UMass football gets healthier, refocus during off week

  • The UMass football team enters Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium for a game against the University of Akron on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 10/22/2019 8:48:47 PM

AMHERST — There was only one criteria for UMass to have a successful bye week – enter this week with more healthy bodies on the roster than it did heading to Louisiana Tech.

In that respect, it was a mission accomplished for coach Walt Bell and the Minutemen in the 10 days since the 69-21 loss to the Bulldogs. Bell said he expects at least three players who have started on defense to return for Saturday’s homecoming game against UConn. Freshman defensive lineman Wilson Frederic is back to full speed along with redshirt sophomore linebacker Tyris Lebeau and redshirt freshman cornerback Donte Lindsey. Those additional bodies plus senior cornerback Isaiah Rodgers recovering from the injury that sidelined him for the latter part of the Louisiana Tech loss are a positive sign for the Minutemen.

“The biggest thing is we’ve got three or four more able-bodied guys back, which is going to make us a little fresher,” Bell said. “Anytime you’ve had to heal up a bit and you’ve got ball taken away from you for a week, everybody out here is excited to get back out here and play.”

The off week couldn’t have come at a better time for the Minutemen, who were reeling in the midst of a 1-6 start and devastated by injuries that left the depth paper thin. UMass had practice last Tuesday and Wednesday then had a conditioning session on Friday before returning to its normal week of game prep on Sunday. The lighter load allowed UMass to hit the reset button mentally ahead of a tough stretch of games to close out the season.

“More than anything else, it’s just a little bit of mental relief,” Bell said. “We’re talking four weeks of camp, (seven) weeks in the year, we’re (11) weeks deep and this is almost right there at the midpoint, it was probably good for us mentally more than anything else.”

BUDDING RIVALRY — With UConn’s upcoming move to FBS independence, the Huskies will likely be a permanent fixture on the Minutemen’s schedule in the long term. UMass already has decade-long deals with fellow independents Army and Liberty, and UConn is an even more perfect fit for an annual game given the proximity of the two schools.

At the moment, the Huskies and Minutemen will only face one another annually until 2021, but there is still plenty of space for UConn on UMass’ schedule in 2023 and beyond.

“In terms of where we are and those guys moving to independence, I expect this to become a really regular game on the schedule,” Bell said. “Where we are geographically, whether it be recruiting, whether it be playing games, I feel like it’s something moving forward that would be a really good thing for both.”

QB CAROUSEL — The never-ending saga of the starting quarterback is back in full force with Bell electing to list all three quarterbacks with “OR” between their names. Andrew Brito is the healthiest, having been cleared from the concussion protocol two weeks ago, while Michael Curtis and Randall West are dealing with nagging injuries that shouldn’t hold them back from playing if they have the best week of practice.

“We’ve got to have a good week of practice and we’ve got to find somebody to help us move the ball,” Bell said.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS — Like every college coaching staff in the country, an off week means more time to go out and recruit. The UMass staff cast a wide net across their recruiting footprint last week in search of new Minutemen as well as showing some support to players currently committed to the school.

Bell said he and his staff had a productive week on the trail with the limited contact they are allowed to have with recruits and coaches in-season. He added that weeks like the past one are important parts of building toward the brighter future he envisions for UMass football.

“That’s what we’re all here to do, build a program we can all be proud of and build on that’s sustainable for the long term,” Bell said. “(We’re) not trying to fix this thing inappropriately and make sure we build this thing the right way so in three, four, five, six years from now that we’re exactly where we need to be.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.



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