UMass football beat in ‘one-on-one’ situations in low-scoring loss to Akron

By Anthony Chiusano

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Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

FOXBOROUGH – The Massachusetts football team was held to a single touchdown and 261 yards of total offense in Saturday’s 17-13 loss to Akron at Gillette Stadium, continuing a long stretch of offensive struggles and missed opportunities in 2015.

Following the defeat, UMass coach Mark Whipple provided a simple explanation for the Minutemen’s latest struggles.

“Some one-on-one things, (Akron was) just better than us,” Whipple said. “Sometimes that’s what it comes down to.”

Absent of No. 2 wide receiver Marken Michel and with the nation’s leading receiver Tajae Sharpe limited due to persistent double team coverage, UMass quarterback Blake Frohnapfel (19-of-43, 173 yards, two interceptions) struggled to connect with alternate options and piece together long drives.

Sharpe finished with seven receptions for 53 yards while tight end/fullback Rodney Mills led the way with six receptions for 62 yards. With Michel out due to an injury suffered two weeks ago against Toledo, Frohnapfel’s secondary options included Shakur Nesmith, Elgin Long and Dan Jonah.

“We tried to get the ball to some other guys and it just didn’t work out,” Whipple said. “Marken is a good player, he’s our second best receiver, and Rodney’s come on. It has to be more than one guy, it’s a team game.”

Jonah was targeted on UMass’ final offensive play of the game, a deep ball in single coverage that was intercepted by DeAndre Scott. Both Mills and Sharpe were trapped in double coverage on the play, leaving Frohnapfel to try to find the walk-on former baseball player.

“I was trying to find one-on-one matchups,” Frohnapfel said. “I just left the ball too far inside.

“If they’re going to double Tajae, then we have to find different ways to make it work. At times, we wouldn’t do that, just not throwing good balls to guys when they were singled covered or whatever it was.”

Whipple credited the Zips’ defensive line with jumpstarting Akron’s ability to limit Sharpe and Mills. On a predominantly four-man rush, the Zips recorded two sacks and applied continued pressure on Frohnapfel.

“We knew their defensive guys were really good, especially the front,” Whipple said. “They were able to play coverage and rush four and do some things.”

“The defense played well in the second half, and we seem to get better and better,” Akron coach Terry Bowden said. “Our defense did a great job making adjustments. Jatavis (Brown) made numerous stops and pressures on the quarterback, overall a great team effort.”

The loss, UMass’ fifth in a row, drops the Minutemen to 0-5 in Mid-American Conference play this year.

Jonah sees increased action

According to Whipple, Jonah was thrusted into a more prominent role on offense Saturday after performing well in practice the past week and a half. Whipple said Jonah was progressing well early in the year before getting mono and being sidelined for a few weeks.

With Jonah’s recent return, Whipple said the plan was to “get some fresh legs” by inserting him into the rotation Saturday.

Whipple added that he didn’t have a problem with Frohnapfel targeting Jonah on UMass’ final play with under a minute left and trailing by four points.

“They rushed three and they doubled (Sharpe) and (Mills), so that’s where you have to go,” he said. “That’s where we’re at. We don’t have Marken and we’re redshirting Bernard (Davis) and Jalen (Williams), so that’s the next guy.”

Jonah finished Saturday’s game with no receptions. For the season, he has one catch for 25 yards and a touchdown, coming against Bowling Green Oct. 10.

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