Backup QB Austin Whipple, UMass struggle in cold conditions, fall 30-6 to Akron

Last modified: Saturday, November 22, 2014
AKRON, Ohio — It was a tough assignment from the time UMass quarterback Austin Whipple stepped off the bus outside InfoCision Stadium.

The redshirt freshman was making his first collegiate start on a foreign field. A steady wind was blowing at approximately 18 mph, dropping the 15-degree temperature to minus 1 with the wind chill. Plus, it was senior night for Akron.

Not exactly ideal conditions as the UMass offense was as frigid as the weather.

Whipple, the son of coach Mark Whipple, made his share of mistakes while starting in place of the injured Blake Frohnapfel. He had three passes intercepted and the Minutemen lost one fumble en route to a 30-6 loss on Tuesday.

After winning three of their last four games the Minutemen slipped to 3-8 overall and 3-4 in the Mid-American Conference East Division with one game remaining.

The three interceptions is a season high for the Minutemen and the four turnovers tied a season high.

UMass sophomore linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox made a career-high 19 tackles and forced two fumbles, and junior wide receiver Tajae Sharpe caught five passes, giving him 81 on the season. Jimmy Moore set the school record of 92 in 1998.

Those performances weren’t enough as the Zips (5-6, 3-4) seemingly dealt with the conditions to snap a four-game losing streak.

“Definitely hard weather for the first start, but that’s no excuse,” said Austin Whipple, who completed 12-of-20 passes for 157 yards and one touchdown. “I had to play a lot better, especially in the first half. The game slowed down a little bit in the second half and I was able to pull it together. But that was too late. I made too many mistakes and just have to get better.”

The Minutemen’s lone score came midway through the third quarter when Whipple found tight end Jean Sifrin on a 1-yard touchdown pass after completing a 74-yarder to junior Rodney Mills. As if a reflection of the game, the conversion kick failed.

“We just didn’t play very well,” Mark Whipple said. “It was like Penn State (a 48-7 loss) all over again. We seemed to be a step behind on both sides of the ball. They handled the weather better than we did.”

Two short punts by Brian McDonald and an interception led to Akron’s 20 points in the first half.

After the Minutemen forced a punt on the game’s first possession they were forced to give it right back after five plays gained just 23 yards. Punting into the wind, McDonald sliced one off his foot that advanced the ball eight net yards. Akron took over on its 48.

Akron quarterback Kyle Pohl took advantage of having the wind at his back and completed 5-of-7 passes to move the ball to the UMass 8. Robert Stein kicked a 26-yard field goal to cap a 10-play, 43-yard drive. Pohl finished 26 of 40 for 277 yards and two touchdowns.

Stein added a 24-yard field goal about five minutes later following a 27-yard punt, again into the 18 mph wind. Starting at the UMass 49, Akron scored in five plays with L.T. Smith the central figure.

Pohl completed two passes to Smith in the drive, setting up the score with a 32-yard throw and capping it with a 7-yarder, extending the lead to 10-0.

Akron scored just before the half after Whipple threw his second interception. Senior Devonte Morgan’s first career interception and return of 44 yards gave Akron the ball at the UMass 29. Pohl completed a 17-yard pass to Zach D’Orazio (10 receptions, 121 yards) before finding junior Conor Hundley for a 12-yard score with 25 seconds remaining.