UMass quarterback Austin Whipple continues to work with starters in Frohnapfel’s absence

By Mark Chiarelli

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts football team is playing coy in terms of the health of starting quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, but if Frohnapfel cannot play Tuesday against Akron, it’s certain that Austin Whipple will assume his duties as signal-caller.

Frohnapfel left Wednesday’s 24-10 victory over Ball State with a right leg injury and was later carted off the sideline. The redshirt freshman Whipple worked as the first-team quarterback throughout this week at practice in his absence.

UMass coach Mark Whipple said Friday the team is “holding out hope” that Frohnapfel can play on what is being called a bone bruise in his right leg, but Austin is preparing in the case his number is called.

“(We) still don’t know what his status is,” Austin said after Friday’s practice. “Blake’s looking a lot better. I’m just taking the one reps right now and I’ll prepare like I’m the starter and go from there.”

Whipple continued to work with the starters Saturday and Frohnapfel was not seen at practice. Mark Whipple said Saturday that Frohnapfel would make the trip to Akron on Tuesday, but also noted that he’d expect him to make any trip because of his role as the captain on the team.

His son, Austin, relieved Frohnapfel against Ball State but didn’t throw a pass. He transferred to UMass from Penn State prior to the start of the season and also made brief appearances this season against Boston College and Kent State. After Friday’s practice, he said that his last live pass in a game setting was two years ago at Salisbury Prep School in a championship game against Philips Exeter.

Despite the lack of game experience, it won’t be nerves that Whipple expects to contend with on Tuesday. Instead, he said expects to be anxious to get on the field.

It’s an opportunity he’s relishing.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity if it comes up,” Whipple said. “I’m preparing for this, but don’t expect this any sense. Blake’s really tough and (been) really good all year. If it happens, I’ll be ready for it. But I’ll just keep practicing and get ready for it just in case.”

Mark Whipple displayed relatively tempered expectations, but did acknowledge this is something the team’s prepared for throughout the season, especially when Frohnapfel missed time during the team’s 17-day layoff to rest nagging injuries.

“(Austin’s) alright, he’s not (Frohnapfel),” Whipple said. “It’d be his first game really throwing. He’s been around, so he’s done well. We’ve worked it in as we’ve gone, it’s not like all of a sudden it’s his first rep here. When (Frohnapfel) was injured a little bit, he got some reps.”

Working in Austin Whipple’s favor is that he’s both close friends with Frohnapfel, and surrounded by talented weapons.

“He’s still expecting to get healed and be ready to play and stuff, but (Frohnapfel) is great with that,” Austin Whipple said of Frohnapfel’s ability to work with him off the field.

“His preparation is unreal,” Whipple continued. “I’ve never really seen anything like that off the field.”

The Minutemen also field talented options at receiver and tight end. UMass receiver Tajae Sharpe entered Saturday with 1,204 receiving yards this season, the fourth-highest in the country. Jean Sifrin’s pacing the country in terms of tight end production, as his 598 yards currently leads all Division I tight ends.
Whipple said he’s spent considerable time building chemistry with the two pass-catchers.

“Those guys are so good that you just kind of get it in the near vicinity of them and they go up and get it,” Whipple said. “It helps a lot. We were working on timing today.”

In the event he starts, Whipple will also need to contend with an Akron defense that his father said is the most talented defense within the conference that the Minutemen will face all season. UMass is planning to tailor the gameplan to fit Austin’s skillset — expect shorter passing and a reliance on the running game — to neutralize the zips.

“The biggest issue is not so much Austin, it’s Akron’s defense,” Mark Whipple said. “It’s as good and as talented as anyone we’ve played since Penn state. It’s good, it’s fast, they have all Division I-A guys that transferred in. We have to be balanced, we can’t be one way or the other.”

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