CFN Preview 2013 - UMass Minutemen
UMass QB Mike Wegzyn
UMass QB Mike Wegzyn
Posted Jul 9, 2013 2013 Preview - UMass Minutemen

UMass Minutemen

Preview 2013

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Charley Molnar
2nd year: 1-11
Ten Best UMass Players
1. LB Kassan Messiah, Soph.
2. CB Randall Jette, Soph.
3. LB Jovan Santos-Knox, Soph.
4. CB Trey Dudley-Giles, Soph.
5. TE Rob Blanchflower, Sr.
6. LB John Robinson, Soph.
7. RB Lorenzo Woodley, Fr.
8. S Khary Bailey-Smith, Soph.
9. DE/LB Shane Huber, Fr.
10. P Colter Johnson, Sr.
2013 Schedule
8/31 at Wisconsin
9/7 Maine
9/14 at Kansas State
9/21 Vanderbilt
10/5 at Bowling Green
10/12 Miami Univ.
10/19 at Buffalo
10/26 Western Michigan
11/2 Northern Illinois
11/16 Akron
11/23 at Central Michigan
11/29 at Ohio
It's a sophomore season all the way around.

After a totally miserable first season at the FBS level going 1-11 and only coming within double digits of Akron – the lone win – and a 37-34 loss to Ohio. The defense was bad, the offense worse and head coach Charley Molnar had a rough time trying to make the team competitive. But it was just a first step.

Knowing that the program had to all but start from scratch, Molnar threw his freshmen to the wolves to get everyone a little experience to build on. The payoff isn't going to come this year, and it might be another rough campaign in 2014, but this will be a loaded squad by the time all of the key sophomores are seniors and know what they're doing. Of course, moving up the timetable for the Minutemen wouldn't be a bad idea.

The starting 22 could be solid, but there's absolutely no depth whatsoever and the holes aren't just glairing, they're ten miles wide.

The defensive tackle situation is going to be an issue early on with Wisconsin up to kick things off. There isn't a No. 1 receiver, the offensive line has to work to find a starting five and a pass rush of some sort would be nice. However, again, it's a young, young team that's going to go through the process together.

In all, at least 13 sophomores will start and/or play huge roles. Throw in a slew of true freshmen who'll be needed right away, and Molnar will have to hope for the youth to run wild and throw a curveball or three into the MAC season.

Everything is just getting started. There's room to improve in a hurry in the MAC, but as programs like Akron, Buffalo and Central Michigan showed on their way to titles, experience is a big key. UMass is in the process of getting some.

What to watch for on offense: Where are the playmakers? The Minutemen's biggest overall issue was a lack of explosion with little to no pop to throw a scare into a defense. Making things worse going into this season is the loss of leading rusher Michael Cox – who accounted for 715 of the team's 1,075 rushing yards - along with the top three wide receivers. The offense has to find options to gameplan for, and they have to emerge in a hurry. Running back recruit Lorenzo Woodley could be a good start, while Tajae Sharpe and a slew of fellow sophomores have to beef up the receiving corps.

What to watch for on defense: The defensive line has to get its stuff together. There has to be a regular pass rush from all four spots, but more than anything else, the tackles have to be stronger and more effective against the run. The line needs options, bulk and skill in the interior, while veteran ends Kevin Byrne and Stanley Andre have to shine on the outside and get to the quarterback on a regular basis. Basically, the UMass defense has to be far more disruptive, and it has to start up front.

The team will be far better if … the offensive line rocks. All the problems on offense and all the issues could start to go away if the front five starts gets better in a big hurry. The loss of Jamie Casselberry and Michael Boland this offseason was a problem for an already thin line that needs to be stronger in pass protection and has to give the running backs a little room to move. There's decent size and just enough experience to get by, but there's no depth whatsoever and it's going to take a little bit to find the right combination for the starting five.

The schedule: The Minutemen have to beat Maine early on, and they have to take advantage of a November home game against Akron. Outside of those two, it's tough to find many chances for wins. Road games against Wisconsin and Kansas State won't be pretty and a home date against Vanderbilt isn't exactly a break. After starting out the season at Bowling Green, four of the next five games are at home – a major luxury for a MAC team. However, closing out at Central Michigan and Ohio will be rough.

Best offensive player: Sophomore QB Mike Wegzyn. At least that's the hope. With size, mobility and a decent arm, he has the tools to run the offense and grow into the job. However, he's not the sure-thing starting quarterback and he has to prove he can lead the attack to yards, points and production. He finished second on the team with a paltry 141 rushing yards and he had a few nice moments with 373 yards and four scores against Ohio and a nice day in the win over Akron, but he needs time to work and he needs playmakers around him to shine.

Best defensive player: Sophomore LB Kassan Messiah. Sophomore John Robinson should put up huge numbers in the middle, and corner Randall Jette could turn into one of the MAC's best defensive backs, but it's Messiah who has the potential to be the most disruptive force on the front seven if he operates in a sort of hybrid role. He only saw time in nine games and he started in just five, but he still finished third on the team with 65 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss.

Key player to a successful season: Wegzyn, or sophomore QB A.J. Doyle. The lines need to be far better, playmakers have to emerge on both sides of the ball, and new stars have to rise up from out of nowhere, but along with the blocking, the quarterback play should be the key. It needs to be steady and consistent, and it needs to be the reason UMass is in games. There's upside and talent to do it, but Wegzyn and Doyle have to show they can elevate everyone else.

The season will be a success if … the team just looks better. The final record is immaterial. The Minutemen won't win the MAC and they're not going to beat Wisconsin or Kansas State or Northern Illinois, but they have to play better and be stronger against the Miami Universities and Western Michigans on the schedule. Any result outside of 0-12 will be better than last year, but even that wouldn't be the end of the world if it seems like the pieces are being put in place for a stronger 2014.

Key game: November 29 at Ohio. It's all about how the team progresses and how the program looks at the end of the season than it does at the beginning. Ohio is far better and should win the regular season finale at home without some of a problem, but can UMass look as strong as it did in the painful 37-34 loss last year? This is the game that has to give the Minutemen hope going into the offseason.

2012 Fun Stats:
- 3rd Quarter Scoring: Opponents 147 – Massachusetts 30
- Rushing TDs: Opponents 33 – Massachusetts 8
- Average Yards Per Play: Opponents 6.4 – Massachusetts 3.9

- 2013 UMass Preview | 2013 UMass Offense
- 2013 UMass Defense | 2013 UMass Depth Chart