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2019 UConn football opponent preview: UMass

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Introducing the Huskies’ most winnable FBS game of 2019.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 10 BYU at UMass Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Amidst a truly terrible season, there may not have been a lower point in the Huskies’ 2018 than their matchup against UMass. The Minutemen represented the Huskies’ best chance at winning an FBS game when they came to East Hartford for homecoming, and it seemed like the stars had aligned enough for UConn to get the job done.

UMass never really reached their potential in 2018 but still featured one of the best wide receivers in the country in Andy Isabella. Fortunately for the Huskies, the weather was terrible, with low temperatures, wind and a lot of rain.

But it still wasn’t enough to slow Isabella down. He helped UMass come back from an 11-point second-half deficit with a 38-yard touchdown catch for the Minutemen’s first score of the day. After UConn tacked on a field goal to make it 17-9, UMass responded with a 67-yard touchdown pass 15 seconds later and scored again in the final four minutes, sealing a 22-17 comeback victory.

Despite the wind and rainy weather, the Minutemen still racked up nearly 200 passing yards while UConn had just 15.

This year, these two schools will meet almost a year to the day since that cold, miserable game. And just like last season, UConn very well may still be looking for its first FBS win. The drought would be over 740 days if it makes it to October 26, 2019.

Can the Huskies pull it off this time around? It won’t be easy, but there’s a better chance this year that UConn can come out on top against the Minutemen.

2018 in review

UMass probably should have gone bowling (or bowl-eligible, since the bowl life is tricky as an independent) last season, but it didn’t. Instead, it went 4-8, with all four wins coming against bad teams. Thanks to Isabella, running back Marquis Young, and the quarterback tandem of Andrew Ford and Ross Comis, the UMass offense had some firepower, scoring over 60 points in two of their wins last year and ranking 79th in offensive S&P+. However, the defense was a train wreck — almost as bad as UConn’s — and gave up 42.9 points and 485 yards per game, good for 124th in defensive S&P+.

As UConn fans know all too well, a bad defense causes problems for both sides of the ball, and the ineptitude took the Minutemen out of some winnable games like FIU (63-24), Georgia Southern (34-13) and Coastal Carolina (24-13).

After some questionable post-game comments and a season below expectations, UMass decided to the pull the plug on their version of the Randy Edsall 2.0 experiment. Mark Whipple, who led UMass to an FCS title in 1998 and returned to Amherst in 2014, was let go, allowing the Minutemen to start over with a new coach and philosophy heading into 2019.

2019 season preview

With Whipple out of the picture, the team is now in Walt Bell’s hands. Bell, a first-time head coach, spent time as an assistant at Southern Miss and North Carolina before becoming an offensive coordinator at Arkansas State, Maryland, and most recently, Florida State.

He takes over a team that has lost basically all of its offensive firepower. Leading rusher Marquis Young and quarterbacks Ford and Comis have graduated, and Isabella is now in the NFL as a second-round pick with the Arizona Cardinals. With all of that offense gone, Bell’s first year is going to be a typical beginning-of-a-rebuild kind of season.

The quarterback position is still very much in the air, but it seems like Andrew Brito, a junior college transfer, or Mike Curtis, the only QB on the roster that saw game action this year are on top. Bell has always been able to cobble together formidable offenses, but this may be his hardest task yet due to the lack of experience at receiver and running back.

Defensively, UMass is very similar to UConn, coming off a bad defensive season with a new coordinator and some transfers to provide some instant impact and experience. While the Minutemen have some experience up front in Jake Byczko and Chinedu Ogbonna (12 tackles for loss total), linebacker Jarvis Miller, who transferred from Penn State, should help the defense possibly take a step forward in 2019.

Prediction

With UConn soon to be independent next season like UMass, there’s a very good chance the Minutemen become a staple on the Huskies’ schedule for years to come, and rightfully so. Both programs certainly aren’t very good (for now, at least), but their proximity alone should make for exciting games year in and year out. While last year’s game was a washout, it still was one of the few competitive games UConn had all season. There’s no reason the Huskies shouldn’t be in the mix this year as well.

UMass 28, UConn 24