UMass Mailbag: Week 5

  • University of Massachusetts senior cornerback Lee Moses, center (3), breaks up a pass intended for Charlotte wide receiver Victor Tucker, upper right, on a third down in the first quarter of the Minutemen's 49-31 win over the 49ers at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. UMass safety Brice McAllister is at right (2).

Staff Writer
Published: 9/28/2018 2:40:28 PM

UMass did its job and defended home turf last week with a much-needed 49-31 win over Charlotte. The defense looked energetic buzzing around the field and the offense capitalized on its great starting field position with touchdowns. Redshirt junior Michael Curtis eased all concerns about the quarterback situation with his play last week, managing the game well and protecting the ball.

The mailbag this week featured an interesting mix of questions about the quarterback situation and preparation for Ohio. Reminder: I answer the mailbag questions here and not on Twitter, so please don’t get upset with me if you don’t see me respond on Twitter to your request.

Without further ado, we’re diving into this week’s mailbag.

Q: Let’s start with the injuries because that seems to interest everyone.

A: We’ll leave the quarterback situation aside because there is no update I can provide outside of the fact both Ross Comis and Andrew Ford are questionable. Linebacker Tyris Lebeau has played the past two weeks according to the participation reports and running back Bilal Ally has been dressed the past three weeks but has not taken any carries. Charly Timite is still out from what I understand, but again there aren’t a lot of definites when it comes to injuries from UMass.

Q: Zach asked: Why hasn’t Sadiq Palmer not caught as many passes this season as he did last year?

A: This is an interesting question because it’s not like UMass is purposely steering clear of Palmer. Some of the decrease in touches has to do with the type of receiver he is and how that contrasts the wideouts that surround him. Palmer is not the guy you necessarily target on those deeper passes or screens, and those have been a decent chunk of UMass’ pass game this season.

Ford has relied more on his tight ends in medium routes on second and third down, but Palmer does a lot of work, too, to help free those targets by attracting attention. Palmer will become more important as UMass plays closer games and the medium passes become part of the plan more often. He’s simply been a victim of circumstance this season so far.

Q: Austin Urkiel asked: How are the road game preparations changing this week?

A: Not much has changed for UMass in terms of preparing for a road environment. Mark Whipple believes this team has practiced really well this season, especially last week, and doesn’t want to change too much to that formula. What’s going to be much easier for UMass is the 2 p.m. kickoff on Saturday, which won’t keep the Minutemen sitting the hotel rooms as long as the late starts at Georgia Southern and Florida International.

Q: JBorges asked: How will UMass’ defense look to attack the Ohio offense?

A: Everything with the UMass defensive gameplan begins with getting pressure on the quarterback. In both home games, the Minutemen made life very difficult for opposing quarterbacks and in the three losses, the quarterbacks didn’t feel too much pressure. The difference this week is Nathan Rourke is the most mobile quarterback UMass has faced this season. Not only will the Minutemen need to pressure Rourke, they need to keep him in a contained space and not let him pick up first downs with his legs.

If UMass gets pressure on the quarterback, it will give its secondary a better chance at success because it won’t be forced to cover Ohio’s skilled receivers for too long. Rourke hasn’t been very accurate this season — partially due to his route selection — so the chances are there for UMass to create turnovers if they can frazzle Rourke and force an errant pass.

Q: Let’s end with a pair of questions about quarterbacks. The first comes from Nick DiFelice, who simply asked: What can we expect at quarterback Saturday?

A: There is obviously a lot of unknown variables with this question because we won’t know who’s starting until game time. If Curtis starts then it’ll be his game assuming he stays healthy or UMass has a big lead. The more interesting question is what happens if Ford and/or Comis are cleared.

If only Ford is cleared then I expect Curtis will play a little bit to give Ford a breather in his first game back, especially now that Whipple has a lot more confidence in Curtis. If both Comis and Ford are cleared then I think we’ll see what we’ve seen in the first three games of the two quarterbacks alternating in and out.

If only Comis is cleared then we run into the biggest unknown. Would Whipple rotate Comis and Curtis because they have similar skill sets? Would Whipple just stick with Comis for the whole game? I don’t think even Whipple knows the answer to that question right now.

Q: We end with Jack’s question about transfers. He asked: In the wake of the Kelly Bryant news, are there any grad transfer quarterbacks who are on UMass’ radar for next season?

A: The timing of this question changed my answer to it. If you had asked me last week, I think there was a chance UMass would be interested in a one-year grad transfer at quarterback to buy time for its two freshmen to develop some more. However, Curtis has proven he can be good if given the chance to run the offense, so I expect he’s now the clubhouse favorite to start the opener in 2019.

If Kelly Bryant wanted to come to UMass, Whipple and his staff won’t say no. But I also don’t think they’re going to actively pursue a transfer at quarterback this offseason.

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