UMass football set for season opener against Colorado following week one bye

By Anthony Chiusano

Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian
(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

For 124 of the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams around the nation, last weekend marked the start of a new season and the first step toward reaching winter’s much-anticipated bowl season.

While two additional teams were delayed in joining the party due to inclement weather that caused a cancellation, the two remaining Division I programs – North Texas and Massachusetts – sat back and watched idly as part of the unique situation that comes with having a week one bye.

Now in week two of the college football season, UMass is preparing itself for its season opener against a familiar foe that handed the Minutemen their first of what became a string of frustrating defeats in 2014.

UMass travels to Boulder, Colorado, Saturday, Sept. 12 to face Colorado (0-1) in a rematch of last year’s 41-38 shootout at Gillette Stadium that saw the Buffs prevail behind an outburst of 21 unanswered points in the third quarter to overcome a late 11-point deficit.

According to starting quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, the loss is still fresh in the Minutemen’s minds and serves as extra motivation in preparation for the opener.

“We went toe-to-toe with them (last year),” Frohnapfel said after last Tuesday’s practice. “Having a chance to face them again, we know that’s a game we can win.”

Unlike UMass, Colorado opened its season last Friday at 12:59 a.m. Eastern Standard Time in Hawaii. Down by eight points while driving in the red zone in the final 10 seconds of regulation, the Buffs’ comeback attempt was abruptly ended when they couldn’t get a play off in time due to a referee mishap in lining the ball up at the line of scrimmage.

Tight end Rodney Mills was one of the Minutemen who stayed up to watch the entirety of the Buffs’ early-morning opener with the Rainbow Warriors. The biggest takeaway from the game, according to him, was the importance of playing at a fast tempo against Colorado.

“We’re just looking to come out and play with more energy than they had. It didn’t really look like they had a lot of energy so we want to come out and focus on playing fast, getting to the line fast and just having a good tempo about us,” Mills said.

He added: “Tempo was something that hurt them. They wasted two timeouts early in the game because they couldn’t get lined up. Had they not wasted those timeouts they might’ve been able to put themselves in position at the end to get a play off. But their tempo actually backfired. We’re hoping to capitalize on that and not make the same mistakes they did.”

However, Frohnapfel said he expects the Buffs to enter Saturday’s game with a similar level of increased energy coming off last week’s disappointment.

“That was a tough one for them and you kind of feel for them a little bit. Plus it’s their home opener and they’ll be real energized,” Frohnapfel said Monday. “They’ll definitely be ready to go.”

The Buffs return an experienced offensive corps from last season led by junior quarterback Sefo Liufau and senior wide receiver Nelson Spruce. In last September’s matchup with the Minutemen, Liufau finished with 318 yards passing and three touchdowns while Spruce beat UMass’ secondary for 10 receptions, 145 yards and two touchdowns.

“(Spruce) is definitely a great receiver, one of the best in the country as his numbers proved last year,” UMass wide receiver Tajae Sharpe said. “But we have a guy named (cornerback) Randall Jette who I think is going to give him a tough time. Our defense is prepared for the task so we’re just going to have to wait and see how it plays out Saturday.”

Coming off a 2014 season in which he caught 85 passes, Sharpe is the Minutemen’s top target at wideout and will predictably receive added attention from the Buffs’ defense with the absence of former UMass tight end Jean Sifrin, who burst onto the scene against the same Colorado team last year.

However, Sharpe said he isn’t worried about the extra attention.

“Coach (Mark) Whipple is a great offensive-minded coach and he’s going to have a plan no matter what they do,” Sharpe said. “Me and Froh are going to be on the same page, so no matter what they do, we just have to adjust to it during the game.”

Saturday’s game is set for a 2 p.m. start. Despite last year’s close contest between the two teams, UMass is listed as 13-point underdogs heading into the weekend.

“In the four years I’ve been here, we’ve been underdogs in almost every game I can imagine,” Mills said. “So it’s nothing new but it definitely gives us another chance to come out and prove that we’re a good team and a better team than we were before.”

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