Matt Vautour: Progress hasn’t been good enough for UMass



Last modified: Monday, October 20, 2014

OXFORD, OHIO

It was one thing to blow leads to Vanderbilt (an SEC team), Colorado (a Pac 12 team) and Bowling Green, the preseason pick to win the Mid-American Conference.

Those weren’t good losses, but they came in games UMass was expected to lose.

Any reasonable fan looking at the schedule in mid-August thought that the Minutemen, who were coming off back-to-back 1-11 seasons, had a good chance to be 0-5, even if they were improved.

So to a lot of people, the closeness of those games was reason for optimism. Certainly in the MAC, the Minutemen would be better and start to win games was popular thinking.

But Miami (Ohio) was a game UMass was supposed to win. Even if ex-coach Charley Molnar was still here and quarterback Blake Frohnapfel was somewhere else, the Minutemen were expected to beat the RedHawks. UMass knocked off Miami last year. Entering Saturday, the RedHawks had the nation’s longest losing streak and a loss to a Championship Subdivision team. If there was one game on the schedule that was supposed to be a victory, even on the road, this was it.

To not only lose it, but to give away a 41-14 lead, shakes the confidence people had about where this team was going.

When a muffed pitch, a blocked punt and missed chip-shot field goal all led to UMass missing a chance to upset Vanderbilt, the Minutemen seemed unlucky or snake-bit in a game they seemed like they should have won. But now those critical errors don’t look like aberrations of a good team, but concerning characteristics of a team with a tendency to collapse in the fourth quarter.

UMass has played a lot better this season. The Minutemen are a lot more watchable and have made far more good plays than they did last year, but none of that matters if it doesn’t add up to wins.

Because his gambles worked most of the time during his first stint at UMass, people forget that Whipple was an eager risk-taker. He’ll be aggressive. He’ll throw deep. He’ll use trick plays and he’ll go for it on fourth down. He’s most confident with his offense on the field and he’ll almost always trust his gut.

Saturday’s decisions to not only go for a touchdown over a field goal, but to not spike the ball and set up the play weren’t surprising. For better or worse, that’s the way he coaches and he’s never cared about the second-guessing it leaves him open to.

The challenge for Whipple now is to keep his team in the right frame of mind psychologically. Miami figures to be a hard loss to put in the rearview mirror. Can he prevent finger-pointing and toughen his players up for late in games without shattering what has to be fragile self-esteem.

Frohnapfel said after the game that their backs are against the wall.

“Guys know we can’t lose any more. If we want to do what we want to do, we have to win from now on. That’s what we plan to do,” he said. “The next six weeks we have a lot to learn and a lot of games win. That’s what we plan to do.”

While he’s made some mistakes, Frohnapfel has generally been a bright spot. But his sentiment is concerning.

UMass can’t be thinking about winning the MAC championship or bowl eligibility or winning six straight games. As of right now, the Minutemen need to be thinking simply about beating Kent State on the road Saturday. The Golden Flashes are winless, but they nearly upset Northern Illinois Saturday. If Miami isn’t a gimme for UMass, nobody is.

Goal No. 1 needs to be win No. 1. Goal No. 2 should be staying focused on goal No. 1. For now, it’s the only way to turn things around.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage


 


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