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Although the Minutemen finished above .500, the 2008 season can be looked at as a disappointment, finishing at 7-5. UMass hopes to start the 2009 campaign with a clean slate, which involves a new starting quarterback and a new head coach. UMass promoted offensive coordinator, Kevin Morris, to Head Coach once Don Brown left for the defensive coordinator position at Maryland. A team usually known for its defense should continue to improve with the offensive minded Morris.
Although there is still no decision on who will be starting under center when the Minutemen open their season at Kansas State, there are a handful of hopefuls who will be vying for the starting job. Kyle Havens, Octavious Hawkins, Scott Wallace, Spencer Whipple, and Scott Woodward are all in competition. Woodward is a red shirt Senior who knows the system the best of all the players and who has a strong arm and has the ability to scramble.
Whipple and Wallace are both red shirt sophomore. Wallace was third string last year behind Liam Coen and Woodward and has shown signs of improvement this spring. Whipple, the son of former UMass coach Mark Whipple, is a transfer from Pittsburgh and brings with him great knowledge of the game. Hawkins is arguably the best true athlete in the group and UMass actually experimented with him at different positions last year, but he will return to the quarterback position this year. Havens, a junior college transfer, enters as a junior and might have a slight edge in the race as he is intelligent, can manage the game, and is able to throw on the run.
There is no surprise that Tony Nelson will again be the leading running back for the Minutemen. He had a true breakout year last season as he earned a spot on the CAA All-Conference First Team and was ranked third in the CAA averaging 110.4 yards per game. As long as Nelson can stay healthy, he will continue to be very dangerous in the backfield for UMass. Coach Morris also mentioned that they will be trying to plug in a couple of the young guys during the season too.
The wide receiver position should be filled with a lot of experience, talent, and leadership. Victor Cruz, Jeremy Horne, Julian Talley, and Joe Sanford make up the tough group. Cruz enters this season as the leading receiver out of the group. He was a First Team CAA All-Conference player last year and led the Minutemen with 71 catches and 1,064 yards to go along with six touchdowns. Horne, a transfer from Syracuse, carries the most playing experience out of the group and was an All-CAA Third Team receiver last season where he caught 50 passes for 895 yards and eight touchdowns. Horne is also able to return kicks with his excellent speed and quickness.
Talley, the youngest of the four, will be looked upon to have a breakout season as a redshirt sophomore. Finally, Sanford will be more of a role receiver as he brings a lot of intelligence to the position since he is a former quarterback. With the loss of Ian Jorgensen, Matt Silver, Andrew Krevis, and Emil Igwenagu will be featured at the Tight End position.
The Minutemen return three starters on the offensive line in Vladimir Ducasse, Rob Getek, and Josh Samuda. Samuda started in 11 out of the 12 games last season and will be on the left side with All-American Ducasse. Getek, who made a significant improvement last year at right tackle after moving from tight end, will bring a lot of experience to the already solid line. The newcomers to the line will be Brian Ostaszewski, Brandon Flanagan, and Justin Sawicki. Ostaszewski should be contributing either at right guard or tackle and after contributing a decent amount last season, should be ready to be a regular starter. Flanagan and Sawicki will be fighting for the fifth position on the line. Flanagan is a transfer from Buffalo who did not play in any games last season and Sawicki has been improving and hopes to see significant playing time this season.
Once UMass gets their quarterback situation figured out, the rest of the offense will fall into place. A group that has a good amount of experience and intelligence with an offensive minded head coach pulling the strings could spell out disaster for opposing defenses this season.