AMHERST — Coming off a bye week, UMass had a chance to show that it made some improvements on the defensive side of the ball for Saturday's game against Coastal Carolina.
At times, it appeared that the Minutemen shored up some holes there. But Coastal Carolina made enough key plays, and the UMass offense lost its punch in the red zone, as the visiting Chanticleers left McGuirk Alumni Stadium with a 24-13 win.
The defeat drops UMass to 2-6 heading into next week's trip to UConn, and the silver linings continue to be harder and harder to find for the Minutemen.
"It was one that we just let slip out of our hands today," UMass safety Brice McAllister said.
Indeed, this was a winnable game. The Minutemen led, 6-3, at the half, and 13-10 in the third quarter. But Coastal's running game piled up 279 yards to set the table for some lethal play-action, as the Chanticleers passed for touchdowns of 61 and 21 yards late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, respectively.
Meanwhile, UMass was able to pass for 390 yards, but two drives ended deep in Chanticleer territory with no points, and an offense that normally keeps the Minutemen in games failed to complement the defense when it made stops.
"Surprised with the way we dropped balls and had some unfortunate pre-snap penalties," UMass coach Mark Whipple said. "We haven't had those. . . . The red zone hurt us on offense. I thought our defense played well enough."
Neither offense particularly played well enough in the first half, but that began to change after the break. Coastal finished off a 15-play, 75-yard drive to start the third quarter with a 1-yard touchdown run by Marcus Outlow (91 yards on 17 carries) on fourth and goal.
But the Chanticleers' 10-6 lead did not last for long. It took UMass just five plays to answer, as quarterback Andrew Ford found Sadiq Palmer for a 22-yard touchdown to help the Minutemen pull back ahead, 13-10, with 4:57 left in the third.
For a team that makes its living running the ball, Coastal hit some huge plays through the air that made the difference. Fred Payton — one of three Chanticleer quarterbacks to play — found Malcolm Williams on a wheel route for a 61-yard touchdown on the ensuing drive.
Payton struck again on the next Coastal possession when he connected with CJ Marable for a diving, 21-yard touchdown with 12:02 to play that pushed the visitors' lead to 24-13.
UMass nearly answered on its next possession. The Minutemen drove to the Coastal 17-yard line and faced a fourth-and-4. Instead of kicking a field goal, Whipple elected to go for it. But Chanticleers defensive back Jave Brown blitzed off the right edge and sacked Ford for a 10-yard loss. Ford was injured on the play and did not return.
"They gave us the look I was hoping for," Whipple said. "We just didn't execute. I was going to call timeout, kick the field goal. Hindsight's 20-20, but I liked the look, and that was obviously a big play. We just didn't make enough big plays on offense."
The Minutemen turned it over on downs twice more, and the Chanticleers held on to move their record to 4-3.
The loss yet again wasted another brilliant day from UMass receiver Andy Isabella, who caught 10 passes for 174 yards. Palmer grabbed seven balls for 139 yards, while running back Jordan Fredericks rushed for 70 yards on seven carries.
To open the game, the Minutemen drove to the Coastal 4, but a third-down pass to Isabella fell incomplete and forced a 21-yard Cooper Garcia field goal.
The Chanticleers answered with a field goal of their own, this time a 28-yarder from Massimo Biscardi, who missed tries from 48 and 34 yards later in the half.
The Minutemen settled for another field goal early in the second quarter when Fitz Wattley sacked Ford to force a 39-yard Garcia boot, but UMass really missed its best chance to create separation later in the half.
After Ford hit Palmer for a 38-yard gain to the Coastal 27, Ford found Isabella over the middle at the 7. However, Brown popped the ball loose, and Derick Bush recovered it to end the threat.
That typified the night for the Minutemen, who were able to hold an opponent to its lowest point total since the season-opening win over Duquense, but could not generate the finishing touch on offense to take advantage.
"Twenty-four hour rule, and we're on to UConn," Palmer said. "You don't want to harp on this game. We're definitely going to take a look at it on film, but it's on to the next game to UConn. We just have to practice hard, and go get the win against UConn."