Defense dominates UMass football spring game as Don Brown turns attention to fall

  • UMass quarterback Brady Olson at the spring football game Saturday in Amherst. Olson is one of four quarterbacks that took snaps in the game. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass coach Don Brown presided over his first spring game since being CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass wide receiver Rico Arnold pulls in a long pass at the end of the spring game Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass quarterback Zamar Wise breaks out into the open field during Saturday’s spring game at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass safety Tanner Davis returns an interception back for a touchdown during UMass’ “Thunderstruck” two-minute drill to open the spring game Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass safety Tanner Davis intercepts a pass intended for tight end Josiah Johnson during the spring game Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/1/2022 4:00:23 PM
Modified: 5/1/2022 3:58:50 PM

AMHERST – Don Brown reintroduced himself to the UMass football faithful arranged in McGuirk Alumni Stadium’s pews with a hymn. Of sorts.

After the Minutemen completed what will be their pregame warm-ups in the fall, the opening guitar riff of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” jolted the crowd. Brown named UMass’ two-minute drill Thunderstruck and opened Saturday’s spring game with 20 plays of spring practice’s most exciting drill. Before the chants of “Thunder” and the drums kicked in, UMass safety Tanner Davis intercepted Gino Campiotti and returned it to the end zone on the second play. 

That set the tone for the rest of the event, which the defense won 20-3 in a modified scoring system. There was no live tackling due to a number of little injuries that the staff didn’t want to turn into big injuries.

“Believe it or not, we put in a serious amount of time trying to make it worthwhile for the players and make it worthwhile for the fans,” Brown said. “We didn’t want to have more nicks and knacks for the spring game and you’re kind of set back going into the summer. This is a hugely important summer for our players. I can tell you this, we’re not ready yet. But we’re moving in the right direction.”

The defense is undoubtedly closer to the destination. The offense only completed two passes in the first two “quarters.” UMass played three 15-minute periods of down and distance offense with running time. All punts and field goal attempts were executed with just the snapper, holders, kickers and returners.

Brady Olson strung together three passes late in the third period, and Zamar Wise hit a long pass to Rico Arnold with a second remaining to set up another field goal attempt.

“Not a lot of explosive plays down the field for the defense,” Brown said. “When you’re high pressure and you’re trying to chase the quarterback around and you’re giving up hugely explosive plays, usually that’s a bad sign. When you’re not and your back end can hold your own, that’s a good thing.”

UMass ran the ball more than it threw by a wide margin and in a variety of ways. The Minutemen handed off to running back Ellis Merriweather, Cyrus Bonsu and Greg Desrosiers Jr. and let its quarterbacks keep the ball on option reads or scrambles. Receivers George Johnson III and Jamir Roberts even took jet sweep handoffs to put their speed out in space.

“I say it all the time, before we can win ’em, we’ve got to be in ’em,” Brown said. “If we’re going to be in ’em it starts with our run game.”

Four UMass quarterbacks took snaps: returners Brady Olson and Zamar Wise, junior college transfer Gino Campiotti and early enrollee freshman Chase Brewster. Brown didn’t give any of them remotely an edge.

“I think it would be totally unfair to say one guy’s ahead of the other. Each guy brings a little bit of difference to the table,” Brown said.

Olson played last year and has the strongest arm of the group. Wise saw time in specific packages and is one of the team’s best athletes. Campiotti brings experience, swagger and versatility. Brewster is a “young buck” and is still growing into both his frame and the game.

“I really like all those guys,” Brown said. “They’re hearts in the right place. They’re team guys first. Now who’s gonna step up and take charge. It hasn’t been done yet. Nobody says it has to be done. After the spring game we’re not gonna go in and start naming all of these starters. We don't have to do that.”

Brown pointed to the season opener Sept. 3 at Tulane as the team’s next landmark.

“We’ve got to be ready to go, at our best, healthy, wealthy and wise,” Brown said. “Let’s get to work and see what kind of a football team we can be.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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