left, and junior linebacker Leon Flanagan Jr., right, force a fumble by Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds on a sack in the first quarter of the Minutemen's 49-31 win over the 49ers on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts senior cornerback Lee Moses, center (3), breaks up a pass intended for Charlotte wide receiver Victor Tucker, upper right, on a third down in the first quarter of the Minutemen's 49-31 win over the 49ers at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. UMass safety Brice McAllister is at right (2). —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts senior wide receiver Andy Isabella, left, is congratulated by senior tight end Travis Reynolds, center, and redshirt junior quarterback Michael Curtis after scoring on a 15-yard reception from Curtis in the first quarter of the Minutemen's 49-31 win over Charlotte on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts senior running back Marquis Young evades Charlotte defender Alex Highsmith, left, to score from two yards out in the first quarter of the Minutemen's 49-31 win over the 49ers on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts sophomore defensive lineman Chinedu Ogbonna, left, celebrates a tackle on Charlotte running back Benny LeMay, on ground at right, for a loss of four yards in the first quarter of the Minutemen's 49-31 win over the 49ers on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. Behind Ogbonna are linebackers, junior Leon Flanagan Jr. (5) and sophomore Cole McCubrey, right. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts sophomore wide receiver and running back Jessie Britt is shoved out of bounds well shy of a first down by Charlotte defenders Anthony Butler, left, and Juwan Foggie after a shovel pass from UMass quarterback Michel Curtis in the second quarter of the Minutemen's 49-31 win over the 49ers on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts redshirt junior quarterback Michael Curtis takes a snap in the second quarter of the Minutemen's 49-31 win over Charlotte on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts redshirt junior quarterback Michael Curtis passes against Charlotte in the second quarter of the Minutemen's 49-31 win over the 49ers on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts head coach Mark Whipple talks with redshirt junior quarterback Michael Curtis as he comes off the field in the second quarter of the Minutemen's 49-31 win over Charlotte on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts sophomore defensive lineman Chinedu Ogbonna, right, pressures Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds in the first quarter of the Minutemen's 49-31 win over the 49ers on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts redshirt junior quarterback Michael Curtis listens to a call from head coach Mark Whipple between plays in the second quarter of the Minutemen's 49-31 win over Charlotte on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts redshirt junior quarterback Michael Curtis passes over Charlotte defenders Jeff Gemmell (32) and Anthony Butler (7) to intended receiver tight end Taylor Edwards, foreground, in the first quarter of the Minutemen's 49-31 win over the 49ers on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. Kevin Gutting—STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 9/22/2018 9:30:06 PM

AMHERST — Bryton Barr and Michael Curtis both would prefer the UMass defense start the game on the field.

Barr, the seventh-year veteran in the middle of the Minutemen defense, said he hates waiting around on the sideline. Curtis, a redshirt junior quarterback who made his first career start Saturday, said he wants to see the big hits on the field and soak up the energy from the excitement.

Marquis Young ensured both of them would receive their wish.

The senior running back returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for an easy touchdown, setting off an avalanche of positive plays for UMass that propelled it to a 49-31 victory over Charlotte at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

“I thought it made a statement that the guys were ready to play,” coach Mark Whipple said. “When you have a weapon like he has, you don’t have to block them great, you just have to get in their way. The guys did a good job.”

The kickoff return was only the beginning of the fast start that electrified UMass’ home crowd in the opening 3 minutes, 14 seconds.

After Charlotte was forced into a three-and-out, Kyle Corbett had to drop to a knee to corral a low, bouncing snap, giving the Minutemen (2-3) excellent field position in the red zone. Curtis converted on UMass’ first offensive play, throwing a screen pass to senior Andy Isabella, who weaved his way into the end zone.

On the 49ers’ next possession, Leon Flanagan Jr. and Jake Byczko hit Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds nearly simultaneously, jarring the ball free for Byczko to recover. Byczko was credited with the sack – UMass’ first of the season – and two plays later Young waltzed into the end zone for a 21-0 lead.

“We were talking on the sidelines that the best thing possible was taking a kickoff back to the house,” Curtis said. “Everybody’s now excited and hyped up, and so going out there and getting the ball in the red zone already and getting a little dink pass to Andy and getting him into the end zone, it’s definitely a good way to start the game.”

The UMass defense rode the energy wave for most of the first half, flying around and suffocating the 49ers offense no matter the play call. Barr and Byczko seemed to be involved in every play, with Barr finishing with 21 tackles, the most for a UMass defender since Jovan Santos-Knox in 2015.

Excluding the punting mishap, Charlotte gained just 22 yards on its first six drives – five of which came via a penalty – and collected just one first down in the process. The Minutemen forced the 49ers into 14 plays that either went for no gain or lost yardage.

“We weren’t as flat as we’ve been in the past, and it showed out there,” Barr said. “We were just having fun. ... Jake Byczko had one heck of a game, the whole D-line and everyone was doing their job. I kept stressing ‘you just do your job and don’t try to do more than you’re asked to and just make your play.’ The whole defense did that today.”

The defensive success was charged by the play of Byczko and his teammates along the defensive line. UMass finished with four sacks and 12 tackles for a loss, keeping Reynolds under pressure for many of his dropbacks. Charlotte had even less space in which to run the ball, finishing with just 81 yards on 41 attempts, 34 of which came on one run.

“Our defense was physical and fast,” Whipple said. “Our guys up front moved the line of scrimmage better than they had all year.”

The re-energized defense took the pressure off Curtis, who played in place of injured seniors Ross Comis and Andrew Ford. The redshirt junior was efficient, completing 12 of 19 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns in a scaled-down version of the UMass offense.

Whipple said he had a feeling early in the week that Curtis would have to start, and praised the redshirt junior for the way he practiced. He said he had to tweak the game plan slightly after practice Thursday when Curtis didn’t look comfortable running a few concepts, but overall stuck with what Curtis did well.

He was at his best in the read-option packages, a staple of the offense he ran at Trinity Valley Junior College two years ago. Curtis ran the ball nine times for 35 yards and two touchdowns, both of which came on designed pass plays.

Curtis said he was ultra-focused throughout Saturday heading into the game and just confident in the preparations he did during the week.

“A lot of people asked me during the week ‘Are you nervous for your first starting thing,’ and I really wasn’t,” Curtis said. “I was prepared, I was ready to go and just ready to go out there and have fun.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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