UMass football focusing on finishing season strong after losing chance at bowl bid

By Anthony Chiusano

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

With a loss to Ball State last weekend, the Massachusetts football team’s widely talked about goal of reaching its first bowl game in its Football Bowl Subdivision history was put to rest as its record slipped to 1-7.

Now entering their final four games of 2015, the Minutemen’s focus now shifts toward finishing its season strong and sending its senior class out on a positive note.

“Losing seven games is obviously disappointing and losing out on a chance to make a bowl game is also a disappointment,” UMass quarterback Blake Frohnapfel said Tuesday. “But we have to come out here and get together as a team and enjoy the last four games. They’re games that we can win.”

The Minutemen (1-7, 0-4 Mid-American Conference) open their last stretch of the games this Saturday against Akron (3-5, 0-4 MAC) at Gillette Stadium. The matchup will be followed by games against one-win Eastern Michigan and Miami (Ohio) and Buffalo (4-4).

UMass senior fullback/tight end Rodney Mills said he’s not worried about a lack of focus among the team following last weekend’s setback. He added that earning late-season wins against winnable opponents would be an important step taken for the future.

“It was definitely heartbreaking that we won’t be able to compete for a bowl game but we have a lot of people in this locker room that value their pride,” Mills said. “We’ve got everybody on the same page and ready to play.”

“The way that the team responds kind of tells you the character of the team and really who the guys are,” Frohnapfel said.

While finishing .500 and becoming eligible for postseason play is no longer possible, reaching last year’s total of three wins is still plausible for UMass down the stretch. According to Mills, this target is on the Minutemen’s radar.

“You always want to do better than the year before,” Mills said. “That starts with preparing each week and taking it one game at a time. The goal is definitely to win out the rest of the season and to say we had more wins than last year.”

For the majority of UMass’ large senior class, the next four weeks mark some of the final opportunities to get on the football field. Frohnapfel said the final month of play provides an opportunity to still set the program in a positive direction if the Minutemen can find success.

Mills added that the situation is a fact that the tight-knit senior group isn’t overlooking.

“Right now these are the last four guaranteed games of football for anybody no matter how much you believe you are going to the next level,” Mills said. “We are just focusing on putting our all into these last four games and hopefully come out with the best results starting with Akron this week.”

Capitalizing on opportunities has been one of the Minutemen’s most consistent problems throughout the season in the form of dropped passes, red zone turnovers and failed third down stops. According to coach Mark Whipple, limiting these mistakes and “executing” will be key in any late-season push UMass hopes to have.

In particular, Whipple pointed at last weekend’s loss to the Cardinals, highlighting key drops from receivers on third and fourth down plays.

“When you have a chance to catch passes and catch interceptions, you’ve got to do it. If you don’t, you lose the game,” Whipple said. “That’s been the thing. If you don’t make the plays at this level, you’re not going to find success.”

Whipple said Tuesday he had no intention of giving any younger players increased playing time just for the sake of giving them experience over the final four games, starting with this Saturday against the Zips.

“The best guys will play,” he said. “We’re still looking to play a good game on both sides. It doesn’t have to be a great game, just a good game. We’re going to play the best guys we have.”


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