UMass football blown out in all phases against Penn State

By Andrew Cyr

Cade Belisle/ Daily Collegian
Cade Belisle/ Daily Collegian

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – The Massachusetts football team’s defense opened the game on a three-and-out, and on the following drive, quarterback Blake Frohnapfel marched the Minutemen into field goal range.

That was UMass’ last possible chance to pull off a miracle in Happy Valley.
Matt Wylie’s first career kick sailed wide left from 39 yards out and that’s when things went downhill for the Minutemen.

Wylie took over kicking duties from Blake Lucas after Lucas missed the game-tying field goal against Vanderbilt a week ago from 22 yards out.

Special teams, however, was the least of UMass’ concerns. The Minutemen were dominated in all three phases of the game in their 48-7 loss to Penn State on Saturday afternoon.

“This was certainly our worst day,” UMass coach Mark Whipple said. “We played scared and frightened from the first snap. We couldn’t have beaten their (junior varsity) today.”

Future NFL quarterback Christian Hackenberg exploited the UMass defense by finding holes in the secondary. He finished 12-for-23 for 179 yards. Although his numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page, it was the intangibles that stood out the most.

Despite getting off to a rocky start missing open receivers, the quarterback showed incredible pocket awareness and ability to read the variety coverages thrown at him.

Penn State’s rushing attack struggled entering Saturday’s game with only two rushing touchdowns for the year. The Nittany lions combined for 228 rushing yards Saturday with five touchdowns, three of which came from their “wildcat” package.

Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak each finished with a pair of touchdown runs. Akeel Lunch led all Penn State rushers with 81 yards and added a touchdown of his own.

“We knew they were going to come out and try to run the ball,” Jovan Santos-Knox said. “They just outplayed us today.”

Santos-Knox entered the game as the leading tackler in the FBS. On Saturday, he finished with just one total tackle.

The biggest concern for UMass was its inability to run the football. The Minutemen finished with a measly three yards on 28 carries. Receiver Alex Kenney – a transfer from Penn State – led the Minutemen in rushing yards (22) on two end-around carries, both of which came on the first play the offense was on the field in each half.

UMass was held scoreless until 13 seconds into the fourth quarter when Frohnapfel hit Tajae Sharpe going down the seam for a 77-yard touchdown reception, preventing a shutout.

“For us we expect to go into every game to win, that’s something every week we prepare to do,” Frohnapfel said. “There are no moral victories, there are improvements here and there for offense and defense, but we’re still 0-4 and there’s nothing we can take back from that.”

“We know we are a good team. … We expect to win every game here,” Santos-Knox said. “This is a changed program 100 percent. We don’t just try to stay in the game anymore, we expect to win.”

Perhaps the “we stayed in the game” approach would have been enough for UMass in the last two seasons. But after blowing back-to-back double-digit leads in the second half, this team can’t be pleased with the way it’s played thus far.

Despite being outplayed on offense, defense and special teams, one of the few bright spots was Marken Michel, who finished with 104 receiving yards on six receptions. Michel was also used in a variety of ways for Whipple’s offense, lining up in the backfield as the running back. He took three handoffs and caught a pair of screens.

Even that wasn’t enough to ease the pain of Saturday’s letdown.

“Personally the numbers don’t matter to me, the only numbers that count are the ones on the scoreboard.”

Andrew Cyr can be reached at [email protected], and can be followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.