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.

Continue reading

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.

 

Gameday: UMass/Penn State viewing information

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

MASSACHUSETTS MINUTEMEN (0-3) VS. PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS  (3-0)

  • Beaver Stadium, State College, Pennsylvania
  • 4 p.m. EST
  • Game Preview
  • TV broadcast – Big Ten Network
  • Radio broadcast – 105.5 FM WEEI (Springfield/Amherst), 1440 AM WVEI (Worcester), 95.9 FM WATD (South Shore), 1200 AM WXKS (Boston, Worcester, Manchester, Providence)
  • Twitter updates: @MDC_Sports /@Mark_Chiarelli / @Andrew_Cyr

GAME NOTES

  • UMass travels to Happy Valley to finish the non-conference portion of its schedule against a Penn State squad that already has a home victory this season. The Nittany Lions defeated Akron 21-3 in week two, while also picking up a victory at a neutral site over Central Florida (26-24) and on the road against Rutgers (13-10).
  • Beaver Stadium is the fourth largest stadium in the world (106,572 capacity) but its not the largest stadium the Minutemen have ever played in. That honor goes to Michigan’s Michigan Stadium, which seats over 109,000 fans and hosted UMass in 2012.
  • The Minutemen have carried 11-point leads into the second half of their last two contests against power conference opponents only to see those leads evaporate quickly. Now, they face their toughest opponent of the season. UMass has played Big Ten opponents in each of the past two seasons, as it faced Wisconsin in 2013 and Michigan in 2012.
  • UMass coach Mark Whipple wouldn’t name a starting kicker to the media in advance of the game, hinting that the decision could go right up until game-time.

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

RECAP: Men’s soccer defeats Fairfield in home opener

Nicole Evangelista/Daily Collegian

Photo by Nicole Evangelista/Daily Collegian

In an emotionally charged game on Friday, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team picked up its first win of the season in its first game back at Rudd Field since Sam Koch lost his battle with sinus cancer.  The Minutemen (1-4) completed a late-game comeback against Fairfield behind a game-winning overtime goal from senior forward Josh Schwartz.  Five minutes into the extra period, Schwartz capitalized on a leading pass from midfielder Luke Pavone to beat Stags goalkeeper Matt Turner for the 2-1 victory.  The score marked the Minutemen’s first multi-goal performance of the season and completed a victory that was initially set up by senior defender Matt Keys’ game-tying goal in the 87th minute, which was also assisted by Pavone.

Plenty of early opportunities

Before finally breaking through in the 87th minute, UMass had a bevy of scoring opportunities early on against Fairfield, outshooting the Stags 6-3 in the first half.  These scoring chances included a breakaway opportunity from forward Mark Morris that Turner was able to stop and a shot from Schwartz that sailed just high of the net.  UMass looked significantly more effective on the attack than the Stags and finished the game with a 13-9 advantage.  Before cashing in on two second half assists, Pavone set the tone for the Minutemen’s aggressive play in the first half by creating turnovers and setting up good-looking crossing opportunities.

The “Buck” stops here

Sophomore goalkeeper Ryan Buckingham picked up his first career win in net on Friday behind five saves—four of which came in the second half. After starting one game all of last season, Buckingham has started five of UMass’ first six games in 2014. Despite showing some punting difficulties early on in Friday’s matchup, Buckingham rectified the issue by the second half and only allowed one goal via a 20-yard free kick from Fairfield’s Jake Zuniga following a penalty on the Minutemen.

Honoring Koch

Prior to Friday’s game, there was a brief moment of silence in memory of Koch, who was at the helm of the UMass soccer program for the previous 23 years before dying this past July after a two-year battle with sinus cancer.  In addition to the pregame ceremony, the Minutemen sported black armbands on their jerseys that read “SK.”

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at achiusano@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24

Odds and ends: UMass prepares to take on Penn State

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts football team faces Penn State Saturday in the most anticipated — and daunting — road game of the season for the Minutemen.

UMass enters the contest after two straight three-point losses, the most previous being a heartbreaking 34-31 loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday. A week prior, the Minutemen lost to Colorado 41-38 at Gillette Stadium. Now, they face a 3-0 Nittany Lions squad in enemy territory.

There’s a number of subplots entering the week, so lets jump right into it.

Facing Hackenberg 

UMass coach Mark Whipple spoke glowingly this week about facing Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg. The 6-foot-4, 19-year old sophomore has already thrown for 1,082 yards through three games this season and completed 62 percent of his passes in that span. Hackenberg and Minutemen quartberback Austin Whipple (who is Mark Whipple’s son and previously played quarterback at Penn State) are good friends and the elder Whipple met  Hackenberg on numerous visits to Happy Valley last year.

Whipple raved about Hackenberg during his weekly conference call, calling him a No. 1 overall draft pick in the NFL.

“He’s going to be the first player picked,” Whipple said. “If he could come out this year he’d be the first player picked. I watched him every game and watched him practice last year, and he roomed with my son for a little bit, he’s an awesome kid. To see the way he’s taken the team on his shoulders, the way he played all last year and the way he handles not only success but also the way he handles failures.”

UMass linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox noted Hackenberg will presumably be the best quarterback the Minutemen face this season and touted his accuracy and rhythm as a passer.

“His timing seems perfect,” Santos-Knox said. “He zips the ball in there, everything is on the money. He knows where to go with the ball, he knows where the defense is lacking at that moment. What we have to do is stay in our zones a lot longer, tighter and not give them so many open windows.”

Kicking competition continues 

As of Wednesday, Whipple would not name a starting kicker between Blake Lucas or Matthew Wylie, hinting that the decision could be a true game-time decision “unless somebody stinks it up.”

Lucas missed the potential game-tying 22-yard field goal against Vanderbilt Saturday as time expired. The miss opened the door for the freshman Wylie — who handled kickoff duties against the Commodores for the first time this season — to potentially seize the starting job. Whipple noted that Lucas was still the best kicker on the team, but the gap was closing as Wylie continues to gain consistency in practice.

“I’ve definitely gotten more consistent,” Wylie said. “I feel I’m hitting a better ball each time and just making more.”

Whipple, Kenney return to Penn State 

Saturday’s game marks both Whipple and wide receiver Alex Kenney’s return to Penn State, a school which both played at last season.

Whipple walked on at Penn State last year as a freshman and redshirted under Bill O’Brien. He’s connected to the region as a whole — he grew up outside of Pittsburgh and his father coached for the Pittsburgh Steelers — and even elected to stay home and graduate high school in Pennsylvania despite his father taking a job with the Cleveland Browns.

It’s a literal homecoming for Kenney, who grew up in State College, Pennsylvania. Kenney was a Nittany Lion for four seasons and had 20 career receptions for 197 yards. He said he’ll play in front of immediate friends and family Saturday and called the return home a “special experience.”

Both Whipple and Kenney fielded questions this week regarding the atmosphere at Penn State. Kenney told teammates that while the environment may be overwhelming, it shouldn’t be a concern.

“They’ve seen it on TV and heard rumors. I’ve just tried to advise everyone to try to keep their cool. The stadium may look a little intimidating, but it’s going to be all right. We’ve just got to go out there an execute,” Kenney said.

Woodley assumes roll of starting running back

With Jamal Wilson suffering a serious ankle injury against Vanderbilt and J.T. Blyden dealing with a “nick” of an injury, it was Lorenzo Woodley who assumed first-team responsibilities against the Commodores. He rushed 22 times for 43 yards and scored two touchdowns, but also misplayed a toss from quarterback Blake Frohnapfel which resulted in a Vanderbilt touchdown.

Woodley spent time in Mark Whipple’s “dog house” this summer and began the year as the third string running back despite showing potential as a freshman, rushing for over 300 yards in eight games. Now, with depth being a serious concern, Woodley will shoulder the load.

 

UMass dismisses special teams coach Ted Daisher

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts football team released special teams and inside linebackers coach Ted Daisher of his duties on Tuesday, ending his three-year tenure with the Minutemen.

UMass coach mark Whipple will assume special teams duties for the foreseeable future.

Daisher was originally hired in 2012 as a member of former coach Charley Molnar’s staff and has coached the safeties, outside linebackers, inside linebackers and special teams in his time at UMass. Molnar originally fired Daisher following the 2013 season, but Whipple elected to rehire Daisher onto his staff. Daisher assumed the role of special teams coach before the 2013 season.

The Minutemen have endured a turbulent stretch of special teams play over the past year. The kicking game has struggled — kicker Blake Lucas went 3-of-10 last season and missed a crucial 22-yard field goal on Saturday against Vanderbilt — and UMass suffered a critical breakdown in punt coverage against the Commodores, leading to a Vanderbilt touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Daisher also oversaw a potent UMass kick and punt return game, spearheaded by junior defensive back Trey Dudley-Giles. Through three games and seven kick returns, Dudley-Giles is averaging 35.4 yards per return this season and broke a 74-yard return against Vanderbilt.

Daisher’s coached in a variety of places and positions over his career, which began in 1979. Notably, he was the special teams coordinator of the Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles.

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

Jamal Wilson suffers broken bone in right leg, likely done for year

Photo by Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

Photo by Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts football team will most likely play the rest of the season without its most reliable running back.

The 5-foot-10, 206 pound junior running back suffered a right leg injury in the first quarter of Saturday’s 34-31 loss to Vanderbilt. His ankle bent awkwardly upon being tackled and he was unable to put any pressure on his leg. He was taken off in a cart and later seen in a cast and on crutches.

UMass coach Mark Whipple wasn’t optimistic about Wilson’s future this season after the game, as reported by MassLive.

“I think Jamal’s done for the year,” Whipple said.

Wilson was the team’s leading rusher entering the game and earned the starting role after a lengthy running back competition throughout training camp. He’s worked from being a relative afterthought a season ago to the team’s most reliable running back, capable of shouldering the rushing load or staying in on passing downs. Wilson carried the ball 20 times for 89 yards and a touchdown this season.

The situation behind Wilson is unstable at best.

Sophomore Lorenzo Woodley filled in for Wilson against Vanderbilt and rushed for 43 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns. Woodley has talent but got lost in the shuffle this season and hadn’t received much work. Freshman running back J.T. Blyden had assumed the backup role in the first two games of the year, but Whipple noted that he was injured this week and failed to show up for scheduled treatments, resulting in his benching.

It’s unclear who will start moving forward.

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