UMass football fails to answer challenge in shootout loss against defending MAC East champion Bowling Green

By Andrew Cyr

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Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

BOWLING GREEN, OHIO ––The Massachusetts football team had the perfect opportunity to make a statement Saturday.

Following a complete 24-14 win against Florida International last weekend, UMass (1-4, 0-1 Mid-American Conference) looked like it was gaining some momentum before heading into conference play. Traveling to Bowling Green to face the two-time defending MAC East champions, the Minutemen had a chance to prove they could compete with the best in the conference

The result: Disaster? Catastrophe? No matter how it’s sliced up, UMass fell flat on its face in an all-around embarrassing 62-38 loss to the Falcons (4-2, 2-0 MAC) at Doyt Perry Stadium.

“It’s kind of speechless right now,” UMass tight end Rodney Mills said about how the team felt after the game. “We’re just trying to figure out what we have to do to prevent that from happening again. Everybody is in there a little confused as to what happened.”

The Minutemen allowed a total of 725 yards on 91 plays against the MAC’s top offense. Quarterback Matt Johnson finished 33-of-39 for 450 passing yards, five touchdowns and an interception. Running back Travis Greene added 122 rushing yards and a touchdown and simply couldn’t be stopped on runs up the middle in the first half.

No matter what UMass did, there was just no answer for Bowling Green.

“It’s very frustrating when you know that we have the people that can put us over that hump and can get over that stage of not knowing how to basically compete to our fullest potential,” Mills said.

The Minutemen had made it a two-possession game going into halftime following a 23-yard touchdown pass from Blake Frohnapfel to Tajae Sharpe with two minutes, 57 seconds remaining. On the ensuing defensive series, Kelton Brackett intercepted Johnson to end the half.

Despite how poorly UMass played over the first two quarters, it only found itself only down a manageable 28-17 with the ball to start the second half and in position to make it a one-score game.

However, the Minutemen were then stopped on fourth and one from their own 45-yard line to open the second half, which the Falcons answered with back-to-back touchdowns to put the game out of reach at 42-17.

UMass’ struggles in the red zone continued Saturday, as Frohanpfel missed a wide-open Marken Michel in the end zone during the first half and then threw an interception to Alfonso Mack two drives later on a third and goal from the Bowling Green eight-yard line.

“That interception in the end zone was pretty bad. That’s the kind of situation you are thinking it’s third down and I really don’t want to get a field goal here,” Frohnapfel said. “I was trying to run and our guy kind of flashed in the back of the end zone. They just closed a lot faster than I thought they were going to.”

“I said it before. It’s red zone offense and defense,” Minutemen coach Mark Whipple added. “They scored touchdowns. We had to kick a field goal, threw an interception and missed a guy wide open.

The UMass defense struggled to get pressure on Johnson all day and was forced to play more of their nickel packages to account for Johnson’s ability to spread the ball all over the field. As a result, it left the defense vulnerable, allowing Johnson to pick apart the Minutemen’s secondary while it was playing deep zone coverage. This opened up running lanes inside as the Falcons finished with a team total of 206 rushing yards for three touchdowns from three different running backs.

UMass’ offense statistically played well (516 total yards) as Frohanpfel finished 34-of-56 for 409 passing yards, three touchdowns and an interception with both Tajae Sharpe (156) and Mills (100) finishing with over 100 receiving yards each. However, it was no match for the Falcons outburst.

“The only numbers I know are 62-38, that’s it,” Mills said. “At the end of the day that’s really all that matters.”

Andrew Cyr can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.