Massachusetts Minutemen at Rutgers
When: 7:15 PM ET, Friday, August 30, 2019
Where: HighPoint.com Stadium, Piscataway, New Jersey
preview for Digital Sports Desk by Gracenote
PISCATAWAY – With nowhere to go but up, Rutgers seems prepared to put the ball back into the hands of Artur Sitkowski when it kicks off its season tonight against visiting Massachusetts. Sitkowski endured a nightmare season as a freshman for the Scarlet Knights but has a chance to get off to a strong start against the weak defense of the Minutemen.
Rutgers coach Chris Ash, who is 7-29 in three seasons with the Scarlet Knights – 3-24 in the Big Ten, hasn’t officially named his starting quarterback but Sitkowski was the first to work in practice Aug. 20, which suggests he has all but beaten out Texas Tech transfer McLane Carter. The 6-5, 230-pound Sitkowski, who offers nothing in terms of running the ball, struggled in every area in his first season, completing less than 50 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and an FBS-worst 18 interceptions.
UMass will have its third coach since moving to the FBS ranks in 2014 in Walt Bell, a 35-year-old former offensive coordinator at Maryland and Florida State. Bell inherits a program that lost All-American wide receiver Andy Isabella, quarterbacks Ross Comis and Andrew Ford, leading rusher Marquise Young and five of its top six playmakers from a defense that surrendered 42.9 points per game – fourth-worst in the nation.
TV: 7:15 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network. LINE: Rutgers -15.5
ABOUT UMASS (2018: 4-8): The replacement for Comis and Ford will be one of three players and Bell is in no hurry to name the starter. Michael Curtis, a senior who played well in limited action for the Minutemen last season, has the upper hand, but is being pushed by pair of newcomers from New Jersey in Andrew Brito and Randall West. “We’re in no rush to announce,” Bell told the media. “The No. 1 rule in decision making is to use all the time allotted. Do I see a little separation? Yeah. Is there so much we gotta say, this guy is cut and dry No. 1. Not yet.”
ABOUT RUTGERS (2018: 1-11): The return of Raheem Blackshear and Isaih Pacheco should have the Scarlet Knights positioned for success when they elect to run the ball, something it did roughly 55 percent of the time last season. Blackshear, a junior, led the team in rushing and receiving last season and he and Pacheco combined for more than 1,000 yards on the ground. “The offseason went really well. I put on a lot of muscle. I got faster,” Blackshear, who has 1,842 all-purpose yards in two seasons, including more than 500 yards in rushing, receiving and returns, told the media. “I really worked on catching the ball and on screens both out of the backfield and as a wide receiver.”
- Senior Damon Hayes, who had 48 tackles and a team-high 10 pass breakups in 2017, is back at cornerback after playing safety last season for Rutgers.
- Senior Sadiq Palmer, who has averaged 14.4 yards per catch in his career, is the top returning receiver for UMass with 72 receptions, 1,037 yards and four touchdowns in three seasons.
- Rutgers ranked last nationally in scoring (13.5 points per game), and last in the Big Ten in total offense (266.3 yards) and first downs (15.2) last season.