UMass Northwestern Football

UMass head coach Walt Bell has yet to commit to a starting quarterback for Saturday’s season-opener against Georgia Southern.

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There are three names at the quarterback position on the University of Massachusetts football depth chart. As of midweek, head coach Walt Bell isn’t ready to publicly commit to one.

“There’ll be a guy out there when we take the first snap,” Bell said.

But when pressed on the topic, the second-year coach laughed and told a reporter, “I’m not giving you anything.”

The Minutemen will continue to practice before leaving on a charter for Georgia.

“Our kids have been unbelievable since really the announcement” about playing football, Bell said. “We had a great bunch of practices last week. We practiced Friday and Saturday to get a head start [on Georgia Southern]. Had Monday off, and today was Toughman Tuesday. It was a good long, hard, physical day. The kids were unbelievable. We have to make sure we use every moment allowable until the foot hits the ball.”

Whoever takes that first snap on Saturday at Georgia Southern, that quarterback will be making his first collegiate start. The three quarterbacks listed on the first depth chart of the season were, in the order they were published, redshirt senior Mike Fallon, redshirt sophomore Josiah Johnson and freshman Will Koch.

Redshirt junior Andrew Brito, who played in nine games and started six last year, is not listed among the quarterbacks at the top of the depth chart.

Of the three quarterbacks listed, only Fallon has taken snaps in a regular-season game for the Minutemen, who were 1-11 last year. Fallon appeared in one game last year, going 2 for 2 for 40 yards. Ironically, one of those completions went for 34 yards to Johnson, who was a backup tight end in 2019.

Fallon entered the game in the third quarter of UMass’ 37-29 win over Akron, the Minutemen’s lone win in 12 games during the 2019 season. He drove UMass 49 yards in seven plays, leading to a field goal early in the fourth quarter. In all, Fallon was the quarterback for 20 plays, 17 of them in the fourth quarter.

Johnson appeared in all 12 games last year, and caught 12 passes for 139 yards, averaging 11.6 yards per catch. He caught two touchdown passes. Johnson was recruited by former UMass coach Mark Whipple as a quarterback.

The third quarterback is Koch, who was part of Bell’s most recent recruiting class. Koch played at Niceville (Fla.) High School. He threw for more than 1,700 yards and 18 touchdowns. Niceville was the fifth-ranked team in Florida’s Division 7-A, the division made up of the second largest group of schools.

“I think the biggest thing with Fallon is that we’ve only had 14 days to prepare. Today was practice 15 in 18 or 19 days,” Bell said on a Zoom call with reporters after Tuesday’s practice. “He’s an older, veteran guy who’s been around and can operate at the line of scrimmage. Obviously Josiah is a big, great athlete [6-foot-5, 235 pounds]. He’s really improved as a quarterback. Knowing it’s his second year in the system. Will Koch, is an unbelievable athlete. He was a 10.8 [100-yard dash] in high school and can really run. He’s still developing as a quarterback. He’s basically operating on 14 practices.

“All three of them have something to give and we’re excited for whoever gets a chance to play.”

What will a game plan look like with three quarterbacks who have played 20 snaps between the three of them at quarterback?

“As much as you can through 18 practices,” Bell said, when asked how deep into the playbook he and offensive coordinator Angelo Mirando could go. “I’m excited to see those guys play. Hopefully, the 10 other guys around them, especially since we have improved physically, will take some of the burden off that guy and let him play winning football.”

This was somewhat similar to the walk-up prior to the 2019 season opener at Rutgers. Last year, Bell made the announcement that Randall West had beaten Brito and Michael Curtis out for the starting job the Tuesday of the Rutgers game.

“Whatever it takes for us to have success,” the second-year UMass coach said, when asked if he might go with multiple quarterbacks. “If it’s one guy, it’ll be it. If it’s two guys, it’ll be it. If it’s three guys, it’ll be it.”

While there will be one more media availability on Wednesday, it did not sound like Bell was ready to tip his hand until perhaps the Minutemen were on the airplane, bound for South Georgia.

“We’re going to do everything we can. We’re going to prepare until the toe hits the ball. We’re going to have a choice made later in the week, but as of right now, we’re putting the plan together and making sure we can look as clean as possible on game day.”

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6253. On Twitter:

@howardherman

Sportswriter-Columnist

Howard Herman is a sports columnist at The Berkshire Eagle. The dean of full-time sportswriters in Western Mass., he has been with the Eagle since 1988, and is a member of the New England Baseball and Basketball Hall of Fame.


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