UMass Four Down Preview: UMass Minutemen (1-3) at Eastern Michigan (2-2)

Photo – ESPN

By Ryan Barry
NEFJ Correspondent

Kickoff: For a fourth time in five weeks the Minutemen head back on the road to take on old Mid-American Conference foe Eastern Michigan. UMass comes into this game reeling from a 28-0 loss last week to the Temple Owls in Philadelphia, where their offense left much to be desired. The loss kept the Minutemen at 131st of 131 teams in CBS’ Weekly Full College Football rankings, where their Eagle opponents sit 29 places below at 102nd.

1st Down: It’s easy to summarize last week’s loss for the Minutemen in the same regard that defined early UMass FBS teams: bend and eventually break on defense, do little to show up at all on offense. Surrendering one touchdown in the first half and registering two interceptions is mightily encouraging for a side that sits 59th in the country in total defense, but they need something on offense to keep them off the field the entire game.

2nd Down: Registering one of those interceptions was sophomore cornerback Jordan Mahoney, who returned his first of the season the week before against Stony Brook 94 yards for a touchdown. His stand out play so far this season has been exciting to see for this young core which ranks an impressive 33rd in the nation for passing yards allowed per game. Eagles senior quarterback Taylor Powell (62/94, 681 yards, 4 TDS, 5 INTs) is more of a pocket passer, though it’s still unclear whether he is fit to return from injury. If he’s unable to go, sophomore Austin Smith (16/27, 250 yards, 2 TDS, 1 INT) is more of a dual-threat option who can get it done on the ground (21 carries, 133 yards, 1 TD). This type of quarterback has been a source of difficulty for the Minutemen so far this season, so whoever goes under center will be important.

3rd Down: Usually the offense is first to draw attention in a four down preview, but for the Minutemen this season there hasn’t been much to write about. Lucky for this struggling UMass offense, they face a team ranked 118th in the nation in total defense. While their rushing yards allowed rank 96th, it’s their 117th in passing yards allowed ranking where their holes are really exposed. Unfortunately for UMass, they sit last in the FBS in passing offense, and are just one of four teams that aren’t averaging at least 100 yards a game through the air.

4th Down: UMass junior quarterback Gino Campiotti was 7/14 for 36 yards and an interception last week, failing to capitalize on his solid start against Stony Brook. Sophomore Zamar Wise saw his first action of the season later in the game, going 3/7 for 35 yards. He offers a similar skill set to Campiotti with his legs being a major asset, but perhaps the former Rutgers transfer will get the nod this week in an effort to shake things up. The Minutemen desperately need something consistent at quarterback, and if Wise sees action and can’t instill confidence in the job, does Don Brown look even farther down the roster at true freshman Chase Brewster? At this point, everything needs to be thrown at the wall to see if something sticks.

Extra Point: Eastern Michigan stands as the lone FBS team that UMass has a winning effort against, leading the series 2-1 in their young history together. Last season the Eagles rolled through Amherst in a 42-28 win. Back to back wins for the Minutemen in 2014 and 2015 under Mark Whipple saw the days of what could’ve been for this program in the MAC, alas they find themselves years later fighting just to stay competitive in games against these same opponents. The gray colored turf of Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti, located just east of Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan, will serve as the somewhat odd setting for this afternoon tilt.

Final Drive: It’s hard for Minutemen fans not to feel dejected about last weekend’s loss to Temple, especially considering how poorly the offense looked. Senior running back Ellis Merriweather still hasn’t gotten his legs going like his 2021 campaign, not a single pass catcher has yet to have at least 50 yards receiving in a game, and the quarterback situation is still an open competition. Don Brown has said several times how Rome wasn’t built in a day, so UMass fans have to expect these growing pains, taking solace in the competitive defense that they’ve displayed thus far. Still, with a big match-up against Liberty coming next week, the Minutemen can’t afford to take another bad loss. Again, it’s imperative that they do everything they can to keep this one close.