UMass football prepares for Temple’s strong defense, prolific pass rush

By Anthony Chiusano

Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian
Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian

Two weeks ago, Temple made waves in college football’s opening weekend with a 27-10 upset victory over Penn State, marking the Owls’ first win over their Big 10 opponent and in-state rival since 1941.

The play of Temple’s defensive line highlighted its victory, as the Owls (2-0) finished with 10 sacks on NFL prospect and Nittany Lions starting quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

Entering week three, the Massachusetts football team now has a shot at upsetting the Owls, who were the first team left out of the AP top 25 polls, and to rebound from a disappointing 48-14 loss to Colorado in its season opener.

“They’re the best team we’ve played since I’ve been here,” UMass coach Mark Whipple said. “They don’t have a weakness and they have great leadership. Their guys play hard and they should be ranked higher than they are.”

The Minutemen (0-1) allowed three sacks for 15 yards in their road game against the Buffs. According to offensive lineman Tyrell Smith, UMass will need to limit these numbers against Temple’s prolific pass rush.

Smith said the offensive line’s main focus heading into the matchup is to eliminate any minor mental mistakes from last week in terms of protections and other responsibilities. He added that the Minutemen’s offensive line is embracing the challenge of limiting Temple’s pressure on UMass quarterback Blake Frohnapfel.

“Everybody is going to be expecting great things from Temple, so I wouldn’t say it’s a pride thing. It’s more of a challenge for us,” Smith said. “We’ll see if we can step up for the task.”

Frohnapfel said he feels confident behind his line despite being impressed with the Owls’ experience on defense and proven ability to get to the quarterback. He added he’s not afraid to take a hit – in fact, he said he embraces the opportunity.

“I always say part of getting hit is that you feel more like a football player and not just a quarterback being back there kind of doing 7-on-7 sort of stuff,” Frohnapfel said. “You get hit once and you feel like an athlete now.”

But in order to ensure Frohnapfel stands upright for the majority of UMass’ offensive series, Whipple said he plans on continuing to use a rotation of players on the offensive line.

While the group of Smith, Fabian Hoeller, Matt Sparks, Michael Boland and Elijah Wilkinson appear as the starters on the Minutemen’s depth chart, Tyson Henderson, Lukas Kolter and Josh Bruns all earned reps in Saturday’s season opener.

Whipple said the rotation’s purpose is to keep the unit fresh to avoid injuries like last season. He added that with the combination of playing on Gillette Stadium’s turf and with the temperature expected to reach the 80s this weekend, the rotation will prove especially crucial.

Smith said he is in favor of the rotation, citing his own problems at times last year with cramping.

“I feel like what we have going is a good rotation that’ll keep guys fresh so we can play four-quarter games and know that no one is wearing down,” Smith said. “I know I had problems with cramping last year and a couple of other guys, so coach Whipple knows what he’s doing.”

While the offensive line figures to play a key role in trying to stop Temple’s pass rush, Whipple noted that the Owls are balanced throughout its whole defensive unit. While Temple only recorded one sack in last Saturday’s victory over Cincinnati, the Owls picked off Bearcats quarterback Gunner Kiel four times.

“You always want protection. But [Temple] can play coverage, they can do a lot of different things,” Whipple said. “We have to be on point on offense.”

UMass hosts Temple for its home opener at Gillette Stadium Saturday at 3 p.m.

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24.