Preview 2017: Massachusetts Minutemen
Previewing and looking ahead at the Massachusetts Minutemen season – and what you need to know.
What You Need To Know About The Massachusetts Offense
The Minutemen offense couldn’t run the ball a lick, but threw well enough to at least be competitive in most games.
Ross Comis was going to be the main man under center last season, but he couldn’t stay healthy and suffered a torn ACL. In stepped Andrew Ford, and he was solid, hitting 61% of his passes with 26 scores, but with 14 picks.
Marquis Young is a decent back, but will he get any room to move? Just two starters are back up front – 392-pound Raquan Thomas has the size to be a blaster – for a ground attack that ran for less than 1,200 yards and gave up a whopping 45 sacks.
Adam Breneman should be one of the nation’s most productive tight ends, and Andy Isabella is a strong No. 1 wide receiver, but the depth is lacking in the receiving corps. Even so, the passing game should still be dangerous – if nothing else, out of necessity.
Biggest Key To The Massachusetts Offense
The blocking has to be better. The backs are in place to run well. The quarterbacks can wing it around the yard. Now they all need time to operate. The front five will be a work in progress, but forget about any real improvement if the pass protection isn’t stronger and there isn’t more blast for a ground game that came up with more than 150 net yards just once.
What You Need To Know About The Massachusetts Defense
The defense managed to get worse as the season went on, getting destroyed over the second half of the season allowing 46 points or more in four of the last six games.
Can experience matter? Ten starters return, but there has to be more production.
The pass defense was the major problem, giving up way too many big plays and not coming up with enough gamechanging moments, allowing 27 touchdown passes with just four picks. Three of the top four defensive backs return, though.
Four of the top five tacklers are back, led by Steve Casali at one linebacker spot on the outside. All four starters are back in the linebacking corps, and everyone returns on the front three – even if there’s no size.
Biggest Key To The Massachusetts Defense
Can the D generate a few picks? The Minutemen intercepted four pass, spread out across the season, while allowing passers to complete over 60% of their throws in seven games. There wasn’t any help from the pass rush, but the defensive backs couldn’t break up passes, either. By comparison, the 2015 Minutemen intercepted 13 passes. This is why …
Massachusetts Will Be Far Better If …
The team finally wins the turnover margin. The UMass D came up with two takeaways or more just three times last season and won eat turnover battle just once – in the win over Florida International. The one other win came against Wagner, finishing even. But this is nothing new.
Over the last five seasons, UMass is a horrible -33 in turnover margin. Switch this around, and several close games might start going the other way.
Best Massachusetts Offensive Player
TE Adam Breneman, Sr. – The 6-4, 250-pound target led the team with 70 catches for 808 yards and eight scores, turning into an interesting mid-round pro prospect. The former Penn State star recruit has all the talent, with the hands, athleticism and route-running ability to be a No. 1 go-to guy. Steady, he can also explode and stretch the field, while doing a great job in the red zone with six scores in the last five games.
2. WR Andy Isabella, Jr.
3. QB Andrew Ford, Jr.
4. RB Marquis Young, Jr.
5. QB Ross Comis, Jr.
Best Massachusetts Defensive Player
LB Steve Casali, Sr. – The team’s leading tackler has the size to work inside and the quickness to stay on the outside. The 6-1, 236-pounder is used like a hybrid linebacker and end, cranking up 105 tackles – highlighted by a 15-stop day against Tulane – with 3.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss. Quick in pass coverage, he broke up six passes, too.
2. LB Da’Sean Downey, Sr.
3. S Jesse Monteiro, Sr.
4. DE Sha-Ki Holines, Sr.
5. S Lee Moses, Jr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
OG Raquan Thomas, Soph. The line needs to be far, far better for UMass to have any hope of improving. At the very least, the front five has to start being able to generate a push for the ground game, and it starts with the 6-5, 392-pounder on the inside. Very smart and very, very big, Thomas has to be the leader up front.
The Massachusetts Season Will Be A Success If …
The Minutemen win five games. Where are the wins? Coastal Carolina is on the road and game against Maine isn’t a layup – and it’s being played in Fenway. UMass will be the underdog against everyone else, but can it rise up and get by Ohio at home? Can it handle the Georgia Southern option? Outside of any other major upsets, that might be it. Even so, there’s enough experience returning to hope for a few shocking wins to at least get close to six wins.
Key Game To The Massachusetts Season
Aug. 26 vs. Hawaii – For a team that won just two games last year, getting off to a hot start would be nice. With a winnable game against Coastal Carolina up next, starting 2-0 is possible if the Minutemen can be on the right side of where they left off to end the 2016 season – losing a thrilling 46-40 shootout in Honolulu.
2016 Massachusetts Fun Stats
– 3rd Quarter Scoring: Opponents 131 – Massachusetts 55
– Sacks: Opponents 45 for 302 yards – Massachusetts 25 for 181 yards
– Rushing Yards Per game: Opponents 193.1 – Massachusetts 99.5