In the preseason, the UMass Minutemen were the dark horse pick to win a MAC East that has been perceived as weak over the past decade or so.
It would certainly be a fitting way to leave the MAC and move on to greener pastures as an FBS Independent, with sights set on joining the American Athletic Conference (whether as a football-only or a full member). As a matter of fact, some even believed that UMass would win the MAC.
That prediction made a bit of sense, even if it was a bit of a stretch. Although UMass lost stud tight end Jean Sifrin to the NFL, there were still building blocks in place to take that much-needed next step for a mid-major. For one, Blake Frohnaphel was a candidate for multiple awards, including the Davey O’Brian Award and the Manning Award.
In the previous season, Frohnaphel threw for 3.345 yards and 23 touchdowns on the way to being selected to the first-team all-MAC quarterback. Marcen Michel, Rodney Mills, Tajae Sharpe, and Shadrack Abrokwah were also returning to the lineup as volatile offensive weapons for the already dangerous Massachusetts offense. The defense looked poised to make vast developments as well, with Randall Jette, Khary Bailey-Smith, and Trey Dudley-Giles coming back into the fold to wreak havoc on MAC offenses everywhere.
However, nothing has gone to plan for the Minutemen this season, and a 15-10 loss to the Kent State Golden Flashes acted as a metaphor for the entire season; they beat themselves, and found a new way to do it.
Blake Frohnaphel looked overwhelmed and helpless as he passed for a paltry 171 yards and an interception, completing only 17 of 33 passes. Frohnaphel also scored a safety that would all but seal the game for Kent State when he stepped out of bounds trying to throw the ball away. As a whole, the offense scored zero points in the second half, and were outgained by Kent State both in yards (327-257), and time of possession (36:23-27:37).
Last season, Frohnaphel was one of the nation’s most efficient quarterbacks, averaging 334.5 yards per game, good enough for fourth in the nation. Frohnaphel was also the ninth-best quarterback in the nation with 24.1 completions per game. This season has been a whole different story, as Frohnaphel has averaged only 299 yards per game; 288 yards if rushing yards are counted.
The running back situation hasn’t solidified as anticipated either, with Abrokwah having handling issues, and a combination of Marquis Young, Lorenzo Woodley and Sekai Lindsey unable to wrangle away the RB1 spot. The results have shown on the field, as Massachusetts posts the 124th-ranked running attack in the nation, averaging a little over 100 yards over six games in the young season, scoring a total of four rushing touchdowns, averaging 3.7 yards per attempt.
Massachusetts has been an also-ran on defense this season as well, sporting the nation’s 104th-ranked defense, giving up an average of 522 yards per game and 42.7 points per game, abysmal numbers no matter how you slice them. It isn’t as if UMass just gives up a lot of rushes or a lot of passes; the balance is an effort one (283.4 passing yards to 238.6 rushing yards), and it has the propensity for giving up the big play at not only inopportune times, but every other time period imaginable.
There hasn’t really been a lot of criticism brought Mark Whipple’s way about the performance of UMass, perhaps because of his previous history with the program back in their FCS golden era. But at 1-5 overall and 0-2 in the MAC schedule, UMass has more questions than answers to face at the moment. Massachusetts has been in the midst of their FBS transition for the better part of three years and only have six wins to show for it. With a move to independence looming, UMass will have to show some results and quick. If UMass continues to have such poor showings, there are certain to be ramifications. For one, it will be difficult to bring in recruits and compete for bowl games as an at-large. Not being able to put a good product on the field could also prevent UMass from gaining a conference alignment that they desperately want as well is certainly the biggest ramification.
A Homecoming loss definitely puts a damper on an already deflating season, and the road does not get easier from here. Massachusetts next hosts a ranked Toledo team that is out for blood after Boise State lost and Memphis won in this week’s action for the automatic G5 bowl spot. For Massachusetts to have a chance at success, they are going to have to find their mojo.