Massachusetts Minutemen head coach Mark Whipple said before last week's game against Temple that the Owls were the best team UMass had faced since he returned to Amherst last season.
That distinction lasted exactly one week.
The #6 Notre Dame Fighting Irish quickly became the best team the UMass had faced under Whipple (and likely ever) and they demonstrated that dominance with a 62-27 victory on Saturday in South Bend.
The game began with the teams trading punts until Notre Dame put together an 8-play drive that covered 95 yards to take a 7-0 lead that was capped with a C.J. Prosise 57-yard TD run. Such long runs for scores would be a theme throughout the game for the Irish.
After forcing another UMass punt the Irish again marched down the field and made it 14-0 and it looked like the game would be getting out of hand early for the Minutemen.
UMass' next drive would be a big one, as a perfectly-executed draw play to true freshman RB Marquis Young went 83 yards for the score and brought the Minutemen back into the game quickly. The PAT from K Blake Lucas was blocked and Notre Dame led 14-6.
On Notre Dame's next play from scrimmage, QB DeShone Kizer's pass was tipped by Randall Jette and picked off by Trey Dudley-Giles, setting the Minutemen up with a short field which they used to score another TD on the ground from a yard out, this one from true freshman RB Sekai Lindsay. True freshman K Michael Caggiano made his UMass debut replacing Lucas on PAT attempts and banged through the extra point to make the game 14-13.
The teams traded TDs on their next two possessions, UMass utilizing a pass-back trick play for the big gainer needed to get deep into ND territory, and the game was very close nearing the end of the 1st half. Not many people, especially the Irish, were expecting a back-and-forth affair with the Minutemen.
The tide turned for good at the end of the first half however, as UMass was forced to punt from their own 2-yard line. Logan Laurent got off as good a kick as he could in such a situation, however it was returned for a TD by Notre Dame's C.J. Sanders.
The Irish forced another UMass punt before halftime and drive the ball for another score just as the first half neared a close, giving the Irish a 35-20 lead and effectively putting the game out of reach.
The second half saw Notre Dame use their superior ability to run all over the UMass defense, and the score was 62-20 before UMass backup QB Ross Comis led the Minutemen on a TD drive that made the score final without about 5 minutes remaining.
UMass looked good for the majority of the first half, and gave Irish fans a bit of a flutter, but in the end talent won out and the game ended as many figured it would.
The Minutemen will take the national TV exposure, the experience, and the money, and head back to Amherst where they will play host to the Florida International Panthers next week before their MAC schedule gets underway.
UMass 3 Up/ 3 Down
RB Marquis Young - UMass' rushing game was not good in this game, but true freshman Marquis Young showed exactly the type of talent he has, and in a couple of seasons could turn out to be something special for the Minutemen. His 83-yard TD run was UMass' longest running play in general, never mind for a score, in quite a long time.
P Logan Laurent - Faced with another game where he'd be getting a lot of work, Laurent came to play again on Saturday. He hit seven punts for an average of 42.4 yards and a long of 52 while putting three of those seven inside the 20. Unfortunately he did have one run back for a score, but given he was kicking from the back of his own end zone it is difficult to fault him for that; the coverage wasn't exactly stellar either.
K Michael Caggiano - Talk about 'being thrown to the wolves', Caggiano had to come in to one of the more pressure-packed environments in all of sports after Blake Lucas missed his only PAT attempt and hit all three of his kicks in his first collegiate game. Many called for Caggiano to be the kicker from the start of the season given Lucas' well-documented woes, and one has to think that the job is his now after the switch was made today.
UMass' Offensive Line - Bonus 4th entry in this category today comes from the guys in the trenches for the Minutemen. Facing what is one of the best defensive fronts in all of college football, the UMass offensive line did an outstanding job of keeping QB Blake Frohnapfel upright against Notre Dame. They did give up a few sacks, however those were more the result of Frohnapfel not getting rid of the ball. The O-line's performance, considering who they were blocking, was outstanding. Excellent job by that unit.
UMass' defense - UMass gave up 681 yards to the Irish on Saturday. Six-hundred eighty one. And 457 of that was on the ground through 51 carries. Yes, Notre Dame is by far the best team UMass has ever faced, but it still highlights what has been the Minutemen's biggest issue since their move up to FBS, and that's that they really cannot stop anybody. Going into the MAC schedule doesn't mean it gets easier either; they don't call it #MACtion for nothing. Both the play-calling and execution on defense is severely lacking, and something needs to change soon. Not sure what DC Tom Masella is doing out there, but failing to stack the box until there were three minutes left in the game doesn't seem like the best way to stop a team that was literally running all over you for the entire day.
UMass' tackling - This technically goes with the first 'down' category, but it is so atrocious that it's going to get special attention. The Minutemen cannot tackle. It's pathetic and painful to watch. We saw more Notre Dame players shed, at minimum, three UMass would-be tacklers today more times than perhaps ever before. The Irish had several long scoring runs where the Minutemen simply were overmatched. Not to say that tackling better would have won UMass this game or anything, but if they could complete the task at an even Pop Warner-level, they very likely could have covered the spread. It's the most fundamental part of playing defense, and it should not be this bad.
K Blake Lucas - Last week Lucas had a PAT blocked and returned for a 2-point score that if converted would have given the Minutemen a 24-20 lead at the time. Of course we all know how it ended, it was the turning point that ended up with Temple winning the game. Lucas has had more tragedies befall him while kicking than maybe any college kicker...ever. And he has consistently shown himself to be very fragile mentally and unable to recover from his mistakes. It seems that was true again on Saturday as he had his second PAT attempt in a row blocked and was subsequently replaced by Caggiano. I have never been Lucas' biggest fan, however I publicly backed him last week saying that the PAT attempt against Temple could not be laid all at his feet; he is a very easy target. However, I also said that it was time to cut bait on his kicking career at UMass.
After yet another incident on Saturday to add to the litany of incidents before, I am officially done with Lucas as a Minuteman. D-O-N-E DONE. If he sets foot on the field to do anything other than kick off I will honestly question if this coaching staff truly wants to put the best team out on the field every Saturday in order to win. He has done nothing but screw up for three seasons and yet somehow, some way, continues to get the opportunity to screw up again and cost the Minutemen every time he does. Take your scholarship, sit on the bench, and be forever thankful that you managed to get most of your education for free yet were completely unable to perform the one job that was required of you in order to earn that degree.