Quarterback the latest piece to fall into place for UMass football ahead of showdown against Arkansas State

  • UMass quarterback Brady Olson has established himself as the Minutemen’s starter since the bye week. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/11/2022 8:28:46 PM

AMHERST — A different piece falls in place every time the UMass football team steps on the field.

The running game found itself first. Then the defense. Quarterback play came next.

“We’re trying to get everything going in a positive direction. I really believed the other night coming off the game (against UConn), that things are trending in the right direction,” UMass coach Don Brown said.

Putting everything together will determine if the Minutemen (1-8) can break their six-game losing streak at Arkansas State at 3 p.m. Saturday (ESPN3) in Jonesboro, Ark.

“The whole year has been one big evaluation period. At the same time, you’re trying to win every game,” Brown said. “You only get so many opportunities to play this game. We get 12 opportunities during the course of the year. We want to take advantage of all those scenarios and put our best foot forward.”

Sophomore Brady Olson has been that best foot behind center. He’s completed 34-of-62 passes over the past two weeks and thrown for 363 yards and a touchdown. That’s nearly 44 percent of the Minutemen’s total passing yardage this season. He put up 266 yards with a 53-yard completion agains the Huskies.

“He played within himself the other day and really, I was excited for him excited for us. I think he gave us some stability during the course of the game,” Brown said.

Olson has established himself as UMass’ best option among the four it has used this season since the bye week.

“He has a great love for football, and obviously he has bought into the system,” Brown said. “He took advantage of his opportunities when they came. The key thing when you’re dealing with players, is you almost know when the light goes on.”

Arkansas State (2-7) has also lost four games in a row and has scored 20 points or fewer in each of those games. The Red Wolves and Minutemen have never met. They employ a spread scheme that leans heavily into the pass game, which ranks 67th in the country at 235.4 yards per game.

Florida State transfer James Blackman has largely helmed that with 1,872 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and just one interception. He’s completed more than 67 percent of his passes.

“They throw the ball well. That’s their MO. Run game wise, they haven’t lit up the world, but they’re very systematic in that in their run style,” Brown said. “I feel like we’re taking huge steps in terms of understanding what we’re dealing with.”

Arkansas State’s strength matches with UMass’. The Minutemen still hold college football’s No. 23 pass defense at 189.2 yards per game. Their overall defense sits at No. 66.

UMass has worked under Brown long enough to understand how he likes to attack common schemes, and now he gets to drill into more granular details with them.

“That’s the fun part of coaching,” he said.

Arkansas State does have an X-factor in one of the nation’s best kickers. Freshman Dominic Zvada, a Lou Groza Award semifinalist, has made all 13 field goals he’s attempted, one of just 10 perfect kickers in the country and the only freshman.

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


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