By Ryan Barry
The anticipated downpours held off just long enough for the UMass defense to take down the UMass offense 18-17 in the Minutemen’s curtain closing spring game.
The defense, otherwise known as Team White, won for the second year in a row under head coach Don Brown, though a much revamped offense, or Team Maroon, showed some encouraging signs for next season.
No official stats were kept for individual players, but certain moments throughout the game showed the talents of an improved UMass roster that greatly utilized the transfer portal this offseason. Overall, Coach Brown was encouraged by what he saw on the field.
“Everybody got a chance to compete,” said Brown. “We don’t have any scout teams during the course of the spring, it’s all competition, and I thought a lot of guys took advantage of that and certainly improved.”
The team was definitely in a different spot compared to last year’s spring game which featured a widely turned over roster and completely new schemes. Brown highlighted the change in just a short year with players having much more familiarity.
“Our guys were carrying over 40 concepts defensively for today, a year ago they’re not so sure about all those concepts,” noted Brown.
The outline of the game featured their signature “Thunderstruck” concept to start, having to run plays every ten seconds for the duration of the song.
Three consecutive quarters of running clock football followed, with the scoring format awarding points for stops and forced turnovers on the defensive side, and the traditional points format for the offensive side.
With one of the biggest question marks surrounding the Minutemen being who will start at quarterback come the season opener against New Mexico State, it was highly touted Georgia Tech transfer Taisun Phommachanh who got things started. His opening drive would only last four plays, however, as would the following drive lead by lone returnee Brady Olson, with the defense forcing two quick four and outs.
Early enrollee Ahmad Haston came in for the third drive of the game, leading the Minutemen down field only for redshirt sophomore kicker Cameron Carson to miss a 38-yard field goal.
Another four-and-out, this time lead by Western Carolina transfer Carlos Davis, would see the Minutemen defense continue their dominant start. With the second quarter underway it was Brady Olson leading the offense for the first offensive points of the game.
An impressive deep connection to redshirt sophomore receiver George Johnson III put Team Maroon in the red zone, setting up a three yard touchdown run from redshirt sophomore running back Kay’Ron Adams to put the game at 7-7. On the next drive, Taisun Phommachanh’s threw a pick his second time out to sophomore defensive back Dorian Helm, giving the defense the lead back at 13-7.
Olson would led another drive that ended in points, with Cameron Carson avenging his miss earlier by knocking in his first field goal of the day to cut the deficit to 13-10. Team White came up with another stop on a Carlos Davis-led drive, Team Maroon responded by ushering in one of the other better drives of the game.
With the third and final quarter underway and Ahmad Haston under center, he made connections with four different pass catchers on the drive, finishing with a 14-yard pass to George Johnson III to put Team Maroon back on top 17-15.
Carlos Davis came back out and featured some nice throws on the final drive of the game, with Phommachanh jumping in about halfway.
In an attempt to give special teams a real game scenario, to close out the game Cameron Carson came on to attempt a 47-yard field goal, only to have it blocked by junior defensive lineman Billy Wooden.
With the block, Team White and the defense walked away winners. Considering the 2022 edition of the spring game didn’t feature an offensive touchdown, this year’s edition showed some massive improvement from the Minutemen.
With formal practices resuming in late July, the game showed again just how far this team has come already, but there’s plenty of room for improvement, obviously. .
“I think it’s pretty obvious we’re much better than a year ago, especially on the offensive side,” said Brown. “I think overall we have the chance to play complimentary football as we move forward.”