Liberty UMass Football

Massachusetts' Zak Simon (11) evades a tackle from Liberty's Corbin Jackson during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Amherst, Mass. (J. Anthony Roberts/The Republican via AP)

UMASS MINUTEMEN

COACH: Walt Bell, 0-0, first season at UMass

2018 RECORD: 4-8

POSTSEASON: none

» A LOOK BACK

The Minutemen finished with four victories thanks to a prolific passing attack that featured All-American wide receiver Andy Isabella. The slot receiver showcased his talent throughout the season, and especially against Liberty in a three-overtime shootout, by finishing with nearly 1,700 receiving yards and 13 TDs.

With Ross Comis and Andrew Ford both getting opportunities in the shotgun, UMass ranked 14th in the nation in passing offense (nearly 300 yards per game) and 35th in scoring at nearly 33 points per contest. The offense scored at least 40 points five times.

But the defense didn’t help out. Six times the Minutemen allowed more than 50 points, and they only won once (the three-overtime win over the Flames). With Bryton Barr anchoring the unit, opposing offenses were able to average 43 points and nearly 490 yards per game.

» LOOKING AHEAD

Out is longtime coach Mark Whipple and in his Walt Bell. Bell is a first-time head coach after serving as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Florida State, Maryland and Arkansas State. He is implementing a spread offense that will be predicated on tempo, and the hope is the returning and new faces will be able to flourish in the system.

“First and foremost, I think kind of the three things that are really typical of any of the offenses and systems that I’ve been a part of in my life: No. 1 is pace — obviously we’re going to play at a pretty quick clip; No. 2 is space — we’re going to play much, much, much wider than the majority of teams in college football; then I think the other thing is we’ve got to develop the physical toughness from an effort standpoint in order for us to run the football at a high level,” he said. “When we’re able to play fast and we’re able to play really wide and master a core set of runs, when we can do those three things, we typically got a chance to be pretty successful and the other stuff looks a lot better.”

Bell hasn’t identified who will be at quarterback, running back or primary wide receiver this season, rather saying it will initially be by committee. Michael Curtis played some at quarterback last season behind Comis and Ford, but junior college transfer Andrew Brito is expected to have the upperhand in the QB battle.

Running back Bilal Ally and wide receiver Jessie Britt were both considering transferring before Bell’s hiring, and both have opportunities to get reps. Britt is the favorite to replace Isabella in the slot, while Ally and true freshman Kevin Brown are both in the running for the majority of the carries.

The defense doesn’t return many faces — cornerback Isaiah Rodgers and linebacker Chinedu Ogbonna are the ones who return as leaders — and that opens the door for Penn State graduate transfer Jarvis Miller to step in at linebacker. Miller didn’t play much for the Nittany Lions, but his experience being on a Power 5 roster makes him a bonafide piece for the defensive unit.

“I’m really excited about Jarvis. Even more so than his physical ability, just his maturity level, character,” Bell said. “He’s come here in his masters program and made incredible grades. He’s an incredible human being. Just excited for him even more so than his physical ability, just his leadership, toughness, the quality of person that he is. I’m excited to see that manifested throughout the year.”

» WHO’S BACK?

• SKILL PLAYERS

RB Bilal Ally (25 carries, 139 yards, 5.6 average, 1 TD)

WR Sadiq Palmer (28 catches, 419 yards, 15.0 average, 2 TD)

WR Samuel Emilus (15 catches, 212 yards, 14.1 average, 4 TD)

• OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

LT Ray Thomas-Ishman

RT Larnel Coleman

• DEFENSIVE LEADERS

LB Chinedu Ogbonna (72 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR)

CB Isaiah Rodgers (56 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2 INT, 4 PBU)

DT Jake Byczko (55 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 FR, 2 FF)

• SPECIAL TEAMS

K Cooper Garcia (9-11 FG, 41 long, 0 blocked; 37-37 PAT)

P George Georgopoulos (39 punts, 39.2 average, 60 long, 0 TB, 7 FC, 4 I20, 7 50+, 0 blocked)

» WHO’S GONE?

• SKILL PLAYERS

QB Ross Comis (122-194 passing, 1,799 yards, 14 TD, 3 INT; 86 carries, 255 yards, 3.0 average, 6 TD)

QB Andrew Ford (115-177 passing, 1,366 yards, 9 TD, 5 INT)

RB Marquis Young (154 carries, 791 yards, 5.1 average, 9 TD; 22 catches, 173 yards, 7.9 average)

WR Andy Isabella (102 catches, 1,698 yards, 16.6 average, 13 TD)

• OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

LG Mike Yearardi

C Derek Dumais

RG Jake Largay

• DEFENSIVE LEADERS

LB Bryton Barr (147 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 2 FR)

SS Brice McAllister (74 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 3 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF)

LB Jarell Addo (55 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FF)

CB Lee Moses (54 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 3 INT, 7 PBU)

• SPECIAL TEAMS

None

» WHOM TO FOLLOW

Josh Walfish, Daily Hampshire Gazette: @JoshWalfishDHG

UMass Football: @UMassFootball

» SCHEDULE

Aug. 30: at Rutgers, 7:15 p.m.

Sept. 7: Southern Illinois, TBD

Sept. 14: at Charlotte, 6 p.m.

Sept. 21: Coastal Carolina, TBD

Sept. 28: Akron, TBD

Oct. 5: at FIU, 7 p.m.

Oct. 12: at Louisiana Tech, 7 p.m.

Oct. 26: UConn, TBD

Nov. 2: Liberty, TBD

Nov. 9: at Army, noon

Nov. 16: at Northwestern, TBD

Nov. 23: BYU, TBD

» THE SERIES (home team in CAPS)

UMass leads 1-0

Nov. 3, 2018: UMASS 62, Liberty 59, 3 OT

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Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.

Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550. Follow him on Twitter: @DamienSordelett

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