Exactly one week from Saturday, UMass fans who have eagerly been waiting to see what this team looks like in Year 2 under Don Brown will get the chance with the spring game.
The Minutemen were inside McGuirk Stadium for more work ahead of the game next weekend and Sydney Ciano was there for us again. Here’s what she saw and heard as things begin to ramp up…
The Massachusetts football team held its last Saturday practice on the game field as the feeling starts to change from the monotony of practice to actual game prep. With the first spring game one week away, both sides of the ball were fired up, especially the offense that has struggled to gain momentum throughout the spring season.
Long passes down the field have been inconsistent for the Minutemen, so the offense took on a running role on Saturday, only throwing a few short passes during scrimmages. Brady Olson, Taisun Phommachanh, Carlos Davis, and Ahmad Haston each had their turns running the ball themselves, but primarily relied on running backs and the short passes to wide receivers. These plays proved to be UMass’ strong suit, leading to more completions and could be the key to unlocking more for OC Steve Casula.
Wide receiver Jacquon Gibson showed off his strong technique and quick footwork during position-specific drills. Gibson was more of a key player during this session, especially during non-contact play in 7-on-7. He kept his eyes on the field and the quarterback, connecting for touchdowns and setting the tone for the offense. Alongside other strong players like Isaac Ross, the wide receiver is clearly gaining more confidence.
During scrimmages, running backs powered through the defense. In earlier practices this season, the defense held back the offense play after play. On Saturday, the offense felt the urgency to win and put the pieces together seamlessly in the running game. Running backs Kay’Ron Adams and Greg Desrosiers Jr. kept a good eye on the defense during scrimmages. Though he could not find enough space to move the chains, Adams avoided the charging defense, spinning around and not giving up on the play until he was out of bounds. Desrosiers Jr. followed suit with this mindset, finding a path around the defense and moving his side of the ball forward on the field.
Though Olson did not have a strong and consistent practice, the other three quarterbacks, specifically Phommachanh, stepped up and played with confidence. The four all spent time together refining their touchdown passes in the red zone, and spent key time with wide receivers early in practice. For Phommachanh, he was locked in, staying consistent throughout the entirety of practice. Aside from a few throws, he kept his game simple either carrying the ball himself or handing it off to a running back.
The defense also worked on their technique. In one drill, they focused on keeping their chest down and using their shoulders as power. Nailing down footwork and refining their form, the defense continued to be a powerhouse even with a riled up offense. Their strength did not falter, forcing the running backs and quarterbacks to redirect. If anything, there has been no shortage of competitive juice between the two units, which is obviously a big deal for a rebuilding program.
The special teams units took up a majority of the practice in between scrimmages. Being out on the field, the punt unit drilled in their formation. The receiving team focused on where to shift to hold off the kicking team. Each piece of the punt unit was worked on individually before putting all of the elements together.
Details, details, details.
Likewise, kickers had more time on the field today outside of the punt unit. In the event of a touchdown or fourth down, the coaches had the field goal unit come out onto the field to make the extra points. While practicing in the bubble, special teams really hasn’t been a focal point as much as it is when the team is able to get out on the real field.
It’s very apparent that UMass is gelling and while there’s a long way to go, being able to continue stacking these types of days together is crucial to the hopeful success of the Minutemen this fall.