In our last UMassChat Jesse and I hoped to bring Minutemen fans some good news. We hoped to be having this chat after a UMass victory that would start to right the ship for the rest of the season and get the Minutemen on the way to potentially, possibly, getting to .500. Alas, that is not the case this week, as we join you after another sorry effort and disappointing loss that was more of the same from the Minutemen this season.
Jesse and I spoke this week about what's gone wrong with the Minutemen offense, what can be done to fix it, and if changes should be made to personnel both playing and coaching. We also threw in some game predictions since technically that's what these chats are for but it doesn't really matter too much anymore. Enjoy.
Jesse Allen: The Massachusetts Minutemen continued their 2013 nostalgia tour this weekend, falling to the Ball State Cardinals on the road and only putting up 10 points on offense in the process. Offensive struggles were not the concern of many coming into this season, yet here we are, with the Minutemen failing to eclipse the two touchdown mark for the second time in three games. The backbreaker this week was a red zone pick thrown by Blake Frohnapfel, his fourth this season. How do you fix this offense?
Michael Traini: There's a short-term solution and then a long-term solution that I would use to try and breathe some life back into the unit that was supposed to rival the best in the MAC this season.
In the short-term, I'd get some new blood on to the field and let the younger guys play. UMass has nothing left to lose this season, and nothing to play for except to possibly better their measly win total from last year. Some may argue that if they want to accomplish that they need to leave the veterans out of the field, but I believe the complete opposite.
The veterans on this team have shown nothing over four years except the ability to lose games in new and interesting ways and be real proud of themselves despite the fact that they have accomplished exactly nothing (Author's note: here and going forward any use of "seniors" or "veterans" needing to be benched or in any negative context excludes WR Tajae Sharpe, who is the lone bright spot on this Minutemen team). They've never had to fight for their shot, and as such have no idea how to deal with adversity, one of many reasons this team "doesn't know how to win" as we've heard so often.
This line of thought extends to the defense as well as the offense, the fact that they have never had to battle someone looking to take their spot, and because of that the team doesn't know how to play from behind or play while ahead, a startling combination of ineptness.
The younger players will come in hungry, looking to prove themselves and not taking anything for granted. They'll want to make a statement and show that they can be someone to be counted on in the future. That's the kind of fire I want to see on the field wearing Maroon & White as a fan and season ticket holder, not the same tired excuse for a team I've seen over the first eight games of this season.
UMass' schedule as an independent next season is brutal. They have four power conference opponents (three from the SEC) and BYU on the docket. It would be worth it to get some of your younger players some real game experience against opposition starters so that they have that in the bank going in to next season and beyond, where life as an independent for UMass is going to be very, very tough.
Frankly, this current group of seniors has not earned the right to stay on the field with their play this season.
Looking longer-term, you need to replace Mark Whipple as the offensive coordinator. Whatever he's doing, it isn't working, and the Minutemen look bad when they're trying to do it. They are an extremely predictable offense at this point because Whipple seemingly refuses to make a change when one should be made or stick with what's working when it is.
Bob McGovern Jr. of the Maroon Musket (@MaroonMusket on Twitter), who's one of the best when it comes to UMass football, wrote a fantastic piece on what's gone wrong for the Minutemen so far this season, much of it focusing on Whipple and his head-scratching at best personnel decisions. What is happening on the UMass offense is difficult to explain, but the part I happen to agree with is that there is some kind of combination of favoritism and incompetence that's preventing Whipple from succeeding while calling the plays. I suppose it goes without saying but you cannot have those things as an offensive coordinator.
I don't know who UMass would hand that job over to or bring in to take it over (and it wouldn't be easy to bring in new blood, Jesse and I can discuss UMass' woeful pay structure for its coaches in another chat) but something needs to change. They need someone in as the OC who has complete control of the offense and is allowed to implement their game plan the way they want to do it. Whipple would be better off just as the head coach of the Minutemen and allowing his assistants to run their personnel groups they way they see fit.
The problem is that none of these things is going to happen, at least not this season. Whipple spoke after the Minutemen's practice on Tuesday stating that he wouldn't even entertain the idea of starting younger players and that he's been clear from the start of the season who his top guys were. That kind of stubbornness does nothing but put the program further in a hole.
Check out the video, courtesy of Dan Malone from MassLive. If you're not already following Dan on Twitter (@Daniel_Malone) or are unfamiliar with his work, check him out. He's one of the hardest working guys in Amherst.
The prime example is quarterback Blake Frohnapfel. Jesse tweeted during last week's debacle that I best be ready to give my opinion on Frohnapfel and if he should remain in as the starter:
.@rsox1221 get ready to answer "should umass start comis" I expect at least 1k words.— Jesse Allen (@TheRealJAllen) October 31, 2015
Since I'm not one to disappoint, here's your answer: YES. The Minutemen should absolutely start Ross Comis the remaining four games this season. Comis more than any other player needs to get real game experience against opposing starters to help prepare him for the gauntlet that is next season. Frohnapfel has regressed so badly from last season that he's part of the problem and not part of the solution.
But because Frohnapfel is Whipple's guy, whom he recruited to UMass to be the starter, he would never take him off the field, despite the fact that he deserves it. In fact, he went so far as to say the following, again courtesy of Dan Malone:
Asked what he wants to see out of Frohnapfel over the next four games and he basically said he wants receivers to catch the ball.— Daniel Malone (@Daniel_Malone) November 3, 2015
Asked if Whipple has been disappointed in QB results and he said Blake's been better this year than last year.— Daniel Malone (@Daniel_Malone) November 3, 2015
So apparently it's Frohnapfel's targets' fault he's struggling, it has nothing to do with the fact that he seems to have forgotten how to read a defense or the fact that when presented with a decision this season he far more often than not has made the wrong one. I'm a firm believer in the "Eye Test" as far as performance goes, but many others want to see the stats, even if they have heard the old axiom about "lies, damn lies, and statistics." Well I've got those for you too:
Blake Frohnapfel through 8 games:
2014 - 185/337.....2,483 yards.....54.9% comp.....7.4 yds/att.....18 TDs.....6 INTs
2015 - 211/353.....2,293 yards.....59.8% comp.....6.5 yds/att.....15 TDs.....7 INTs
The only thing Frohnapfel has improved so far this season is his completion percentage, so it seems like blaming the receivers for not catching the ball is a little off base, no? In every other aspect he's regressed. So both statistically and in-game performance-wise, the notion that Frohnapfel is better this year than last is a flat out lie. That's the favoritism issue that is going to continue to cause serious problems unless it's rectified, and I don't see it being rectified until Whipple is no longer the offensive coordinator.
It boils down to this: Once again, UMass has nothing to play for except for next year. So let the players who are going to be here next year have a chance to show what they can do. It cannot be worse than what we have seen so far.
Now that I've taken up so much time, it's Jesse's chance to lay out what he would do to change what has become a stagnant offensive team in Amherst. Jesse, please, take all the time you want and let us know what you would do to change what's happening.
JA: Sometimes you just have to accept what's happening is what's happening, and there's not much to do to change that. I'm glad you brought up Frohnapfel's 8 game splits between 2014 and 2015, since if I posed to you before this season: "You get the exact same Blake Frohnapfel that you got last season for this season, do you take it or do you roll the dice?" you'd probably be okay with taking the deal. You'd expect the defense to improve. Frohnapfel was on the verge of bringing UMass to 5 wins last year before injury, there's no reason to complain about having the same old Frohnapfel.
Yet here we are, with a strong Twitter contingent asking for Ross Comis, current heir to the throne, because of a few very badly timed interceptions. There's no short term fix for the team, so I'm of two thoughts: The first is you keep throwing Frohnapfel and crew out there. Odds are Comis is not as good as current Frohnapfel (which, given the stats above, is not that bad), and it's unfair to risk ruining Tajae Sharpe's senior year in order to test out the future. It's not fair to Frohnapfel, who came here to start, who deserves to start after he did give UMass so much hope last season, and who's done so much for the team and the university.
On the other hand, this is a football team, and football is business. You want to see what Comis brings to the table, and there's no time like the present. If Marquis Young, Ross Comis, and the new guard can get some vital experience now, why not? This season is lost at this point anyway; the second we lost to Kent State the season was effectively over. Let the kids come in, and at least know where you stand come offseason recruiting.
Personally, I'd like to see Frohnapfel finish the season. I think he's gotten a bad rap because his receivers create no separation, and the loss of a yard per attempt screams this. If no receivers besides Sharpe (who suffers through double and triple teams) can get open downfield, or create enough separation to pick up yards after the catch, then what's Frohnapfel to do? Yes, he's made some horribly poor decisions, like running out the back of the end zone against Kent State, sliding short of the sticks against FIU, four red zone interceptions, but he's also the best we've got on the roster. To think otherwise is crazy. What does need to be done is a cleaning of the house at all coordinator positions in the off-season. This offense should not be this bad, this defense shouldn't have been allowed to be this inconsistent.
What lineup gives the Minutemen the best shot at beating Akron?
MT: While I have a great deal of respect for Frohnapfel as a student-athlete and as a person, I'd rather see what Ross Comis and some younger, hungrier guys can do against Akron and the rest of UMass' schedule. You brought up the red zone INTs, but it's not just the red zone, it's in the opponent's end zone. Four times that's happened, and the two in the last two weeks have been particularly egregious. You mention how he was brought here to start and brought a lot of hope, which is true, but the hope was only fine last season when it was warranted. This season was about results: on-field performance and wins and losses. Frohnapfel's results as the starter are not good. A 3-7 record last year (hurt the last two games but appreciably better than 2012/13 and the source of the hope) followed up with a 1-7 record so far this year, where the team has been decidedly worse. That's just not getting it done, and it's worth pointing out that Frohnapfel had another extraordinarily bad INT overturned on a penalty against FIU and the Minutemen BARELY won that game; they are a play or two away from being 0-8.
Watching him play, he is not the same guy who helped bring that hope to UMass last season, he's a bad decision waiting to happen. Is that in part because he is missing a Jean Sifrin-like tight end? I believe that is absolutely a part of it. Is it because the coaching on this team has some SERIOUS issues? I believe that is absolutely part of it. But he's no longer getting it done on Saturdays, and I'd like to see if Comis can.
I would have taken that hypothetical deal you mentioned had you brought it up pre-season, yes. Give me the same guy as last year and I would believe UMass would be in good shape. But Frohnapfel is not the same guy from last year. I ran the stats out but like I said: "Lies, damn lies, and statistics." The stats don't tell the whole story with Frohnapfel this season, you have to have watched him play to see how far he's taken a step back, and it's not pretty.
Tajae Sharpe's senior year wouldn't be ruined in my opinion either. First, he's already cemented himself as an NFL draft pick; he could take the rest of the season off if he wanted to. Second, Comis is no slouch, and while his action this season has been against back-ups, he's shown the ability to make tough throws and the grit to both stand in and take a hit and run the ball effectively if necessary. With what's coming down the pike for UMass in 2016, Comis needs to get some looks against starters to help build up the game reps and experience he's going to need when he's thrown to the SEC wolves.
The Minutemen's best shot at beating Akron comes from giving guys who have been chomping at the bit a chance to show what they can do. The younger guys won't play with complacency, they'll play with some fire (we hope). They'll be excited, not just going through the motions. The season is over, and it's time to reward the younger players who have earned a chance to play.
You can make the argument that since Akron and the rest of UMass' schedule won't be playing younger guys that UMass shouldn't either, that the guys who have been out there should be the ones to keep playing. But given the choice between what I've been subjected to all season or something (anything) else, I'll take the unknown at this point because I can't take any more of the known.
Speaking of those coordinators, how would you go about rectifying that situation? We're in agreement that both need to be changed promptly once the season mercifully ends.
JA: We are. This season has been an utter disappointment and it's time to move on. Part of moving on will be getting rid of the past. Regardless of what happens in the next four games, UMass will be looking at a lot of fresh faces on both sides of the ball next season. If we don't also see fresh faces on the sideline, Whipple will have a lot of explaining to do, because the current regime isn't getting it done, and we can both agree on that. Let's get game predictions. Give me UMass by 3, because I'm still a believer.
MT: Like I said last week, my faith was there unless they showed me they weren't worthy. They weren't. Akron 28, UMass 13.
That's a wrap on this week's chat, but be sure to join us next week when Jesse and I look ahead to the Minutemen's road trip to Ypsilanti and we'll recap whatever transpires on the Gillette turf this coming Saturday as well.