Offense sputters as UMass football falls on homecoming

Last modified: Friday, October 30, 2015
AMHERST — After getting blown out by Bowling Green last week on the road, playing at home against Kent State, an opponent with a bad record at McGuirk Stadium, seemed like exactly what the struggling UMass football team needed.

Instead, things got worse. A game that started on a perfect fall afternoon in front of an enthusiastic homecoming crowd ended with mostly empty stands on a cold dreary night and the Minutemen on the losing end of a 15-10 final Saturday.

UMass had plenty of people willing to take blame.

“Give Kent State’s defense a lot of credit, they did a nice job and I didn’t have a very good plan,” UMass coach Mark Whipple said. “I told the players I have to do a better job. Their plan was a lot better than ours.”

Quarterback Blake Frohnapfel pointed at himself too.

“This year, we’ve had times when we’ve faltered a little bit. A lot of that falls on me. I’m the quarterback in a pass-happy offense. When we’re not doing as well, a lot of the responsibility falls on me,” he said. “I’ll take responsibility for that.”

Even Jovan Santos-Knox, who made 17 tackles for a defense that allowed just 13 points (two points came when UMass was on offense) and 327 yards, was willing to bear responsibility.

“That’s our job, to have the offense’s back. When times are tough for them and they’re struggling, we have to pick it up and make plays on defense. We didn’t make enough plays obviously. It’s on us,” he said.

“They have a great defense on the other side,” he said. “Our job as a defense is to match them. They made more plays than our defense. That’s why they won. At the end of the day as a defensive player you have to take pride in what we do. By taking pride you have to step up and make more plays.”

The game was supposed to pit strength on strength with UMass’ offense vs. Kent’s defense and two struggling units against each other when the Flashes’ offense met the Minuteman D.

But the visitors won both battles.

Frohnapfel said all week that the hit he took at the end of last week’s loss to Bowling Green hadn’t fazed him and he and Whipple said health wasn’t a factor after the game. But he wasn’t sharp throwing several balls low and off line. He completed just 17 of 33 passes for 171 yards. He was sacked three times and his interception late in the second quarter was well off the mark.

The Minutemen had more punting yards (332) than total offense (257). UMass punted the ball seven times and had seven drives where it didn’t register a first down.

Kent became the first team to slow UMass receiver Tajae Sharpe, who caught seven passes for 46 yards.

Whipple dug into his bag of tricks, attempting end-arounds and double passes, but very little worked. UMass never got closer than Kent State’s 45 in the second half.

“I was trying everything. I just couldn’t get it to fit at the right time and with the right things. It wasn’t like we didn’t know what they were doing. We just didn’t execute,” Whipple said. “We dropped the ball at the end a few times. I felt like we had something. (Frohnapfel) missed some throws but give them credit. I just don’t want to take anything away form Kent State. Paul (Hayes, Kent State coach) did a good job and they came in here hungry and did a good job on defense.”

UMass looked like it might control things early as it marched to the Kent 9-yard-line on the first drive of the game. But two penalties bounced the Minutemen back to the 24 where Logan Laurent missed a 41 yard field goal.

Still, UMass led 7-0 early in the second quarter when the Minutemen rode Marquis Young for their best drive of the game. The freshman back accounted for 43 of their 80 yards setting up Jamal Wilson’s 5-yard TD run with 14 minutes, 13 seconds left in the half.

After the team’s traded field goals, Kent tied the game with a 65-yard drive capped by quarterback George Bollas’ 1-yard TD pass to Charles Chandler with 3:14 remaining in the half.

Kent State didn’t burn things up on offense the way Bowling Green did, but Bollas, who was starting for the first time, showed an ability to keep plays and drives alive with his feet. In the opening drive of the third quarter he turned two broken third-down plays into first downs, one on a pass, the other on a scramble, to set up Shane Hynes’ 39-yard field goal.

After a Kent punt pinned UMass at its own 1 early in the fourth, Frohnapfel stepped out of end zone for a safety that made it 15-10 with 9:54 left. McGuirk Stadium has two lines at the back of the end zone, a decorative maroon one and a white one that marks the boundary. Replay appeared to show Frohnapfel stepping on the maroon not the white, but the call stood.

“I probably should have stepped up (in the pocket),” Frohnapfel said. “It was one of those situations where you’re on the goal line so you’re scared of getting around too much pressure. And then I guess I lost track of where I was. It’s an unfortunate play and it’s embarrassing in a way.”

UMass hosts Toledo, Saturday at 3 p.m.

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