UMass football looking to refuel during bye week

The Minutemen are 1-6 with five games remaining

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UMass football looking to refuel during bye week

(Eva Trainer/ Daily Collegian)

(Eva Trainer/ Daily Collegian)

(Eva Trainer/ Daily Collegian)

(Eva Trainer/ Daily Collegian)

By Dan McGee, Assistant Sports Editor

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Suffering a brutal 69-21 loss to Louisiana Tech on Saturday, the Massachusetts football team is taking its bye week to work out the kinks in their play, recover from injury and recruit.

“More than anything else we’re just focusing on the technique and fundamentals,” coach Walt Bell said. “Making sure we’re here for the long haul, especially the non-travel guys, for things that they’ll be doing in the future.”

Seven games into a 12-game season, UMass (1-6) has performed just about the way it was expected to this season. With a new coach, young roster and lack of depth, the Minutemen have struggled to find their footing. UMass currently ranks 115th of 130 teams in points per game in the FBS with 20.6, and is dead last in opponents’ points per game, allowing 49.9 points per game.

While the Minutemen have certainly had their fair share of rough patches this season, Bell is optimistic of how the team has continued to build a culture through the first seven weeks.

“The guys that are here and a part of this program, we know they love this place and that they love this program,” Bell said. “Compliments to those kids, especially with all the adversity they’ve been through. I think the group of kids we have here are doing a great job, they’re trying to get better every single day and that’s all you can ask as a coach.”

With many freshmen forced into starting roles this season, the adjustment to a college system has been a tedious process for much of the UMass team. Quarterback Randall West thinks he’s seen major improvements in this facet of the game.

“When you’re in a pro style system, one of the hardest things for you is seeing signals,” West said. “Moving to your alignment while you’re seeing the signals. That’s one aspect that we’ve improved upon…Schematically, physically, there’s always room for improvement. I’m looking forward to the next six weeks with these guys to see how much we can accomplish over that time frame.”

At this point, the focal point of West’s play is furthering the offense’s and the other quarterbacks’ adjustment into the college system.

“What you want to get to, which I’ve seen over my years in college is ‘All right, [coach is] calling a play,’ you know what [the coaches] are trying to accomplish when he calls a certain play,” West said. “If you’re on the same page as coach Bell and [quarterbacks coach Angelo Mirando] from a play calling standpoint, you know what they’re trying to get to and you know what you’re trying to accomplish which makes your job and your decision making a lot easier as a quarterback moving forward.”

On the defensive side, the Minutemen have seen woes tackling and stopping big plays. A lot of that can be contributed to inexperience.

“I think we have a lot of young guys that are getting playing time so they’re getting to learn the game more,” safety Martin Mangram said. “A lot of guys are starting to play harder and smarter, it’s what [defensive coordinator Aazaar Abdul-Rahim] really harps on. It’s just coming together; we have guys that make huge leaps and guys that make smaller leaps. As a defense we are starting to have a more complete game…it’s just mental errors that are really getting us right now that we’re slowly improving on but need to make that next step.”

The bye week should see a fair share of Minutemen return to health as well. Quarterback Andrew Brito has cleared concussion protocol making him available to practice this week. Running backs Bilal Ally and Cam Roberson sat out of practice on Tuesday with ailments but should be able to return by next week’s game versus Connecticut.

According to West, Bell quoted a sign from the New England Patriots practice facility when discussing injuries and health with the team.

“’The best ability is availability’, it’s the first thing you see when you walk in,” West said. “It’s a bottom-line business and really the only way you’re going to get your job done is if you’re healthy enough to do it.”

Certain Minutemen coaches, including Abdul-Rahim, have taken the time out of practice this week to travel for recruiting purposes. Bell said that by the end of the week, the entirety of the coaching staff will be traveling the country to recruit.

“We have to go build the roster,” Bell said. “[The bye week] is huge for our staff in terms of recruiting.”

The Minutemen will play at home next Saturday versus UConn. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.

Dan McGee can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @DMcGeeUMass.