UMass football looking to find consistent rhythm on offense

By Anthony Chiusano

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Collegian File Photo

The Massachusetts football team hasn’t seen too much of a decline on offense in terms of pure statistics from a season ago. Despite the loss of tight end Jean Sifrin, the Minutemen have averaged 25.2 points per game through five games, roughly two points below last year’s average.

But that’s not to say UMass (1-4, 0-1 Mid-American Conference) has found its total rhythm on offense yet in 2015.

“We’re making sure to piece everything together a complete game and kind of be a complete team on a week-to-week basis,” quarterback Blake Frohnapfel said after Tuesday’s practice. “That’s something we’re still trying to do. We’ve definitely shown flashes of doing that.”

Despite putting up respectable numbers so far this season – the offense is led by Frohnapfel, who is second in the MAC in passing yards per game and receiver Tajae Sharpe, who leads the nation in receptions – UMass hasn’t been able to consistently capitalize on all of its opportunities.

The Minutemen rank last in the conference in red zone conversions with a 66.7 percent rate (12-for-18) while placing 11th out of 13th on third down conversions at 34.7 percent (26-for-75).

Frohnapfel said converting on more of these chances will be vital in UMass’ conference schedule moving forward. He also took responsibility for the Minutemen’s early season struggles in these areas, citing his two interceptions in the red zone so far this season, including one last week against Bowling Green.

“It’s on me really, with the decision making I’ve made,” Frohnapfel said. “You never want to kick a field goal, you want to score touchdowns. But at times, you have to think, ‘Okay a field goal isn’t the end of the world.’”

According to UMass coach Mark Whipple, finding more of a balance on offense will help in its pursuit for greater consistency. The Minutemen only ran 15 times for 55 yards in their 62-38 loss to the Falcons last Saturday.

Whipple added that developing a running game becomes an issue when being forced to play catch-up, as was the case against Bowling Green.

“I think that was a combination of Bowling Green scoring and the plan we had. … We’re getting the ball to Tajae in some different ways and that’s kind of accounted for a little bit of a run thing. We’d like to be more like (against) Florida International, where at the end of the game we get to that point,” Whipple said. “But we’re moving the ball and it’s felt like we had some things there last week.

“I probably should run it more. I think it helps our offensive line,” Whipple added.

UMass has opened the game’s scoring only once this season, in a 24-14 win over Florida International on Oct. 3.

“There were times last year when we had a pretty good streak there where on the first drive we were scoring almost every time. This year we’ve kind of started slow,” Frohnapfel said. “If you come out and run the ball well, it sets the tone for how the game is going to be.”

Whipple stressed the importance of getting off to a positive start against Kent State this weekend and not falling behind early like in the majority of UMass’ games in 2015. He added that playing at McGuirk Stadium, where the Minutemen are 1-0 this season, will give the Minutemen an extra boost in their pursuit for a second win.

Saturday’s matchup against the Flashes is UMass’ annual homecoming game.

“We just seem to play better here (at McGuirk Stadium),” Whipple said. “That’s traditionally been the way it’s been. We’re just hoping it stays that way.”

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