UMass football seeking second-half success when it visits Ball State

Last modified: Wednesday, November 11, 2015
AMHERST — Blake Frohnapfel and Tajae Sharpe’s on-field chemistry has been so good that it’s not surprising that the UMass seniors gave almost identical answers when asked why they thought the Minutemen had struggled so much in the second half.

Simply, if they knew, they’d have fixed it already.

“I’m not really sure. I wish I could answer that. It’s something we’re trying to answer for ourselves. Guys are pressing too much,” said Frohnapfel, who said some of the credit goes to the quality of foe. “The team we played last week was the No. 19 team in the country. They’re a very good team. We have to give them credit as well.”

UMass has been outscored by 77 points in the third quarter and by 91 points in the second half. In fact, the Minutemen have only scored twice in the third quarter all season — two touchdowns against Bowling Green on Oct. 10.

Without getting into specifics, UMass coach Mark Whipple said the team has shaken its routine up for halftime.

“We haven’t come out (successfully) in the second half,” he said. “We talked about it. We’ve started the games pretty good. We’re trying to carry it over to the second half.”

Time & location: 1 p.m. Saturday; Scheumann Stadium, Muncie, Indiana.

Records: UMass (1-6, 0-3 MAC); Ball State (2-6, 1-3 MAC)

Last week: The Minutemen fell to Toledo, 51-35; The Cardinals lost to Central Michigan, 22-21.

All-time series: UMass leads 2-1.

Last meeting: UMass won 24-10 in 2014.

TV/Internet: ESPN3. Links can be found at umassathletics.com.

Radio: WWEI-FM (105.5)

When UMass has the ball: Ball State’s defense gives up points (35.3 per game) and yardage (491.4). Nobody in the MAC has allowed more yards in the air (295.4 per game) and touchdown passes (15) than the Cardinals. Opponents are converting 51.8 percent of third downs.

UMass has the conference’s worst red-zone offense and defense, but Ball State’s defense inside the 20 is second worst, as opponents have scored 87.1 percent of the time with 23 touchdowns and four field goals.

It’ll be interesting to see, with Marken Michel at least limited or possibly out, if Ball State overcommits to slowing Sharpe, who had 13 catches for 239 yards against them last year.

If that happens, UMass will certainly look to fullback/tight end Rodney Mills more. Will Shakur Nesmith, Elgin Long or someone else see more targets?

With Sekai Lindsay out and Marquis Young possibly limited at running back, veterans Shadrach Abrokwah and Lorenzo Woodley could see more action.

Junior linebacker Sean Wiggins leads Ball State with 8.3 tackles per game followed closely by senior linebacker Ben Ingle (8.0 per game).

Junior defense back Tyree Holder has two interceptions.

When Ball State has the ball: The Cardinals are among the country’s more balanced offenses with 271 rushes and 286 pass attempts.

Quarterback Riley Neal has been solid. The 6-foot-5 true freshman is 131 of 220 for 1,522 yards in five starts since replacing the ineffective Jack Milas. Neal’s thrown 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

“The quarterback is really growing up. He’s a big kid who can throw it,” Whipple said. “He’s really talented. He’s played really well in a lot of spots.”

UMass senior linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox said the Minutemen will try to rattle him.

“He’s a freshman. You want to send different blitzes, different pressures, different things he hasn’t seen to try to mess up his timing,” Santos-Knox said. “He’s a really good quarterback. He has great receivers too. Pressures from different ways are the best way to get him off his game hopefully.”

Jordan Williams has 46 catches for 623 and five touchdowns.

Sophomore Darian Green leads the team with 74.4 yards rushing per game (92 carries for 521 yards) and four touchdowns.

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