UMass set to take on South Florida without coach Mark Whipple

Whipple suspended for one week after comments about officiating

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Thomas Johnston, Assistant Sports Editor

The Massachusetts football team is set to face one of its toughest challenges of the season against South Florida and it will be doing so without the program’s leader.

Head coach Mark Whipple was suspended Sunday for one week after saying the officials “raped them” on the penalties during the 58-42 loss to the Bobcats.

“Ultimately, I made the decision to suspend Coach Whipple for this week’s football activities and the game on Saturday,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said on Tuesday. “Not certainly something that I anticipated, and I don’t think it’s something that’s indicative of what we’ve come to know from Coach Whipple.

“Again, I want to make sure that everyone understands that we’re looking ahead,” he continued. “We’re not looking in the rear-view mirror but looking forward to what we can do to prepare our young men for the game on Saturday and ultimately as a program to prepare for the second half of the year.”

The timing couldn’t be worse for the Minutemen (2-4), as the Bulls (4-0) are undefeated this season. Both teams are trending in opposite directions, with UMass entering with the fifth-worst-scoring defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision, surrendering 42.7 points per game, while South Florida is averaging 32 points a game during their win streak.

With Whipple missing the game, defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham will serve as the interim head coach on Saturday. Spencer Whipple, the son of Mark and current passing games coordinator and quarterback coach, will be calling plays for the Minuteman offense.

The offensive side of the ball has not been the issue for UMass the past two weeks. Quarterback Andrew Ford, who returned from injury, had his best performance of the season Saturday against Ohio, throwing for 355 yards and four touchdowns in the loss. Wide receiver Andy Isabella, who is currently second in the nation in receiving yards, hauled in 12 catches for 198 yards and three touchdowns against the Bobcats.

Even with all the distractions surrounding the team, Pinkham feels the team has shifted its focus to the Bulls.

“We addressed it and the way we approached it was to say there is nothing that is within our control,” Pinkham said. “Let’s focus on the things we can control and as I mentioned a minute ago, the things we can control is the intensity in which we practice. It’s going to be important if we’re going to give ourselves the best chance for victory – we can’t waste a day. We have to go in and we can’t be sulking, we can’t be distracted, we have to go in and have a high-energy day.”

One of the concerns Pinkham has going into the game is the explosiveness of the South Florida offense. Against Georgia Tech, the Bulls had two kick return touchdowns and had 66- and 80-yard touchdown plays against Eastern Carolina a week ago.

“The thing that Coach Strong has gotten in his team is they’re physical,” Pinkham said. “They’re not a lot of smoke and mirrors, they’re right at you. It’s not going to be a secret as to what they’ll do when they get here. I don’t imagine they’re all of a sudden going to run the wish bone or something they haven’t shown in the first four games. I would imagine they’re going to do what they’ve done. If you’ve seen them on video, it’s the type of offense where they get nothing, they get nothing, they punt and then get the ball back, nothing, nothing and then they’ll break through and a guy will go 80 yards.”

Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. at McGuirk Stadium.

Thomas Johnston can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @TJ__Johnston.