Last Year: 1-11, 1-7 MAC
6th in MAC East
Head Coach: Mark Whipple
2017 MAC Media Preseason Pick - 7th MAC East
2014 CHALLENGE: Former head coach Charlie Molnar’s efforts to take UMass to the next level resulted in two wins over the last two years. Can new head coach Mark Whipple’s new offense and a transfer quarterback help the Minutemen produce a better record before leaving the MAC (after 2015)?
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“The kids have worked hard. We’re young, but I am excited about the challenge, and we do have a challenge.”
I am just looking to improve, and I think our guys have.” –Head Coach Mark Whipple
OFFENSE: UMass finished 12th among 13 MAC teams in total offense last year, averaging 281.6 ypg. Despite utilizing a spread offense, 55.5 percent of the offense came via the ground game and the Minutemen were ranked 12th in pass offense efficiency.
Whipple, who guided UMass to a Division 1-AA national championship back in 1998 will be making changes. Among them could be a more pro-style offense.
Junior quarterback A.J. Doyles is back. But he threw six TDs and 11 interceptions over nine starts in 2013.
Enter transfer Blake Frohnapfel, a transfer from Marshall who has two years of eligibility remaining. He was stuck behind standout Rakeem Cato at Marshall, and is immediately available. At 6-6, 225, the junior has potential to be a nice upgrade. Performance at fall camp will likely say a lot about who starts Game No. 1 – at home aginst Boston College.
“We’ll give them even reps in the beginning of camp … and them we’ll have two scrimmages – put them under fire … and see how they respond,” Whipple said.
If he can stay healthy, sophomore Lorenzo Woodley (6-0, 215) should get plenty of carries in the ground game. But can he stay healthy?
Another sophomore, Shadrach Abrokwah, did a credible job with his opportunities. He had 203 net yards over two games with one start.
Tajae Sharpe returns to anchor the Minutemen’s receiving corps. He was one of the brighter spots for UMass in 2013, hauling in 61 passes for 680 yards and four TDs. His 5.1 receptions per game was ninth among MAC receivers. Standout tight end Rob Blanchflower is gone.
The offensive line will also be somewhat short on experience as it returns just two starters – Tyrell Smith and Matt Sparks. Two junior college transfers, however, could bolster that unit that will be very important to any improvement on that side of the ball.
DEFENSE: UMass finished 11th among MAC teams in total defense, surrendering 433.2 ypg. The Minutemen were very inconsistent on that side of the ball. While the “D” kept UMass in a 14-13 loss to Akron, it proved pourous on several other occasions – including 37-0 (Central Michigan) and 51-23 (Ohio) road losses over the final two weeks. A better showing at home against Western Michigan (31-30 loss) might have provided another precious win.
Once again, the defensive line is relatively inexperienced beyond senior anchor Daniel Maynes (6-2, 285) in the middle. Can he hold up in the middle of a 3-4 defensive scheme?
There is more experience along the next couple lines of defense and it’s hoped four active linebackers will be a good tonic for the defensive woes. Stanley Andre, Jovan Santos-Knox and Trey Seals are returning starters. Andre led the squad in total tackles (111) and solo stops (42).
UMass finished sixth in pass defense last year, and part of the credit goes to a pair of corners who return. Juniors Randall Jette and Trey Dudley-Giles could be in the running for some post-season recognition.
Another corner, DeMetrius Williams will join Joe Cotton in safety spots.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Junior kicker Blake Lewis struggled in 2013, converting just 3 of 10 FG.
Sophomore Logan Laurent moves into the punting role and Dudley-Giles returns to field punts.
- The Minutemen are a young team (seven seniors) and open with a very formidable schedule. After home games against Boston College and Colorado, they visit Vanderbilt and Penn State.
UMass opens MAC play the following week with a faceoff against preseason favorite Bowling Green on the road.
- Miami provided UMass’ only win last year (17-10) and will meet the Minutemen in Week 6. Even that may prove more of a challenge this time around as the RedHawks rebuild under fiery Chuck Martin. The game is in Oxford, and the RedHawks – winless in 2013 – may be looking forward to the rematch of last year’s close game.
- UMass and Miami brought up the bottom nationally in scoring offense. Both could move up this time around.
The MAC Media preseason poll picked UMass for seventh place in the MAC East.
- “In the middle of spring, I looked at some things and said, ‘Hey, if we just do some things better, we are right in the mix.’ " – Mark Whipple