After coming off an average 7-5 season, UMass is looking to start the 2009 season with a clean slate. They will be opening the season with a new starting quarterback and a new Head Coach.
The Minutemen promoted offensive coordinator, Kevin Morris, to Head Coach. This could mean big things for the offense, as Morris is known more for his offensive mind. There has not been a definitive decision made on who will be under center when the Minutemen open up at Kansas State, but there are a handful of candidates. Kyle Havens, Octavious Hawkins, Scott Wallace, Spencer Whipple and Scott Woodward will all be vying for the position. Havens and Woodward might have a slight edge in the competition as they bring intelligence, experience and know how to manage the game.
Tony Nelson will be returning from last year’s breakout season in which he earned a spot on the CAA All-Conference First Team and averaged 110.4 yards per game. There are a couple of young guys that Coach Morris would also like to implement into the system during the 2009 season.
UMass returns a receiving core that has a lot of talent, leadership and experience. Victor Cruz, the leading receiver from last season, was a first team CAA All-Conference player last year with 71 catches and 1,064 yards. Jeremy Horne, an All-CAA third-team receiver, caught 50 passes for 895 yards and eight scores last year. Expectations will be high for Julian Talley, one of the younger receivers, to have a breakout season.
Whoever is under center will have solid protection upfront. The UMass line returns three starters in Vladimir Ducasse, Rob Getek and Josh Samuda. Brian Ostaszewski, Brandon Flanagan and Justin Sawicki will be fighting for the final two spots on the line.
The backbone of this UMass team has been the defense and that will not change in 2009. Brandon Collier, Michael Hanson and Kyle Harrington will be the leaders up front. This is a veteran group with plenty of experience, so there should be a lot of pressure up front. Josh Jennings, who ranked seventh in the CAA in tackles last season, returns at linebacker. Jennings is a beast in the middle that plays with great intensity and has a knack for being around the ball. Kurt Filler will get the starting nod at outside linebacker as he has consistently progressed during each game last season.
Jeromy Miles will be leading a very inexperienced secondary. Miles was a 2008 CAA All-Conference First Team who brings great leadership to the defense. Coach Morris is moving some offensive guys such as Ke’Mon Bailey and Warren Wilson over to help out the secondary. Corey Davis and David Cozzo will be seeing a lot of time on the corners this year as well.
Although the Minutemen have a talented team, I think it could be an inconsistent year on both sides of the ball. We don’t know who will be the signal caller for UMass and how they will handle their first season as a starter. The experience of Tony Nelson and the receiving core should help out a bit. On defense, the question will be the secondary where they are inexperienced and lack depth on the corners. Overall, UMass will play well, but won’t win the CAA and unless they can steal a few tough games at home (UNH and JMU), I see the Minutemen falling on the bubble of making the FCS playoffs.