Matt Vautour: UMass still looking for a running back to seize the No. 1 job

Last modified: Saturday, October 10, 2015
In his first years of his first stint coaching UMass, Mark Whipple didn’t have to make decisions about who to give the ball to on rushing plays.

He gave it to Marcel Shipp 1,076 times over three years and worried about something else.

It hasn’t happened that way in stint No. 2. Whipple didn’t find a workhorse last year and has yet to find one in two games in 2015.

“We’re putting a plan together to see what we want to do,” Whipple said. “We’re keeping them all fresh. They can go down in a hurry. That’s where we’re at right now.”

Returning leading rusher Shadrach Abrokwah (578 yards in eight games last year) led UMass with 56 yards rushing in Week 1. But he fumble at Colorado and didn’t step on the field against Temple.

“We wanted to see what the young guys could do,” Whipple said. “He’s in the bullpen right now.”

The young guys are true freshmen Sekai Lindsay and Marquis Young.

With 12 attempts for 35 yards, Lindsay is actually the carry leader despite missing the Colorado game. While he’s yet to break out, stylistically he’s the most like Shipp of the group and Whipple seems to like his potential.

Young (11 carries for 72 yards) looks like the fastest of the ball carriers who have played so far, but he might not be ready to be a 15-20 carries-per-game back yet.

Senior Jamal Wilson, who blew out his knee three games into last season, is the starter, but he has just nine carries for 39 yards and a TD. Whipple’s used him more as a receiver with six catches for 49 yards and a TD.

Junior Lorenzo Woodley has had a game of over 160 yards rushing in each of the last two seasons, so he could certainly be called on at some point. But he has just two carries so far this season.

GAMES OF THE WEEK: No. 9 UCLA at No. 16 Arizona, Saturday 8 p.m., ABC; No. 18 Utah at No. 13 Oregon, Saturday 8:30 p.m., FOX — Last week’s Stanford at Southern Cal game was a good appetizer to this week’s pair of big showdowns.

Oregon is the only team of the four that isn’t undefeated. It might be the best of them by late November, but if the Ducks can’t beat the Utes, they could get bounced out of the playoff picture before the calendar turns to October. For a team ranked in the top 10, UCLA is flying under the radar in championship talk. If they beat the Wildcats, that could change quickly.

MAC GAME OF THE WEEK: Army at Eastern Michigan, Saturday 6 p.m., ESPN3 — This is the only matchup between a MAC team and Army this season. The Black Knights have a primary bowl tie-in to the Poinsettia Bowl. If they aren’t bowl eligible, a MAC team will replace them. If EMU can win, Army would drop to 0-4, three losses from guaranteeing the MAC another slot.

RANKINGS — Barely beating UMass cost Temple 18 points in The Associated Press Top-25 poll and nine spots in the also receiving votes as the Owls are now 10th among the unranked. It fell three spots to No. 37 and lost nine spots in the coaches poll.

Somehow the coaches still have Auburn ranked No. 25. After beating a down Louisville team in Week 1, the Tigers almost suffered the worst loss by an FBS team in recent memory. They eked out an overtime win over Jacksonville State, a FCS school most fans couldn’t place on a map (it’s in Alabama).

Last week, Auburn was bulldozed by LSU, 45-21. What about that says this team should be ranked?

IF I HAD A HEISMAN VOTE — Leonard Fournette justified my early faith in him by punishing Auburn for 228 yards and three touchdowns. Those kind of numbers will be commonplace for him as the year goes on.

PLAYOFF BOUND — Michigan State, LSU, TCU, Oregon.

SO CLOSE— It was almost a big week for the Mid-American Conference. ALMOST.

UMass wasn’t the only team unable to complete a memorable win:

■ Bowling Green had Memphis on the ropes before allowing 10 straight points to close the game in a 44-41 loss.

■ Central Michigan dramatically tied Syracuse at the end of the regulation before losing in overtime.

■ Kent State hung with Minnesota, before falling 10-7.

■ Cincinnati scored a touchdown with 1:13 left to prevent Miami (Ohio) from pulling an upset.

■ Northern Illinois nearly upset No. 1 Ohio State, but came up just short, 20-13.

Information from personal interviews, newspaper articles and sports information releases was used in this report.

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