Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass must learn how to travel, deal with success

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)
(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

When Massachusetts football coach Mark Whipple looked out into rows of media following his team’s 41-38 loss to Colorado on Saturday, he solemnly noted his team doesn’t understand how to handle success.

The Minutemen allowed an 11-point lead to evaporate in the third quarter en route to their second loss of the season. They failed to capitalize on a wave of momentum early in the second half and ultimately walked away with their 24th loss of the FBS era.

It was another learning experience for a youthful UMass squad, which must now turn the page to its week three opponent, Vanderbilt.

“We finally got ahead of somebody and it was a new experience for our team,” Whipple said during his Monday teleconference. “They didn’t handle being ahead by 11 points very well. Hopefully we’ll get another chance to do that again down the road.”

UMass travels a rocky road to begin the season, and this week’s matchup against the Commodores is no different. The Minutemen are power conference battle tested – Colorado is a member of the Pac-12 while week one opponent Boston College is a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference – and will now try to take a chunk out of the Southeastern Conference.

“We proved we can’t play in the ACC and proved we can’t play in the Pac-12,” Whipple said. “So we’ll see if we can make a dent in the SEC this weekend.”

Vanderbilt is a team that UMass almost dented in 2013. The Minutemen faced a similarly arduous out-of-conference schedule to start last season and hosted the Commodores at Gillette Stadium.

UMass trailed just 10-7 after three quarters and played stingy defense against Vanderbilt, debuting a 4-3 base defense which caught the Commodores by surprise. The Minutemen eventually lost 24-7 – they gave up the final 17 points of the game – but walked away with a renewed confidence in what was one of the most impressive performances of the season.

Now, UMass faces a Vanderbilt squad which is also 0-2 and has scored just 10 points this season.

“I thought the guys last (year), they competed and played well,” Whipple said. “Some of our guys have been to Vanderbilt, so maybe that’s one thing that’s a plus.”

Whipple was quick to point out that both teams have endured major change – former Commodores coach James Franklin left for a job at Penn State while UMass has a new coaching staff and brand new offensive and defense schemes – and the focus was more internal than prior performances.

“We’re just more concerned about our guys,” he said. “We’re still correcting a lot of the mistakes (from the Colorado game). … We have nine or 10 guys running the defense right, running the offense right. We’re working on getting 11 guys.”

One of the stronger facets of Vanderbilt’s – and any team in the SEC’s – game is the speed. It’s an uptick in skill and ability over the Minutemen’s first two opponents.

“Vanderbilt’s more talented than the last two teams we’ve played,” Whipple said. “They’ve got people who can make plays and their running backs are really, really special…what I see on tape is that they’re going in the right direction. Maybe we’re lucky to play them earlier instead of later in the year.”

The college football season is still in self-evaluation mode after two games. That’s no different with the Minutemen, who have yet to travel on the road and are still learning on both sides of the ball. The offense jumped from scoring just seven points in the opener to 38 this past Saturday and there’s a general feeling of improvement across all facets of UMass’ game.

Now, the Minutemen prepare to go on the road for the first time as the team searches for more consistent success. And for a young team, that can be a challenge.

“I’m more concerned about our guys,” Whipple said. “We’ve been on the road with a two-hour bus ride, but this team has never been on a plane, half these kids. That’s more of my concern.”

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.

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