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UConn football opponent preview: UMass

The Huskies take on a longtime rival and now fellow independent.

Massachusetts v Northwestern Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

As much as fans of either school probably don't want to admit it, UConn and UMass are pretty similar as football schools. While UConn had some flashes of success last decade, the Northeast programs have generally been bad as of late, briefly played football in a conference that really didn't make a ton of sense for them, and now live life as independents, piecing together some interesting schedules. As if that wasn’t enough, UMass’ quarterback situation, much like UConn’s, is as clear as mud.

With UConn and UMass both as lone wolves in the conference (and now alliance, apparently) world of college football, it’s hard to guarantee anything anymore, but one thing is for sure; UConn and UMass, who have played each other a lot — 74 times to be exact, with the Minutemen ahead all-time 37-35-2 — will be playing each other a lot for as long as the two remain independent.

So when the Huskies head up to Amherst on Oct. 9, it shouldn’t be unfamiliar territory. It’s actually the site of UConn’s last win — a 56-35 win nearly two full years earlier on Oct. 26, 2019. And while some things have changed since 2019, the expectation is the same for the Huskies: This is by far the most winnable FBS game on the schedule.

Head Coach & Recent History

UMass is led by head coach Walt Bell, who has served as head coach since the start of the 2019 season, amassing a 1-15 record. Bell’s lone win as coach of the Minutemen came on Sept. 28, 2019 as UMass defeated Akron 37-29 at home as part of a 1-11 record in his first season. He took the UMass job after stints as an offensive coordinator at Arkansas State from 2014-15, Maryland from 2016-17, and Florida State in 2018.

In his short time as head coach, Bell has stepped up UMass’ game on the recruiting trail. While they aren’t pulling four and five star recruits, Bell did pull in the best class in UMass history in 2020 according to 247Sports, but the recruiting progress hasn’t translated to on-field success just yet.

2020 Season

UMass originally planned to play the 2020 season in the spring, but reversed course in the fall to play a condensed schedule comprised entirely of road games. The Minutemen took on Georgia Southern, No. 15 Marshall, FAU and a Liberty team that was just outside the Top 25 at the time, losing all four. UMass was outscored 161-12 in those four games, scoring just one offensive touchdown.

2021 Outlook

With a longer and slightly easier schedule, chances are UMass won’t be as awful as they were in 2020. The quarterback situation still hasn’t shaken out, but it appears that Tyler Lytle, a graduate transfer that appeared in seven games in three seasons at Colorado, should get the bulk of snaps from the start and seems to be capable enough to at least score more than one offensive touchdown this season.

Bell has taken full advantage of the new one-time immediate transfer rule to take fliers on some Power Five players that didn’t break into the rotation at their old schools. One of the higher impact transfers outside of Lytle should be running back Kay’Ron Adams, who posted 320 yards and two touchdowns in 18 games with Rutgers. Adams and Ellis Merriweather, who posted 115 yards last season, should form a decent backfield and help take some pressure off the potential quarterback carousel.

Even in just four games, it was apparent that defense was an issue for UMass last season, and it might not get better after the Minutemen lost their top two tacklers to graduation. The defensive line was a legitimate bright spot, however, posting nine sacks and 31 tackles for loss. They’ll be led once again by lineman Avien Peah, who’s back as a fifth-year senior. Sophomore Josh Wallace figures to be the best player in the secondary after a 12 tackle season with five pass break ups as a true freshman last year.

Prediction

This may not be the best football the world has ever seen, but this game should be pretty competitive and fairly intense as there is a legitimate rivalry here and both teams believe this is a winnable game in a season where wins might be hard to come by. Pressure is mounting on Bell to start turning things around and while the Minutemen should be able to pick up some wins this season, this won’t be one of them. It’s going to be a battle of which defense sucks less, and it’s likely that UConn has the edge in that department. UConn 35, UMass 24