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Mark Whipple, who had previously led the Minutemen to national championships at the FCS level, then returned to replace Molnar last year. That coincided with the arrival of junior Blake Frohnapfel, a transfer quarterback from Marshall. Suddenly, the UMass pass offense exploded. By season’s end, the Minutemen were No. 1 in pass offense (311.8 ypg).
Frohnapfel was first in passing yards per game and wide receiver Tajae Sharpe topped the conference in receptions per contest (7.1 rpg).
But while the Minutemen could score in bunches, they frequently surrendered even more points, especially during a six-game losing streak to open the campaign.
There was the 41-38 setback at Colorado and 34-31 loss to Vanderbilt in weeks two and three. Then there was a 47-42 loss to eventual MAC East champ Bowling Green in late September.
Most stinging of all, however, may have been a 42-41 loss at Miami. The Minutemen were up 41-14 with two minutes to go in the first half. Even after MU scored four unanswered touchdowns to take the lead, UMass mounted a late drive moving it to the Miami six-yard line. Eschewing a field goal try, the Minutemen completed a swing pass into the right flat on the final play. A Miami linebacker stopped Shadrach Abrokwah at the two, allowing MU to break a losing streak stretching back to 2012.
Miami quarterback Andrew Hendrix completed 32 of 58 passes with four TDs – all to Sam Martin.
That game, as much as any, illustrates two things.
1. What UMass needs to do to challenge for a title in its final MAC season.
2. What kind of challenges MAC defenses face.
Whipple wasn’t in the fold for UMass’ first two seasons, but some of his comments at Wednesday’s MAC Media Day alluded to a lesson learned about Mid-American Conference football.
“We didn’t really have enough time to really study the MAC when we got here, recruiting-wise,” Whipple said. “You’ve got to play five or six defensive backs, and we weren’t prepared for that – (depth-wise).” He added, “We’ve also got to find a way to rush the passer.”
Looking at conference game’s only, the Minutemen ranked 10th in sacking opponents and 11th in overall pass defense.”
Certainly, UMass has found the quarterback and other pieces to be successful on offense. One might say it fit right into the MACtion scene last year. The question now is: Can the Minutemen improve the “D” enough to turn some of those close losses into wins? If so, UMass may be able to leave with at least a bowl game to its credit.