AMHERST — It was a beautiful day for football Saturday in Amherst, as UMass held its spring game.
Now, it was not quite football in its purest form, as there was no live tackling, and a lot of what you saw was 85 percent of what you’d see on a Saturday in the fall.
But as it is, the defense defeated the offense, 20-3, in the modified scoring system.
So if you were looking for definitive answers, you weren’t going to really get them. But overall, it was a nice, competitive atmosphere, and there was a lot of talent on display.
As first-year coach Don Brown said afterward, “We’re not ready yet. But we’re moving in the right direction.”
The Spring Game has come to a close. Team Maroon comes out on top.
— UMass Football (@UMassFootball) April 30, 2022
That much is evident. Here are five observations from the spring game.
1. The running game should be effective, and it is a lot more than just Ellis Merriweather.
Don’t get us wrong. Merriweather is the top back on this team. He has good size at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, and he runs very well for that frame. We expect him to have a very good season, and the Minutemen will go to him early and often. That said, this running game is a lot more than just him. Two players who caught our eye in that respect are local products Cyrus Bonsu of Worcester and Greg Desrosiers of Lawrence. Desrosiers has, as Brown said, “legitimate foot speed,” and several times got free around the edge for big gainers. This offense will commit to the run, and you will see a lot of jet motion with the receivers as runners, too. Milford’s Carter Scudo got a lot of work there. Brown seemed adamant that this time run the ball effectively, and it looks like he will get his wish.
2. The starting quarterback race will rage on to the fall.
We like what Brown and Co. are doing with the quarterback race. There is no clear leader at the position, and Brown is not going to rush this decision. Right now, the three main guys are looking like Gino Campiotti, Zamar Wise, and Brady Olson. Brown had some positive things to say about each of them, and said they all bring something different to the table. Olson probably has the best arm, while Wise is the most mobile and biggest threat as a runner. Campiotti maybe looks like the best blend of the two. The passing game did not have any major pluses in the spring game, so we are going into the fall with some question marks. But overall it’s a strong room.
3. The defensive line may be a little small, but there were still positives.
Look, there’s no other way to slice it: the defensive line is on the smaller side for the FBS level. You worry that the unit will not hold up against the better running attacks it will face. However, there are some things to like there. Marcus Cushnie and Cletus Mathurin impressed at times Saturday, and there is some decent athleticism to make up for the lack in size. It will be interesting to see how this group progresses in the fall under defensive line coach Valdamar Brower.
4. The back seven had a good day, and should flourish under Brown’s system.
Tanner Davis set the tone for the UMass defensive backs when he picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown on the second play from scrimmage. Davis also had what would have been a fumble recovered for a touchdown, but the play was ruled dead. But overall, the linebackers and defensive backs were running around and making plays. The defense had a lot of success blitzing, even though — as is custom for a spring game — it did not have a ton of opportunities to do that. The defense just looks faster, but that’s what you see with a Don Brown defense. You will never be short on aggression, and this looks like a unit that will be much improved.
5. This was as organized a spring game as you have seen here in recent years.
We texted one UMass friend of ours about what he wanted to see from UMass today, and he said, “Honestly, more than anything else, I want to see a level of organization that hasn’t been there. That alone is key.” In that respect, UMass delivered. All in all, players knew where they were supposed to be and what their assignments were. Brown said they still had guys out of position at times, but the main takeaway is that the organization and order was where you hoped it to be at this point. That’s coaching, and that’s the effect Brown has had.