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

Despite a winless start, positivity remains high for UMass football

(Alec Zabrecky/Daily Collegian)
(Alec Zabrecky/Daily Collegian)

Linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox summed up the 2014 season for the Massachusetts football team perfectly, with one word: “Frustrating.”

The Minutemen are winless on the season and have blown double-digit second half leads on three separate occasions. In its game against Bowling Green, UMass lost a fumble that stopped it dead in its tracks in what could have been a game-winning drive.

The Minutemen are realistically 16 points away from being 4-2, and would have needed only two wins in its final six games to become bowl eligible. Instead, they’ll need to win every remaining game to have a shot at the first Division I bowl game in program history. It’s not impossible – the combined record of the six teams left on UMass’s schedule is 12-20 – but it’s unlikely.

“Every week we come back to practice and feel like we let the last one go,” Santos-Knox said. “We are a play away from having a completely different record, and it’s frustrating because we know how good we can be.”

When looking at the body language and attitude of UMass, you wouldn’t know this was an 0-6 team. Whether it’s joking around with teammates after practice or eating together in the dining halls, the Minutemen are a close-knit group that responds to the environment coach Mark Whipple has brought to the team.

“I really like these guys,” Whipple said. “I’ve had teams that have won a lot more games and haven’t had as much run as these guys.”

“This is the best team I’ve ever been around and this is the best locker room I’ve ever been around. We have some tough individuals. Our motto this year has been tough times don’t last, but tough people do,” Santos-Knox said.

Running game on the rise

There’s no hiding UMass’ tendency on offense. Whipple and the Minutemen love to throw the football. Of its 435 offensive plays this season, UMass has passed the ball 251 times, compared to 184 rushing attempts. Although Frohnapfel has carried the offense at times, the return of running back Shadrach Abrokwah has already helped the balance of the offensive attack.

Early in the season, Whipple said that Abrokwah was the team’s best back. Abrokwah missed the first four games of the season with a non-football, non-disciplinary suspension, but has shined since his return. In Abrokwah’s first game back against Bowling Green, he scored a touchdown. In last Saturday’s game against Miami (OH), he totaled 128 rushing yards – the most by any UMass player this season.

“After the first two weeks, I was out of shape a little bit,” Abrokwah said. “Coach has gotten me back in shape these past two weeks. I had my hands on my hips a couple times gasping for air, but I’m back in the swing of things, and I feel great on the field.”

“We really saw a big difference from week one to week two,” Whipple said of Abrokwah’s play.

Kicking battle still uncertain

So far this season, kicking duties have been split between junior Blake Lucas and freshman Matt Wylie. After Tuesday, it seems a third player is in the mix. Redshirt freshman Logan Laurent took reps with the first team field goal unit at Tuesday’s practice.

Laurent is the currently the backup punter for the Minutemen, behind starter Brian McDonald. He competed throughout training camp with McDonald for the starting punting job.

Wylie suffered an injury to his non-kicking foot prior to the game against Bowling Green and Whipple said that he was taking a longer look at Laurent to see what he could do. Laurent has prior kicking experience in high school, something Whipple was informed of at the beginning of the season.

As for who the number one kicker on the depth chart will be on Saturday against Kent State, Whipple said he was going to take it day by day to see who was the best option.

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

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