Despite an explosive offensive attack and a four-point lead with less than two minutes to play, UMass fell short in their season opener against Hawaii, losing 38-35. A muffed punt let Hawaii get back into the game, and then questionable playcalling hamstrung the Minutemen’s final drive.
It’s a game that UMass is going to want back, considering that they had a 14-point lead at one point in the third quarter, and that they gave up 17 points in the fourth quarter. However, UMass played well for much of the game and showed that they have the potential to be a dangerous team this season.
The game got off to a rough start for the Minutemen, as an Andrew Ford pass went off the hands of Andy Isabella and right into the arms of Hawaii linebacker Solomon Matautia. Hawaii QB Dru Brown then took a keeper 29 yards into the end zone. The Minutemen recovered though, as Isabell redeemed himself with a six-yard touchdown run.
Late in the second quarter, Brown found receiver John Ursua for an 82-yard score. UMass promptly answered, as Ford hit Isabella for a two-yard touchdown pass right before the half ended to tie the game at 14.
UMass shined for much of the third quarter, scoring two touchdowns to go up 28-14 on the Rainbow Warriors. However, things then began to fall apart. Hawaii got a quick score and a stop, and then freshman punt returner Jessie Britt muffed a punt, which Hawaii turned into a touchdown. UMass countered with a 21-yard touchdown run by Marquise Young, which would be the Minutemen’s last score on the day.
The real backbreaker for UMass came when Hawaii, down 35-31, had a 3rd and 10 deep in their half of the field with less than 2 minutes to go. Brown found Ursua on a slant and Usura broke out for 52 yards, setting up the touchdown that put Hawaii up 38-35.
UMass had a chance to answer with less than a minute to go, but failed. Whipple’s playcalling on the final drive was somewhat questionable, culminating with the final play of the game being a pass to the running back in the flat, which is confusing given the success that Ford had throwing the ball downfield for much of the day.
Ford finished with 275 yards and two touchdowns on 21 of 30 passing. The “Cedar Hill Connection” was in fine form today, as he connected with his former high school teammate (and one of the best TEs in the country) Adam Breneman nine times for 179 yards. Marquise Young had 83 yards on 20 attempts and a touchdown, and Isabella caught five balls for 40 yards and a touchdown, in addition to his rushing touchdown.
On the defensive side of the ball, the team was powerless to stop Ursua, who torched the Minutemen to the tune of 12 receptions for 272 yards. Brown finished with 391 yards and 3 touchdowns. The game served as a confirmation of UMass’ strengths and weaknesses. The passing game was very dangerous throughout the game, but the offensive line struggled to the point where the more mobile Ross Comis was under center for a drive in place of Ford.
The defense also struggled, particularly in defending the passing game, and the special teams were suspect. Ultimately, there’s a lot of good to build on from this game, but UMass cannot afford to make the type of mistakes it made against Hawaii. It’s a tough loss for the Minutemen because it was a very winnable game that just slipped through their fingers.
The next game for UMass is next Saturday at Coastal Carolina at 7pm.