UMass football: Reality bites as Minutemen thumped on the road by Auburn, 59-14

UMass quarterback Taisun Phommachanh tries to elude Auburn tacklers during the Minutemen’s 59-14 loss on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.

UMass quarterback Taisun Phommachanh tries to elude Auburn tacklers during the Minutemen’s 59-14 loss on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

UMass tacklers wrap up Auburn running back Damari Alston (22) during the Minutemen’s 59-14 loss on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.

UMass tacklers wrap up Auburn running back Damari Alston (22) during the Minutemen’s 59-14 loss on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Massachusetts running back Kay'Ron Lynch-Adams (15) tries to elude the grasp of Auburn linebacker Elijah McAllister (11) as he carries the ball during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Massachusetts running back Kay'Ron Lynch-Adams (15) tries to elude the grasp of Auburn linebacker Elijah McAllister (11) as he carries the ball during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill) AP

By HANNAH BEVIS 

Staff Writer 

Published: 09-02-2023 8:36 PM

AUBURN, Ala. – For the first six minutes of the UMass football team's game against Auburn on Saturday afternoon, the Minutemen looked like they could pose a genuine challenge to the 35-point favorite Tigers. 

Though Auburn was able to carve up the Minutemen’s defense easily enough on the first drive, when UMass got the ball on offense the first time, it looked every bit the football team Auburn did. Quarterback Taisun Phommachanh looked untouchable on the first drive, rushing for 50 yards on four attempts, including a dynamic 31-yard rush on a second down attempt. Fittingly, it was Phommachanh who scored the Minutemen’s first touchdown on a one-yard keeper, and the extra point from Cameron Carson was good to tie the game. 

But from that moment on, it was all Auburn. Phommachanh suffered an injury shortly there after, coming out with tape on his left shin and then a brace on his right knee by UMass’ third drive. The Minutemen made an effort to limit Phommachanh’s running game, but Auburn’s defense dialed in and shut them down from that moment on.

“Just wasn't good enough tonight. Didn't feel like we got off to a good start… Had a really nice drive offensively to start us off, to give us some life and that was it for the day,” UMass head coach Don Brown said. “So not a good day to be a UMass Minuteman for sure. But I really believe our guys, we will rebound, we will practice and we'll be back next week ready to go.”

Auburn had a 31-7 lead going into halftime, and that script stayed the same in the second half. Anthony Simpson caught a throw from backup quarterback Carlos Davis, who replaced Phommachanh in the third quarter, and scampered 58 yards for a touchdown to stem the bleeding in the fourth, but Auburn walked away with a dominant 59-14 victory at a sold out Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The loss drops the Minutemen back to the .500  mark with a 1-1 record ahead of their first home game of the season against Miami Ohio on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. 

It wasn’t immediately clear post-game what the extent of the injury to Phommachanh was. He finished the night completing eight-of-16 passes, was sacked three times and threw one interception that Auburn ran back for a touchdown. Davis came out to replace the starter with five minutes, 13 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

“We'll get on the bus, get him home and take a look-see, but you know, I really can't comment at this point,” Brown said. “He was not in any kind of danger playing. He's a competitor, wants to stay in the game and we're trying to do our best to give him his opportunity to lead our offense. At the same time, we felt he was good enough to continue, otherwise we'd have taken him out of the game.”

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The Minutemen came out of the first quarter down just 10-7 after forcing Auburn to kick a 37-yard field goal on a fourth-and-6. That was the last time the defense managed to slow the Tigers’ offense; Auburn outscored UMass 21-0 in the second quarter alone, and all three of those touchdowns came from quarterback Robby Ashford, who finished the contest with 51 rushing yards. 

One bright spot for UMass was Kay’Ron Lynch-Adams, who ran for a career-best 101 yards. Despite Phommachanh being grounded because of his knee, Lynch-Adams was able to keep the running game in a good spot, though Brown was hoping for a more well-rounded effort from his team. 

“That's the one guy that’s healthy. A year ago he was not healthy at all, and was able to play in bursts in some of the games. But so far this fall, he's been healthy and I think he's benefiting from that,” Brown said. “Obviously he got the ball enough to get him out to 100 yards, which was great, but we don't play games to get running backs to 100 yards, we play the game to win. And that didn't happen tonight, not even close.”

Davis did his best in his first appearance of the season, throwing for one touchdown and completing six passes on eight attempts for a total of 106 yards. It was hard for Brown to judge how he did, considering he came into the game when the Minutemen were already down 52-7. But it was good for him to get some live game action, no matter the circumstances. 

“That's a tough one to say, who was he going against and all that good stuff. All I know is Carlos has been a warrior and deserved to get some playing time tonight,” Brown said. “He had the one drive that he was successful on, so that was really good to see. It's another opportunity for us to evaluate his performance. And we'll continue to do that on a regular basis.”

Hannah Bevis can be reached at hbevis@gazettenet.com. Follow her on Twitter @Hannah_Bevis1.