Massachusetts Florida Atlantic Football

MICHAEL REAVES — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Florida Atlantic Owls wide receiver Brandon Robinson (89) makes a circus catch for a 13-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter against UMass Friday night. Minuteman cornerback Josh Wallace was in good position, but could not break up the pass play. Florida Atlantic beat UMass 24-2.

For Walt Bell and his University of Massachusetts football team, there was a lot of good that could be taken out of Friday night's loss at Florida Atlantic.

There was also some very bad.

"It was our best defensive effort since we've been here, with the exception of the deep ball and the power read they hit for a score. We just mis-hit it. You take those two plays away, and that's damn good team defense," Bell said after the Owls handed the Minutemen a 24-2 loss. "I was pleased with our special teams."

About the offense?

"Offensively, that was as embarrassing an outing as I've seen," Bell said tersely. "It will be resolved."

UMass falls to 0-3, while Florida Atlantic is 5-1.

How bad was it offensively for the Minutemen? UMass ran 55 plays in the game and had 147 total offensive yards. Running back Ellis Merriweather, who had 48 yards in 11 carries for the Minutemen, had the longest play from scrimmage in the game on a 14-yard draw play midway through the fourth quarter.

UMass used two quarterbacks, starter Will Koch and Garrett Dzuro. Koch was 12 for 22 for 67 yards with one interception. Dzuro completed his first two passes, with the second one being wiped out by an offensive pass interference call. The redshirt freshman was 2 for 7 for 23 yards, and he also had an interception.

The Minutemen had only eight first downs in the game, and were a paltry 3 for 14 on third-down conversions.

"I don't know if I've ever been around one of those," said Bell, when asked what made it so embarrassing. "I'm going to hold my tongue until I see it on tape."

The 24 points given up by UMass were the fewest surrendered by a Minuteman team since they beat UConn 22-17 back in Oct., 2018. While the defense did surrender 368 yards in total offense, 140 of them came on four long running plays. 

FAU freshman quarterback Javion Posey had a 70-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and a 31-yard scamper that led to a first-quarter touchdown. Posey ran for 90 net yards on 19 carries. The rushing numbers came way down because six different Minuteman defenders got to the quarterback for six sacks. The Owls ended up with 140 net yards rushing on 44 carries. Three big running plays accounted for 130 of those 144 yards.

Linebacker Cole McCubrey had 11 tackles, two for loss. Jake Byczko had eight tackles and four for loss, while defensive end Avien Peah had seven tackles, four for loss.

"The biggest thing is we did a nice job stopping the run and put them in a lot of disadvantaged downs. That allowed our guys to go rush the passer," Bell said. "[Defensive coordinator Tommy] Restivo had a great plan. There was a bunch of pressures tonight. Coach Restivo had a great plan, kept them in some long down and distances. We pressured the quarterback and kept him contained for the most part."

For the third time in 2020, UMass gave up a touchdown on its opponent's first series.

The Minutemen got the ball to start the game and quickly went three-and-out. A short punt by George Georgopoulos set the Owls up at their 43-yard line.

UMass seemed poised to turn FAU over on downs, but on fourth down, Posey broke through the defensive line. Cornerback Noah Boykin forced a fumble on the UMass one-yard line, the ball bounced in the end zone and FAU recovered. Since the offensive team can't advance the fumble into the end zone, the ball was placed on the one. On the next play, B.J. Emmons scored and the point after kick made it 7-0. Which was also the score at halftime. 

UMass managed only 69 yards in total offense in the first half, which was not getting the job done.

Florida Atlantic took the kickoff to start the third quarter, and went 65 yards on 15 plays for a tough touchdown. The Owls were 2 for 3 on third-down conversions and got a big fourth-down conversion on a seven-yard pass play from Posey to the team's leading receiver T.J. Chase. Helped out by a 15-yard facemask penalty against Peah, the Owls scored on a 13-yard pass from backup quarterback Nick Tronti to Brandon Robinson. It was a good throw from Tronti, who replaced Posey after Peah ripped off his helmet. But Robinson made a juggling catch on his back in the far corner of the end zone.

"I wouldn't say the momentum swung" on the touchdown, Bell said, "because our defense went right back out and kept playing good football. Those guys bowed up almost every single time. For me, we've got to do a better job keeping the defense off the field. We've got to do a better job on first down. We have to do a better job as coaches. We've got to do a better job as play callers. We've got to do a better job all the way around.

"We will resolve that."

The play that put a smile on everyone's face came after a kickoff pinned FAU on its eight-yard line. The Owls went no place and on fourth down, sophomore safety Tanner Davis, who had six tackles and five solo tackles, burst up the middle and blocked Matt Haybull's punt in the end zone, giving the Minutemen a safety.

"For a kid who walked on here, he's everything you want," said Bell. "He's a tough guy. The way he practices. He was beat up tonight. He hurt an ankle the other day, but he fought through it. It's just a testament to will. He cares deeply about this football team and this university."

———

UMass     0     0     2     0   —   2

FAU         7     0    14    3   —  24

First Quarter

FAU — Emmons 1 run (Rivas kick), 10:58.

Third Quarter

FAU — Robinson 13 pass from Tronti (Rivas kick), 6:47

FAU — Posey 70 run (Rivas kick), 4:27.

UM — Davis blocks punt in end zone for safety, 1:55.

Fourth Quarter

FAU — Rivas 30 FG, 4:58

Howard Herman can be reached at  hherman@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6253. On Twitter: @howardherman

Sportswriter-Columnist

Howard Herman is a sports columnist at The Berkshire Eagle. The dean of full-time sportswriters in Western Mass., he has been with the Eagle since 1988, and is a member of the New England Baseball and Basketball Hall of Fame.