UMass notebook: Minutemen harp on fixing minor mistakes

Photo by Alec Zabrecky/Daily Collegian

Photo by Alec Zabrecky/Daily Collegian

When Massachusetts football coach Mark Whipple fired up film of his team’s 47-42 loss to Bowling Green, he observed more positives than negatives.

But according to Whipple, a slew of communication issues and minor lapses continue to undermine the Minutemen against difficult opponents. UMass was on the losing end of three narrow, difficult losses and are eyeing areas to improve and get over that final hump.

“We’ve got to eliminate the missed assignments and mental errors on both sides of the ball,” Whipple said.  “(We’re) playing team’s that are fast, it cost us a couple touchdowns and it cost us the ball a couple times.”

Whipple mentioned that the coaching staff continues to show these areas to players in film review

“We had our chances, we had our hands on the ball,” Whipple said. “We showed (the players) the opportunities and until they make more plays, we’ll probably be in the same situation.”

Junior offensive tackle Tyrell Smith echoed his coach’s sentiment. Smith noted “there’s a lot of pressure” this week to get a victory and improve to 1-5. He spoke about the sense of desire within the team to finally earn a victory.

“I feel like, in most cases as a team, we really do want it,” Smith said. “Sometimes it comes down to little mental errors that end up killing us in games. Like Colorado, Bowling Green and Vanderbilt, little errors end up shooting us in the foot.”

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UMass hockey to play Dalhousie at Mullins Center for Saturday exhibition matchup

Photo by Nicole Evangelista/Daily Collegian

Photo by Nicole Evangelista/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts hockey team will be back in action on Saturday at Mullins Center in a warm-up to the 2014 regular season against Dalhousie at 7 p.m.  The exhibition matchup comes in preparation to the Minutemen’s regular season opener the following week when UMass hosts Boston University on Friday, Oct. 10.

The Tigers, hailing from the Atlantic University Sport conference, finished last season 3-25.  They finished last out of eight teams in the Canadian-based conference.

The Minutemen come into 2014 projected to finish 11th out of 12 teams in the Hockey East conference.  UMass lost nine seniors from last season but will debut a strong freshmen class on Saturday as well as show off the highly-touted redshirt sophomore Frank Vatrano, who only played in one playoff game last year after being ineligible throughout the regular season.

Saturday’s exhibition game will have free admission.

Return to McGuirk: The UMass football experience

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Throughout the week, The Daily Collegian debuted stories each day detailing the Massachusetts football team’s return to McGuirk Stadium this Saturday. The Minutemen host Bowling Green in the first game at McGuirk since 2011.

In that time, UMass played home games at Gillette Stadium. Now, the team is back, and that means college football is truly returning to Amherst. Take a look at some of the areas explored.

The Collegian will have coverage of the game throughout Saturday as well.

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at mchiarel@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli

UMass football announces scheduling agreements through 2022

Photo courtesy of Daniel Malone/MassLive

Photo courtesy of Daniel Malone/MassLive

The Massachusetts football team announced a host of scheduling agreements through 2022 Wednesday, officially laying the groundwork to operate as an Independent after its agreement with the Mid-American Conference ends in 2015.

In total, UMass announced 19 new games — which includes nine games in both the 2016 and 2017 seasons — and several multi-year agreements with prominent national programs.

UMass announced four-year series with both Brigham Young University and Army. The series with Army will extend as far as 2022. The Minutemen will also face Troy in 2016, as well as BYU, Hawaii, Old Dominion and Appalachian State in both 2016 and 2017. UMass is scheduled to face Tennessee and Ohio in 2017.

The Minutemen will officially play 2016 and 2017 as an independent while they look for a new conference home.

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Mark Whipple searching for answers at running back

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Massachusetts football coach Mark Whipple laughed when asked if he was waiting for somebody to step up and seize the role of the primary running back.

According to Whipple, he’s still waiting for players at nearly every position to emerge as mainstays. But he didn’t shy away from the fact that the UMass running game — which is averaging a measly 62.8 yards per game — is in dire need of a boost. Through four games, the Minutemen are as effective using receivers as rushers on gadget plays as they are in traditional run formations.

“We have to get more explosive to win,” Whipple said. “It’s not a strong suit right now, we’re searching.”

At the onset of 2014, the depth of the running game appeared to be a strength. But a serious ankle injury to starter Jamal Wilson, a combination of injuries and ineffectiveness from J.T. Blyden and Lorenzo Woodley and the ineligibility of Shadrach Abrokwah created a significant conundrum.

To date, UMass hasn’t had an individual rush for over 47 yards (Wilson against Colorado).

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UMass hockey selected to finish 11th in Hockey East preseason coaches’ poll

On Monday, the Massachusetts hockey team was chosen to finish 11th out of 12 teams in the 2014-2015 preseason Hockey East coaches’ poll.  The announcement came from commissioner Joe Bertagna as part of the conference’s official media day held at TD Garden in Boston.

The Minutemen compiled 33 points in the poll–including no first place votes–which only surpassed newcomer Connecticut (26 points).  The Huskies are entering their first season in the Hockey East after leaving the Atlantic Hockey Association, their home since 1998.

According to the poll, Providence is the preseason favorite, totaling 127 points (seven first place votes).  The Friars, who finished in third place last season, have won two Hockey East championships since the conference’s inaugural 1984-1985 season.

Boston College (three), Northeastern (one) and UMass-Lowell (one) were the other teams to garner first place votes from the 12 coaches.  Notably, the Eagles, who won last year’s regular season title finished second in the poll, while the River Hawks, the reigning conference champions, are ranked seventh.

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RECAP: Penn State trounces UMass 48-7

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

STATE COLLEGE, PA — Penn State needed a quarter of play to find its rhythm, but when it did, the Massachusetts football team didn’t know how to respond.

The Nittany Lions rolled to a 48-7 victory over UMass Saturday in front of 99,155 at Beaver Stadium. Penn State scored 28 second quarter points — all of which came via rushing touchdonws — en route to the blowout victory. The sudden attack overwhelmed the Minutemen, who struggled to move the ball offensively and didn’t have an answer to Penn State’s rushing attack.

Penn State running back Bill Belton rushed for two scores of 20 yards or more, Nittany Lions running back Zach Zwinak added two of his own and quarterback Christian Hackenberg threw for 179 yards despite playing just over two quarters before being removed from the game. Penn State running back Akeel Lynch added a 46-yard run of his own to go with a touchdown.

UMass held Penn State to just a 6-0 lead after one quarter and even had a chance to score first. The Minutemen moved down to the Nittany Lion 22-yard line on their opening drive, but stalled and were forced to kick a field goal. Kicker Matthew Wylie pushed his 39-yard field goal attempt right — his first attempt of his career — and UMass came away with no points.

Penn State went on to score on its next eight drives.

The lone scoring play for UMass came on a 77-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Blake Frohnapfel to receiver Tajae Sharpe, who made a leaping grab across the middle of the field before racing past Penn State defenders.

The Good 

  • Marken Michel: UMass didn’t make many plays offensively Saturday, but the few highlights it did create mainly went to receiver Marken Michel. Minutemen coach Mark Whipple lined Michel up in a variety of spots — he took carries at halfback in addition to his role of receiver — and Michel impressed when given the ball in space. He finished with 104 yards receiving on six catches.
  • Frohnapfel to Sharpe: The offense came far too late, but Frohnapfel and Sharpe again combined for a 77-yard touchdown pass against a power conference opponent. Against Boston College, Frohnapfel found Sharpe while the Minutemen trailed 20-0. This time, he found Sharpe on a similar route across the middle trailing 48-0. Sharpe continues to show he’s the best receiver on the team and the most consistent playmaker.

The Bad 

  • Defense: UMass was dwarfed in every facet of the game, but it was most apparent when the Penn State offense took the field. The Minutemen had no answers — the Nittany Lions compiled 438 yards with nearly 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter — and were beaten on the ground for long gains. Belton rushed for touchdowns of 20 and 24 yards in addition to numerous long runs by Penn State backs.
  • Tackling: It’s difficult to pinpoint any particular performance, but the tackling across the board was poor yet again for UMass. The defensive backs in particular missed a number of tackles which would have prevented long gashes and the linebackers failed to wrap up Belton on both of his rushes.
  • Rushing attack: Earlier in the week, Whipple said he wasn’t sure UMass could run the football even if Jim Brown was on the roster. He was right. UMass gained just five yards on the ground despite rushing the ball XX times and looked anemic against a physically imposing Nittany Lions defensive line. UMass rotated between J.T. Blyden, Michel, Jordan Broadnax and Lorenzo Woodley, but none found any room to run.

Turning point of the game

UMass had a chance to take the lead after forcing Penn State into an opening three and out, but Wylie’s missed field goal and the offense’s inability to maintain its opening drive took the wind out of the proverbial sails. Penn State followed Wylie’s 39-yard miss with a pair of field goals before turning it on in the second quarter.