Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Some good and some bad for UMass football in loss to Rutgers
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — An hour isn't a very long time.It isn't enough time to watch "Avengers: Endgame." It isn't enough time to have a delicious dinner in a four-star restaurant. It also isn't enough time for a high school student to take his or her SATs.
It was, however, enough time to watch the University of Massachusetts football team and, by extension, it's fan base go from zero to 60 and then back to an idle again.
The curtain came up on the Walt Bell era in Amherst on Friday night, and there was good and bad — more bad than good, but that's for a bit later.
"We came here to win a football game, and we did not get it done," Bell said after Friday's game.
The first-year head coach hit the fork in the road during his post-game press conference. He chose to take the positive fork, and said that Friday's experience will do nothing but help the Minutemen.
"I feel like in my heart that our kids came out of the game understanding that if we play our best football, we're going to be okay," Bell said. "I thought we did that for a quarter.
"If we can take that lesson and understand that if we play with incredible effort and we play with love in our hearts for each other, then good things are going to happen."
UMass was a decided underdog to Rutgers, and the 48-21 final score attested to that fact. In a game like that, it is not only important to play well, but to get a fair number of calls going your way to lock up the victory. Rutgers had more of those kind of fortunate calls and breaks than the Minutemen did. Good teams have a chance to overcome those, UMass did not.
Here's a segment of the second quarter where the momentum completely changed.
UMass had just seen Rutgers tie the score at 21 with 9 minutes, 3 seconds left. That's plenty of time for Bell's charges to get something done, but the Minutemen went on a quick three-and-out.
Rutgers got the ball on its 32, but its drive seemed to stall just over the 50. On third-and-nine, Isaiah Rodgers was called for pass interference, keeping the drive alive. Five plays later, Rutgers took the ball to the UMass 9-yard line, where a field goal was made to make it 24-21.
Then the Minutemen stalled. The punt coverage turned out to be too good, and they were flagged for interference on the return. Three plays later, Rutgers had another touchdown, a 10-point lead, and the home team fans could go back and tailgate some more.
In his opening statement to the press, Bell said that situations like that are what separate good football teams from others.
"I just thought in the second quarter, it was a really young team playing a lot of really young people. I think the great lesson in that is, we can't let one bad play become another," he said.
That wasn't the only learning experience on the turf at SHI Stadium on Friday night. It was the first 60 minutes of Bell's head coaching career, and he admitted learning a somewhat painful lesson.
"If I could have anything back from the football game, off the top of my head, sitting here and being truthful with you right now," Bell said, "[we were] maybe a little too aggressive trying to create some momentum back and even the score up right before the half. We had the turnover and we had a bust on defense, and it was a really quick kind of 14-point swing. It really hurt us."
On the field, the biggest difference between UMass and Rutgers was in the trenches. After the first quarter, where UMass led 21-7, the Scarlet Knights dominated both lines of scrimmage. That advantage could change as Bell and his staff improve recruiting.
First-time starter Randall West was okay as the quarterback. He had a great first quarter, and a not-so-good rest of the game. In his defense, he was sacked a couple of times and had some pressure in his face. He did miss some wide-open receivers. One expects that will change.
"I thought he played a really solid football game," Bell said. "Especially knowing that he hadn't played a lot of football. I thought he did a really nice job in the football game. A couple of balls we'd like to have back.
"I'm proud of him and how he played."
If any of you think that Walt Bell is a miracle worker, think again. This team has a long ways to go before it is competitive with even not-very-good Big Ten teams like Rutgers.
The rest of September should give us all a better idea of what the first year of the Walt Bell Era will look like. UMass will host Division I-FCS Southern Illinois (by the way, the alma mater of hoop Hall of Famer and Knicks legend Walt "Clyde" Frazier), followed by a game at Charlotte before returning home to face Coastal Carolina and Akron.
"Hopefully, when we go back, we'll be critical of ourselves — not only our players being critical of ourselves but coaches being critical of themselves, myself being critical of myself, and find a way to get better," Bell said. "They're going to bring another team in there with opposite-color helmets, and we have to go find a way to get a win."
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.