UMass looks ahead to 2015, for better or for worse

By Mark Chiarelli

Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian
Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

In the aftermath of the Massachusetts football team’s season-ending 41-21 to Buffalo, UMass coach Mark Whipple evaluated the future of the program with caution.

The Minutemen’s loss — its second blowout loss in as many weeks following a 30-6 loss to Akron — put a damper on the overall improvement in 2014, despite UMass winning a program-high three FBS games this season and featuring a prolific offense.

“No question,” Whipple said when asked if it took the shine off the entire season.

“That wasn’t the same group and we’ve got to figure out why. Maybe with the first week, it was because we had only six days and we were at Akron. But we were back home and had a lot of time. There was no juice. So I’ve got to figure it out.”

Whipple said the team didn’t have an answer to Buffalo defensively and couldn’t get off the field. He cited a lack of 1-on-1 success and that the final two weeks were a clear indication the program wasn’t yet strong enough to compete at the highest level of the Mid-American Conference.

Yet his plan moving forward was clear. So clear, in fact, that he spelled it out for members of the media.

“R-E-C-R-U-I-T,” Whipple said following the game. “We certainly don’t have enough talent. Not even close. So that’s priority No. 1.”

Whipple said he wasn’t sure how close the team actually was, because its performance varied against certain opponents despite similar levels of preparation.

“I don’t know, it depends which week it is,” Whipple said.

“That’s the frustrating part. Even though we didn’t win, we were prepared at Toledo and we were against Ball State. Maybe it was the time, but I don’t understand, because those were short weeks and long weeks. We’ve got to look into it. I thought they would be prepared to play. But when you do things in the first quarter that you didn’t in practice – line up wrong, blow coverages – something is not right. So we’ve got to dig down deep.”

If it was up to UMass linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox, the digging would start tomorrow. The junior linebacker said he’s anxious to get back to next season, and believes the Minutemen have potential be a dangerous team next season.

“For me, I’m going into my senior year,” Santos-Knox said. “I’m starting tomorrow … if you were in that locker room you know we’re going to start tomorrow. We’re not going to give us any time to let this one hang around, we’re mad at ourselves.”

UMass only has five players graduating. The majority of the core is returning and plans to build on the glimpses of success it saw this season.

“I don’t think anyone is concerned,” UMass quarterback Austin Whipple, who replaced injured starter Blake Frohnapfel, said. “I think we are heading in the right direction … We have a lot of guys coming back. Whenever you have a guy like Frohnapfel coming back, your leading receiver essentially coming back, I like there is a lot to look forward to. I don’t think anyone is losing hope in the locker room. I think everyone’s looking forward to getting in the weight room.”

The Minutemen played their final two games of the season without Frohnapfel, who suffered a right leg injury against Ball State on Nov. 12. The team struggled in the two subsequent blowout losses, but Frohnapfel will return next season and is expected to return a majority of the same players featured in the offense this season.

According to Santos-Knox, the team is learning how to be successful when it faces adversity, such as losing Frohnapfel.

“I think it just opens a lot of eyes and shows us that we need to become a complete team if we want to win,” Santos-Knox said. “You can’t just depend on one player. It hurt us, we were down, that’s our leader, our captain, our everything. When he went down it kind of shocked us, but you can’t use that as an excuse.”

UMass returns an exciting core group of players and has plenty of reasons to be optimistic about 2015. But according to Whipple, there’s still areas to improve and a lot of ground to cover. And he plans to address all of them.

“Obviously, we’re not good enough,” Whipple said. “If you can’t get it done, we’ve got to find somebody else. That’s what we’ve got to do.”

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