There are no participation trophies. The scoreboard is the scoreboard.
Which is why University of Massachusetts football coach Walt Bell said that there might have been some improvements, but in a 51-10 beatdown, they might be hard to see.
"Going into this game, we thought we'd do a little better stopping the run, and all credit to Marshall [because] they're a really good front," he said. "We've got to continue to be better on first down. We converted some third downs today, but not near enough. We've got to continue to avoid critical errors. We have to find a way to run the football effectively. It's still not good enough.
"We have to go find a way to improve and go find us a win."
The Minutemen hung with 16th-ranked Marshall for more than a quarter on Saturday afternoon in Huntington, W. Va. It was only a two-score game until the final 38 seconds of the second quarter, when Sheldon Evans scored on a 11-yard run. That made it 31-10 at intermission. That was too large a hill to climb for the now 0-2 Minutemen.
"We had chances. The scoreboard doesn't say it but when you're building a program, you look for a victory every single chance you get," Bell said in a post-game Zoom conference. "We had chances. We were in a 7-7 football game."
There is no glass-is-half-full result from this game. But the play of true freshman quarterback Will Koch had to at least make the coaches feel a little better, and stop the merry-go-round from the Georgia Southern game, where Koch, Josiah Johnson and then-starter Mike Fallon all got playing time. Redshirt freshman Garrett Dzuro did get in and take his first collegiate snaps. The game did belong to Koch, who was 12 of 18 for 99 yards. He had one touchdown pass and was sacked three times in the game. Koch also ran the ball nine times for a net five yards. Most of the negative yardage on the ground came on his three sacks.
"I think he played well, but I have to go watch the tape, find out about his eye discipline," Bell said of Koch, "find out about how he truly did."
Koch was the third of the three quarterbacks to get in against Georgia Southern. For Marshall, the freshman knew by the middle of the week.
"Probably Wednesday, Wednesday-ish," said Bell, when asked when he and the staff made the decision.
Koch's first drive was a quick three-and-out. He ran the ball for four yards, Ellis Merriweather lost three on a run, and then Koch misfired on a pass to Samuel Emilus. That forced a George Georgeopoulos punt, a boomer that travelled 55 yards. Marshall started the drive on its 33, and also went three-and-out.
Trailing 7-0 after the Thundering Herd (6-0) scored the first time it had the ball, UMass took over and marched from their 20. Koch ran for four yards and a first down, and then had a facemask penalty tacked on. On the next play, Koch hit tight end Taylor Edwards for 37 yards. Safety Brandon Drayton might have saved a touchdown.
Two plays later, the Minutemen scored their first touchdown of the season. Emilus was lined up behind the left tackle and went in motion across the formation. He leaked out into space, Koch hit him in stride, and Emilus went the two yards for the touchdown. Jeremy Martin's PAT made it 7-7.
A quick three-and-out or a short drive would have helped, but a 13-play, 4 minute, 52 second drive, took whatever momentum had away from the visitors. The Herd converted on two third-down plays, one coming when cornerback Noah Boykin was called for pass interference against Marshall's Corey Gammage. Two plays later, Brenden Knox scored on a 20-yard run.
It is hard for a team to score when the other team runs 20 more offensive plays and had more possession time in each of the four quarters. But what Bell's biggest concern was, looking back on Saturday, was the team's inability to get good field position to start drives.
"Starting field position is a huge metric for me. Two games in a row, we have been really behind the eight-ball," Bell said. "I bet they probably had a 15, 18, 20-yard starting field position advantage. Any time you play with that type of deficit, you're going to lose 85-90 percent of the time."
Of UMass' seven offensive drives in the first half, only one drive started outside the 30-yard line. That was because Marshall's kicker booted a kickoff out of bounds.
UMass' first-half drives started on their 11, 20, 9, 6, 9, 25 and 35.
It was the third time in five games that Marshall had given up 10 or fewer points. The Herd was coming off a 20-9 win over Florida Atlantic on Oct. 24. FAU will host UMass on Nov. 21.
"We wanted to come out in the second half and shut that team out," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said, "and that's what they did. I'm proud of the way the defense responded in the second half."
For the Minutemen, it's back to Amherst and back to COVID-19 testing. They'll have to pass tests before getting back on the field to prepare for Florida Atlantic.
"We were not good enough to win this football game," Bell said. "We cannot wait to get back to work as soon as we possibly can."