Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Marken Michel turning into reliable secondary option for UMass football

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Alec Zabrecky/Daily Collegian

Alec Zabrecky/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts football team has grown accustomed to seeing senior wide receiver Tajae Sharpe post exceptional numbers while breaking numerous team records along the way.

While this trend continued last Saturday in the Minutemen’s 24-14 win over Florida International – Sharpe had a school-record 15 receptions for 159 yards and a touchdown – it was the performance of the UMass receiver at the opposite end of the field that may have been most significant.

Redshirt senior Marken Michel complemented Sharpe with seven receptions for 113 yards and two touchdowns, including a crucial five-yard touchdown grab with seven minutes, 11 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter that extended the lead to 10. The performance marked the first 100-yard game by a wide receiver other than Sharpe since Sept. 20 of last year’s matchup with Pennsylvania State – when Michel caught six balls for 106 yards.

Now heading into its Mid-American Conference opener against Bowling Green Saturday, UMass hopes for a repeat performance from Michel, who has the opportunity to solidify himself as a reliable second option behind Sharpe.

“He’s been playing well,” Minutemen coach Mark Whipple said after Tuesday’s practice. “(FIU was) kind of doubling Tajae some and that left (Michel) open on one-on-one situations. We targeted him a little bit more and he came up big.”

Michel was mostly used as an “X receiver” split wide on one side of the field against the Panthers. However, UMass has used him in various roles over his career, including in the slot and in the backfield, in order to fully utilize his speed. On the Minutemen’s opening play Saturday, Michel took a jet sweep 20 yards to jumpstart UMass’ offense.

Michel said he embraces the opportunity to showcase his versatility on the Minutemen’s offense. In addition to being second on the team in receptions through four games, he has five rushes for 48 yards.

“I feel like everything is pretty much the same. Playing receiver is playing receiver,” Michel said. “(But) it’s not just catching the ball, it’s going out there and blocking and making sure you’re opening up holes for the running backs and giving them lanes to run.

“Wherever they want to put me, I appreciate them for testing me and giving me the opportunity to go out and make plays at every position.”

The No. 2 receiver position had been a question all season. Jalen Williams opened as the second receiver listed on the initial two-deep depth chart, but didn’t appear in a game due to a serious quad injury. He was then suspended from the team in September for breaking and entering and larceny under $250.

Meanwhile, UMass was without starting tight end Rodney Mills in Saturday’s game against FIU. He has been in a walking boot the past two weeks and his status against Bowling Green remains uncertain early in the week, according to Whipple.

Mills, who practiced Tuesday night, presents a dependable red zone option for Minutemen quarterback Blake Frohnapfel thanks to his strength and versatility. But according to Frohnapfel, Michel has the skillset to be another go-to option in the critical area.

“With Marken, he’s so quick and it’s hard for people to get a hand on him,” Frohnapfel said. “Just that one step in the red zone is enough to create enough space for me to throw the ball.”

Michel said there’s no added pressure in stepping up with the absence of others on offense. He added that he’s confident Frohnapfel will find him as long as he finds space.

“We’ve got the best quarterback in the country, what can I say,” Michel said. “Blake’s going to always find the open man and make sure he makes a good throw to give us the opportunity to make plays.”

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

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