UMass Football Notebook: Minutemen can take positives from Army loss

  • UMass defensive back Jordan Mahoney lines up against Army on Saturday in West Point. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass quarterback Garrett Dzuro made his first start since last season’s finale Saturday against Army. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass celebrated Jacob Orlando’s touchdown catch in the second quarter Saturday against Army. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/24/2021 4:53:05 PM
Modified: 11/24/2021 4:53:00 PM

AMHERST – Alex Miller doesn’t do moral victories. But the UMass football team’s interim head coach acknowledged the way the Minutemen played Saturday against Army meant something.

UMass (1-10) lost 33-17 at West Point, but the Minutemen trailed just 19-17 early in the fourth quarter after a Josiah Johnson touchdown run. Army scored 14 unanswered points to send UMass to its fifth straight defeat.

“It’s not a victory because we didn’t win, but what I do count it as is a building block,” Miller said. “You can use it as a teachable moment and say this is what happens when we lock in.”

The Minutemen tied their highest road scoring output of the season, matching the 17 points they scored at Liberty. It was UMass’ narrowest road defeat since the Minutemen beat UConn in East Hartford, Conn., in 2018.

“When you give that kind of effort, whether it’s on the football field or in life, good things happen,” Miller said. “I was just so proud of the guys that came together. That was exciting for the kids to be in a game, it was exciting for us as coaches to be in a game. You have all these really good feelings about football, and it was good to get a taste of that.”

UMass lost to Army 63-7 in 2019. Minutemen on the roster for that game like cornerback Josh Wallace recognize the progress.

“It shows improvement,” he said. “People were running to the ball a lot faster. People were disciplined. That was good to see.”

WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR YOU? – UMass announced Monday that it had hired Don Brown to be its next head football coach. Miller played for Brown from 2003-06 and enthusiastically welcomed his former coach back to the program.

“He was an important part of me growing up, developing  as a player, a coach and a person,” Miller said. “I couldn’t be more excited he’s back. He’s a huge part of this family, and I think we made a great hire.”

UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford announced Tuesday that the athletic department was increasing its coaching salary pool by $500,000 and had built a fundraising “war chest” of $800,000. The salary pool now stands at $2 million, as it was $1.5 million when Walt Bell was hired

Bamford emphasized the need to increase assistant coach salaries and add further investment to the program when Bell was fired two weeks ago.

SIGNAL CALLERS – Garrett Dzuro made his first start at quarterback for UMass since the 2020 season finale against Liberty. He completed 7-of-13 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown while throwing two interceptions. Dzuro also ran 11 times for 31 yards.

Josiah Johnson (who ripped off a 43-yard run at one point) and Zamar Wise also took snaps.

“It was our way as a staff to get different guys in different situations that we think can help us move the ball and win the game,” Miller said. “We’re going to continue to do that this week and make sure we get the best 11 out there to execute that specific play.”

IF YOU SCHEME IT, THEY WILL COME – UMass’ minus-10 turnover margin is the fifth-worst in the country. The Minutemen have only created 10 turnovers, tied for the ninth-worst mark. They’ve recovered eight fumbles but nabbed just two interceptions – tied for the second-fewest in the nation behind Northern Illinois’ one.

“You create turnovers by running to the football and when you tackle well, and the first guy’s wrapped up, the second guy gets the ball out,” Miller said. “You don’t create turnovers necessarily by blitzing or stuff like that. What we’ve done the last couple of weeks, we’ve been very simple on defense. Those turnovers are going to come from constantly doing the right thing.”

IF YOU’RE HERE, YOU’RE FAMILY – For the UMass players that can’t go home for Thanksgiving on a day trip, the Minutemen will host a large turkey dinner catered by UMass Dining after practice Thursday.

“We’ll probably have 40 or 50 guys here with our families and enjoy Thanksgiving like everybody else,” Miller said. “It’s just on a larger scale.”

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