Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass football continues to make changes while yearning to win games

Tyler Lytle headlines key changes made to roster
Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

Following a 45-0 season finale blowout loss to Liberty, the Massachusetts football team’s head coach Walt Bell told media that his football team was going to be better come the following season.

What does that actually mean for a team that is 1-15 in college football the past two years? A team that averaged three points through four games last season, which was eight points less than the second worst scoring team in the country.

It starts at quarterback. Tyler Lytle is the new starter. Though Lytle has never started a game in his career, he likely gives UMass the best opportunity to win football games this year. Lytle transferred from Colorado in the offseason and was immediately expected to take over the starting spot due to the circumstances. A graduate student going from a power five school to one of the worst teams in college football did not come in expecting to be a backup.

Decision making was a primary factor in Lytle becoming the starter. At 6-foot-5 225-pounds, Bell appreciates the length alongside the ability to make proper reads that Lytle boasts. The experience and pedigree should also be able to outweigh the talent of Brady Olson, the second-string quarterback who is only a freshman. After the past two years of Minutemen football, the last thing Bell wants to do is hand his team over to another quarterback that isn’t ready to be a starter.

The offense as a whole will look slightly different, but not far off from last year. Bell will be calling plays this season. Two poor seasons on offense finally forced him to take over the role that got him the head coaching job in the first place as offensive coordinator.

Larnel Coleman ? now a Miami Dolphin ? is easily the offense’s biggest loss of the offseason. The left tackle was an anchor for the UMass offensive line and consistently received high praise from Bell. Brian Abosi transferred to Stony Brook for his grad year leaving redshirt freshman Max Longman and freshman Jonny Hassard to take over the starting tackle spots.

Kay’ron Adams is likely the biggest addition aside from Lytle on the offensive side of the ball this offseason. The redshirt sophomore will join Ellis Merriweather to form a 1-2 punch in the backfield. Adams is a 5-foot-10, 210-pound transfer from Rutgers that should serve as another powerful runner for the Minutemen.

The most notable move at wide receiver was the loss of Samuel Emilus, who led UMass in receptions, receiving yards and was the only player to catch a touchdown in the shortened four-game season.

Charlotte transfer Rico Arnold will be taking over his role. Arnold had three catches for 36 yards in a shortened six-game season for the 49ers.

The defensive side of the ball was a slight upgrade compared to the offense last season. UMass allowed just over 40 points a game last season, which was good considering it was the sixth worst in college football.

Cole McCubrey is off to Boston College and Mike Ruane transferred to Villanova. The pair of linebackers led the Minutemen in tackles last season, Ruane was also the sack leader with just 1.5 sacks.

The defense as a whole has a different look this year, as Bell and defensive coordinator Tommy Restivo have elected to start five defensive backs compared four last season.

The defensive backfield is headed by sophomore corner Josh Wallace. Similar to last year, Wallace will be the best shutdown option for UMass. He will be helped by Noah Boykin, Bryce Watts and Te’Rai Powell on the outside.

Avien Peah will anchor the defensive line. Peah led the Minutemen in tackles for loss last year with six in the four games, one of the bright spots on a mostly dull roster in 2020. Now as a grad student, he will look to continue his success alongside Devin Baldwin, Tim Moulton, Taishan Holmes and Josh Atwood. Holmes and Atwood both saw time on the interior for UMass in 2020, while Baldwin and Moulton have not played in a football game since 2019.

The aforementioned linebacker unit is now headed by two freshmen. Zack Magdis and Gerrell Johnson are attempting to fill large shoes on a struggling UMass defense.

This is the easiest schedule the Minutemen have seen since Bell has been head coach. There are favorable matchups against teams such as the University of Rhode Island and the University of Maine, two FCS opponents in addition to two more games against UConn and New Mexico State, both of which only won three games in the past two seasons combined, one of those Huskies wins coming against UMass.

Lytle should provide some sort of steadiness at the quarterback position, but only time will tell if the offensive line will be able to hold up. Ellis Merriweather totaled 115 rushing yards on 42 attempts last season, which averages out to an inadequate 2.7 yards per carry.

While there is much more total depth to this roster in terms of scholarship athletes, losing important players such as Coleman, McCubrey, Ruane and Emilus will be felt. The Minutemen will most likely be favorites leading into their matchups against Rhode Island and Maine, but the UConn and NM State matchups will factor down to how well Lytle looks and the offensive line. Defense is obviously an important factor, but no games will be won in college football scoring three points.

Joey Aliberti can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @JosephAliberti1

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