UMass Mailbag: Week 0

  • UMass' Taylor Edwards, center, runs through football drills Aug. 7, 2018 at Gladchuck Sports Complex in Amherst.

Published: 8/23/2018 3:28:58 PM

Welcome to the first of what I hope will be weekly mailbags during the UMass seasons. I want to use this space over the year to include the fans’ voices in our coverage and help facilitate the conversation about the Minutemen.

There were quite of number of fantastic responses to my initial request for submissions, which excites me just as much as it terrifies me. Fortunately there were a lot of similar questions this week, so I’ve generalized the more common questions to keep things simpler.

I apologize to the people who asked me about bowls, but we’ll have plenty of time to address that issue if and when UMass wins its sixth game. Now let’s dive into the mailbag to see what we can find:

Q: Which freshmen should fans expect to see on the field Saturday against Duquesne?

A: The simple answer is almost all of the true freshmen will likely stay on the sideline until garbage time at the very least. In our conversations over the past few days, coach Mark Whipple has repeatedly said he likes what he has seen from the newcomers, but isn’t quite ready to throw them out onto the field unless he has to because of injury. If any of the freshman have a chance, it’ll be one of the defensive lineman, but that still remains to be seen.

George Georgopoulos is the exception to what I wrote above, of course. He’ll be the punter if UMass has to punt at all against Duquesne.

Q: Who are the breakout players to look for this season?

A: On offense, I expect sophomore tight end Taylor Edwards to play a large role in the passing game and replace some of Adam Breneman’s production. He’s very athletic for a 6-foot-4, 260-pound tight end and has some of the best hands on the team. His size makes him an ideal red-zone target for UMass in addition to being a matchup nightmare for the linebacker who has to cover him.

The defensive breakout star is far trickier because it’s hard to pinpoint someone who’s under the radar. Picking safety Brice McAllister is cheating because he’s a fifth-year senior who played a lot at Connecticut. Jake Byczko and Leon Flanagan Jr. are young players who have plenty of experience and should thrive in larger roles this season.

Ultimately, the pick is redshirt junior Mario Patton, a veteran who will see plenty of time on the interior of the defensive line. He will take advantage of the fact offenses might overlook while focusing on Bryton Barr or Joe Previte and then rack up some big numbers as a result.

Q: Where are the freshmen from Canada?

A: Samuel Emilus is on campus and practicing after being approved by the NCAA. However, UMass’ other two Canadian signees are navigating the NCAA eligibility process as international students, according to a team spokesman. It’s doubtful they’ll play this season, but I suspect they’ll be on campus when classes begin. The question is when/if the NCAA will give them the stamp of approval on their academic paperwork.

I’m interested in how the DL looked in camp specifically the middle of that line and if they’ll be able to keep offensive lineman off the LB

— Joe Roche (@JRoche3MR) August 18, 2018

A: The defensive line is going to be the most interesting position to watch this season for UMass. The Minutemen will play eight or nine players along the line during games, but I expect Leon Flanagan Jr. and Jake Byczko will start at end and Joe Previte will start inside. That fourth starting spot is up in the air from what I’ve seen, although Mario Patton has impressed this camp.

The second part of the question remains to be seen, but the UMass defense has looked dominant at times during team drills. The line should do a much better job at keeping linemen off linebackers this season, but I also think it’ll be harder to block UMass’ linebackers this season given that unit’s veteran saavy.

Scouting report of the UMass RB room. Who’s the pass catcher, Short yardage, thumper? Is the plan to make Young the workhorse? Or rotate the hot hand?

— Austin Urkiel (@Urkiel31) August 19, 2018

A: Marquis Young is going to claim most of the carries again this year and is probably the Minutemen’s most dangerous back in space. He’s going to be the guy in the backfield who Whipple counts on in big moments.

That being said, Jordan Fredericks has really impressed this preseason now that he’s back from a knee injury and eligible this year after transferring from Syracuse before last season. He’s the type of power back who will provide the change of pace in contrast to Young and Bilal Ally.

Season prediction

— Rockbo (@Roderick4392) August 18, 2018

A: I’m surprised this question didn’t appear more than once. I will admit I don’t know how much my opinion really matters, but I’ll give it anyway so you can ridicule me later if something I said is horribly wrong.

Six wins is undoubtedly a very realistic goal for the Minutemen this season with a home schedule that is full of winnable games. I’d predict UMass to win five of its six home games this season, leaving the need to just win once away from McGuirk to reach bowl eligibility.

Regardless of the final record, UMass should be more consistent week-to-week this season than they were last year. This is a veteran group with players who are vastly underrated nationally, and the hunger for a bowl victory is palpable.

Q: Who’s going to be the kicker?

A: Yes, I needed to make this the last question. Whipple said Mike Caggiano will kick the first field goal of the season due to his seniority over Cooper Garcia and then the pair would alternate. However, I would not be surprised if Garcia wins the job by the end of September because he’s been the more consistent kicker during the parts of practice open to the media.

But let’s be honest, no matter who is kicking field goals for UMass, fans will be in a sense of panic from the snap until it splits the uprights.

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