The first 10 minutes of game time was all maroon-and-white.
The final 50 minutes was mostly black-and-blue.
BYU’s defense grinded the explosive UMass offense and the Cougar offense produced 35 straight points en route to a 35-16 victory over the Minutemen on Saturday at Gillette Stadium.
First half was promising…
The Minutemen looked like they would run away early from the Cougars.
UMass took the opening kickoff and controlled the tempo with a 14-play, 72-yards drive that culminated in a Cooper Garcia field goal. On BYU’s first play from scrimmage, Jake Byczko would recover a fumble to put UMass in great field possession. The Minutemen would score eight plays later on a two-yard Marquis Young touchdown plunge.
Despite allowing a touchdown on the following drive, the Minutemen defense would step up and contain BYU, forcing three straight punts, allowing only eight total yards on the nine plays that made up those drives.
Credit the Cougar defense, however, with swarming the UMass offensive line and forcing long second and third down throws to limit drives.
The Cougars would score before halftime for a 14-10 lead, but the game was tight for sure.
…but then they played a second half
BYU freshman quarterback Zach Wilson was not spectacular, but made the plays when he needed to make them. Wilson connected with Neil Pau’u for 40 yards to set a Cougars’ touchdown to push their lead to 21-10.
The running game woke up in the second half as well behind Matt Hadley (11 carries, 69 yards, touchdown) and Aleva Hifo (two rushing touchdowns) who provided the jack-hammering into the end zone to build BYU’s lead eventually to 35-10.
BYU’s defense, however, should have received the game ball, cut up 11 different ways.
The team bottled up the Minutemen rushing attack (102 yards on 36 carries) and forced Ross Comis into mostly check-down-conservative football through the air.
The nation’s leading receiver, Andy Isabella, though was hobbled a bit through the game, was held to 10 catches and 85 yards. (Yes, this is what qualifies as “limiting Isabella”).
The Cougars were constantly in the Minutemen backfield (10 tackles for loss) and caused havoc. Rhett Sandlin had two sacks, while the combination of Sione Takitaki and Isaiah Kaufusi had 14 tackles apiece for BYU.
The offensive lapse for UMass had unfortunate timing, as the Minutemen defense held BYU to 388 yards of total offense.
One left to play
A bowl seemed unlikely with Georgia looming next week, but the loss to BYU officially clinched UMass’ exclusion from the postseason.
Georgia is still in the national playoff discussion, so expect the Bulldogs to be fully focused to stay there.
UMass has a senior-heavy roster, so this last game playing between the hedges will be a cool way to go out. Despite their struggles, the Minutemen have given SEC opponents bad heartburn in recent years, including games against Florida, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.
I believe coach Mark Whipple would be forgiven for letting his seniors play out as much as possible in their final games considering the volume of seniors here.
After that, Minutemen fans will be left to cheer on Andy Isabella (and maybe Bryton Barr) for postseason awards and positioning in NCAA ranks this season.
Isabella currently leads the country with 1479 receiving yards, which 132 yards ahead of Antoine Wesley of Texas Tech (who has two games still to play).
Barr, who had 14 tackles against BYU on Saturday, has 131 total tackles on the season, good for third in the nation (Malik Fountain of Central Michigan leads with 138).
See you in Athens.