Team: University of Massachusetts (UMass)
Conference: Independent
Game Date: October 30 (Week 9)
Location: Williams Stadium – Lynchburg, Virginia
Game History: Liberty and UMass have grown familiar with each other over the last three years. Their first meeting in 2018 was a thriller, going into three overtimes where the Flames eventually fell 62-59. Since then, it’s been all Liberty, blowing out the Minutemen 63-21 in 2019 and 45-0 in 2020.

Coach – Walt Bell

Things are been rough for Bell who enters into his third season as the head coach for UMass. In that time, he has a 1-15 record with that lone win coming against Akron (who went 0-12) in 2018. There seems to be hope for the future though. According to 247sports, Bell brought in the best recruiting class the Minutemen have had since their FBS transition in 2012. Before his time in Amherst, Bell saw brief stints at Arkansas State, Maryland, and Florida State as the offensive coordinator.

2020 Record: 0-4. UMass originally canceled the entirety of their 2020 football season. They switched gears after implementing thorough health and safety protocols in light of COVID, leading to an abbreviated, four-game schedule.

2021 Outlook: It is difficult to fully evaluate a team year-to-year when they don’t play a full schedule. That, mixed with increased transfers and opt-outs, Coach Bell has yet to see what his team is fully capable of.

If you like high-scoring offenses….look away. Through four games, UMass scored a total of 12 points last year. The team struggled to find any footing offensively, averaging 188 total yards a game. With a number of experienced linemen, like junior C Dalton Tomlinson, they should produce more in 2021. The running back situation is good with starting senior Ellis Merriweather returning and Rutgers transfer Kay’Ron Adams providing depth. Things are a little more bleak for the receiving room though, with transfers and graduations. WR Jermaine Johnson, who had 96 yards last season, should be a top pass catcher this year. One of their most important incoming transfers for the Minutemen is former Colorado sophomore QB Tyler Lytle. He will challenge leading QB Garrett Dzuro who completed 42% of his passes for 215 yards and a pair of picks in 2020. Things will be far from perfect for the offense this year, but they should score more than three points a game.

While there is more uncertainty for the offense, UMass has the pieces to be better on the defensive side of the ball. Their stats from 2020 are rough, but they wreaked havoc in the process. The line averaged three sacks a game and had 31 tackles for loss via various players. They return a number of talented players up front like super senior DE Alvin Peah, young sophomore DT Viczaril Alobwede, and junior DT Taishan Holmes all of whom will cause issues. The back end is a versatile group, making their presence known in the secondary and at the line of scrimmage. They just need to cause more turnovers. The weakest point for the defense will be the linebacker position. It is there that they lost two starters and leading tacklers after last season.

Looking at their schedule, UMass should be better than their last two season. If their incoming recruits take shape and the returners continue to improve, this team could win at least four games and gain some much needed momentum as a program.

Offensive Player To Watch – Senior RB Ellis Merriweather

The JUCO transfer didn’t produce like he’s capable of in 2020. He was the team’s leading rusher with 115 yards though and is set to be the lead back this season. With better production from the line and a full season, Merriweather should have a better year.

Defensive Player To Watch –  Sophomore S Tanner Davis

There are a number of defensive players we could have highlighted here, but Davis’ ability to play in coverage and at the line of scrimmage makes him an interesting match-up against Liberty QB Malik Willis. In just four games, Davis had an impressive stat line: 24 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, a few quarterback hurries, and even a blocked punt. Two of his career highs actually came against the Flames with 8 tackles and 2 tackles for loss.