Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, September 4, 2014

2014 UMass Football Preview

It would be simplistic of me to post the Dropkick Murphy's obligatory 'I'm Shipping up to Boston' video, what with the Buffs, you know, shipping up to Boston this weekend, but that shit is played out.  Instead, you get the 'Spicy McHaggis Jig.'

You're welcome.


Kickoff from Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA is set for 1pm MT on Saturday.  There's no national broadcast of the action, but those with the appropriate access can watch the game on their computer/phone/gaming console via ESPN3.  Mark Johnson has the radio call on 850 KOA.

Click below for the preview...

Crossing the Mississippi River - 

I'm sure you'll hear it repeated often during the broadcast, but this road trip will mark the longest eastern jaunt in program history, clocking in a just over 1,770 miles.  These types of trips have rarely served Colorado well.  By my count, the University of Colorado has sent their football team east of the Mississippi River 42 times. In total, they are 13-28-1 after crossing the Big Muddy, and haven't won since curb-stomping Wisconsin in the early days of the Rick Neuheisel era.

In fact, since that Wisconsin game, CU is 0-9 on eastern excursions, having been outscored 295-136.  It's been horrible.  The Buffs have dropped understandable games (FSU, '03), humiliating games (Toledo, '08), big games (Michigan, '97), bowl games (Clemson, '05). It's been two decades of futility and humiliation far away from home.
Toney Clemons was the lone highlight of the last trip east. From:
The most recent, and possibly most symbolic trip east was CU's 37-17 loss to Ohio State in 2011.  At the time I joked that the 'Mike Bohn Memorial Fire Dan Hawkins Road Trip, sponsored by Cinch Jeans' was football prostitution.  My stance hasn't changed in the succeeding years.  The trip did little to improve the Colorado brand, and certainly did little to develop the in-house talent.  It was all about that paper, a desperate money-grab from a cash-strapped athletic department that had run short of ideas.  Whore out the football team, why not?  Reduce them to a glorified FCS program.  Nothing speaks to the on-field slide of the Folsom crew more than that debacle.

Saturday's trip to the Boston area is a chance to turn all of that around.  The series with UMass is far from a cash grab, as Colorado is set to host the Minutemen in both 2015 and 2021 as part of a traditional 2-for-1. Additionally, even struggling as they are, the Buffs look to be within reach of ending the east coast jinx against an also-ran from the MAC. A lot of ugly history can be flipped on its head with a strong performance in Foxborough this weekend.

UMass in 2014 - 

The Minutemen are only recent converts to FBS football, having just jumped into the big pond back in 2011, and only finally gaining full, 'bowl eligible' status last season.  Since starting the process, they've yet to put together a winning campaign, and have recorded only two wins over fellow FBS programs (2012 @ the mighty Akron Zips, and against Miami [OH] in 2013), finishing each of the last two seasons 1-11.  Into 2014, the outlook isn't much better.

Their opening week loss to 'rival' Boston College was indicative of their struggles to swim with the big fish. While they competed for a time, even heading into halftime only down 6-0, they had neither the talent nor the depth required to give the Eagles a game down the stretch.  BC, not that strong of a team in their own right, was repeatedly able to put together long scoring drives, churning out five of at least 50 yards.  Overall, the Eagles lead in first downs 27-9, out-rushed their opponent 338-55, and converted every red zone opportunity into points.  30-7 makes it look a lot closer than it was.
UMass couldn't keep up with Boston College last weekend.
Offensively, the Minutemen appeared to be out of sync, just barely cracking 202, and seeing a significant drop in passing production as the game wore on.  For those concerned about the rushing attack, outside of some gains late when the loss had long since decided, they were largely ineffective.  All told, this looks to be an opponent that the CU defense can lick their wounds against.

On the flip side, the UMass defense, new to a 3-4 scheme, allowed nearly 6.4 adjusted yards per carry in the first half alone.  The CU offense wasn't the problem last week, and should be able to take advantage.

Star Players - 

Under center, the Minutemen feature graduate transfer Blake Frohnapfel.  He never really go a chance to play during his time at Marshall, and moved on with an eye for early playing time.  The 6-6 Virginia product is going to get his chance, even though he's had little time to acclimate to his new teammates and the system in Massachusetts.  Look for sync issues with the receivers, and any signs that rhythm is still a work-in-progress.
The transfer Frohnapfel got the nod under center.
With promising four-star transfer Drew Harris now gone from the program, junior Jamal Wilson tops the depth chart at tailback.  After week one, however, all the publicity is going to freshman J.T. Blyden.  The 6-0, 196 lb back came up with 50 total yards of offense in limited minutes against Boston College, impressing teammates, coaches, and fans along the way.  While, overall, the team struggled on the ground, Blyden showed some pop, and should get more carries this week.
Blyden could/should get more touches.
On the edge, junior Tajae Sharpe was the only player to shine last week.  He hauled in a 77-yard touchdown grab for UMass' lone score, and has excellent size (6-4, 200 lbs) for his position.  While the Minutemen are desperate to get him more targets, there doesn't seem to be all that much else in the receiving corps (no other WR had multiple catches last week), so I would expect double-coverage from CU all day. Can't let this guy beat you.
Sharpe is the lone option on offense that scares me.
Defensively, junior linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox comes in off a solid game against Boston College, where he recorded five tackles (including one for loss), and a pass breakup.  A momma's boy at heart, Santos-Knox will have to have an even bigger performance this weekend to slow down the Buffs.
Santos-Knox can get make things happen.
In the backfield, junior Randal Jette forced the team's lone turnover last weekend, hauling in a 20-yard interception well after the tide had turned against the Minutemen.  BC didn't really challenge UMass through the air, so it will be interesting to see how they stack up against Sefo Liufau's accurate attack.

Coaching - 

Head coach Mark Whipple is a coaching legacy in Amherst, having lead the Minutemen to their last 1-AA national title in 1998.  With the transition to FBS ball stalling under former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Charley Molnar, UMass reached out to their old leader for inspiration over the winter.  Whipple accepted, and is back at the reigns after nearly a decade bouncing around the NFL with Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Cleveland.
Whipple returns to his old stomping grounds.  From: the Daily Collegian
Former Minutemen QB Todd Bankhead spoke glowingly of his old coach, saying "Guys will run through a brick wall for that guy. His raw emotion and his fire … It’s the kind of attitude where you’re not going to back down from anybody. You couldn’t wait to play whoever you were facing that week."  But, at 57 years old, and at the tail end of over three decades teaching the game, I have to wonder how much patience Whipple will have for a long-term building project.  This won't be like his first stint, where the Minutemen routinely ran over their 1-AA competition, winning will be a long shot week-in, week-out as UMass finds their sea legs.

As if to make matters worse, Whipple's son, Austin, transferred into the program from Penn State, and is now an option at quarterback.  Good luck with that.

Prediction - 

My record: 0-1. Against the spread: 0-1. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +25 pts/gm)
Line as of Thursday @ 11am - CU -17, O/U 54

CU needs this one, bad.  There is no excuse.  I don't care about the mileage, I don't care about the defensive line.  There's absolutely no justification for a loss to this group of Minutemen.

17 points is a bunch, and I usually would shy away from a road favorite with that big of a cushion, but I struggle to come up with a scenario where Colorado can't get something positive done.

CU 31 - UMass 10


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