Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Cyr: What’s the problem with UMass football?

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(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

Imagine it’s Christmas morning and there’s a big box underneath the tree, front and center with a big red bow sitting atop it. It stands out among the others, predominant with its size and stature.

As you run up to the box you realize that the label is from the Massachusetts football team. You’re expecting something special – maybe a new video game system, or even a toy car that you’ve been begging your parents to buy.

Filled with joy and excitement, you run to the pile of gifts and start ripping the wrapping paper off like a madman, digging and clawing to see what’s inside. Except when the gift is revealed, it isn’t what you expected. Expecting the flashiest toy on the market, you open to find nothing but a knit sweater.

It certainly isn’t the end of the world, but you’re left slightly upset and, more importantly, disappointed.

And that’s exactly the kind of season it’s been for UMass (1-8, 0-5 Mid-American Conference): a disappointment.

This season was supposed to be the year things were different. This season was supposed to be the year the Minutemen finally pulled it together and could compete for a chance to play in the MAC championship. This season was the year they were supposed to play in a bowl game.

This season was none of that.

UMass has underperformed and underachieved for all of 2015. And the lofty expectations weren’t coming from the outside either. Prior to the season all the talk from the Minutemen was of the experienced, impact players returning on both sides of the football.

“We want to be back in Detroit (where the MAC championship is played) and to a bowl game,” linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox said about their internal goals on the first day of fall camp. “Everyone has the same mindset, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind. I think everyone’s going to keep rolling.”

I could spend hours dissecting and breaking down every little thing that is wrong with this football team, but here are the ones worth noting.

UMass owes a large portion of its struggles this year to its second half play, and more specifically the third quarter. Opponents have outscored the Minutemen 112- 21 in the third quarter, and UMass has been shut out in seven of their nine games this season. Overall, the Minutemen have been outscored 159-55 in the second half of games.

This number is particularly alarming with a Super Bowl winning coach in Mark Whipple, a potential NFL quarterback in Blake Frohnapfel and a future mid-round pick in receiver Tajae Sharpe. Sharpe’s 95 receptions lead all of college football and he is sixth in the nation with 1,033 receiving yards.

The red zone hasn’t been pleasant for the Minutemen either. They are just 21-of-31 (16 touchdowns, five field goals) in trips this season, which is the fourth lowest mark (68 percent) in the Football Bowl Subdivision, trailing only Vanderbilt, Old Dominion and Wyoming. On the contrary, UMass’ defense has let up points on 39-of-43 defensive series in the red zone, a rate of 91 percent.

Statistically speaking, Frohnapfel hasn’t made the next step forward that many anticipated him to. Although his decision-making and awareness to pick up yards on the ground have been a huge improvement over last year, the numbers don’t show it.

Through nine games last season, Frohnapfel was 213-of-393 (54.2 percent) with 2,921 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, eight interceptions and 324.6 yards per game.

This season? He’s 230-of-396 (58 percent), with 2,466 passing yards, 15 touchdowns, nine interceptions and 274 yards per game.

Some of that decline is due to the departures of both Jean Sifrin (who forwent his senior year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft) and Jalen Williams (redshirt) who combined for 62 receptions, 949 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns last season.

“Teams are playing us differently. We aren’t executing the same way we did at times last year. Some things we are doing better, but with some of the things teams are doing to us, it makes it hard with some of the decisions and the rules on certain plays,” Frohnapfel said about the teams offensive struggles following the Minutemen’s 17-13 loss against Akron Saturday.

UMass has lacked complementary football all year. Some games the offense shows up and the defense doesn’t and other games it’s vice versa. With the exception of its one win over Florida International, neither the offense or defense has played to its fullest potential as a full collective unit.

Special teams – with the exception of punter Logan Laurent – has also been costly at times (Temple).

So what’s the problem that has lead to this 1-8 start? Is it the strength of schedule? The players? Whipple?

“I don’t even think in my freshman year we could stay in half of the games we’re in now. It’s not them beating us. It’s usually us shooting ourselves in the foot. Once we cut down on the untimely mistakes, turnovers and penalties, we’ll take off. If we don’t address it or fix the problem, we’ll keep taking (losses),” Santos-Knox said.

No matter what the excuse is, the Minutemen have three more games to erase the sour taste of the 2015 season for themselves and their fans.

Saturday’s game against Eastern Michigan might not give us a definite answer, but it will definitely give us more hints as to the future of the program, because a loss against the Eagles (1-9, 0-6 MAC) might be rock bottom.

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

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