Jesse Allen: Hey Max, now that the season is over, should we riff a bit on what happened?
Max Moore: Let's do it.
First off this team should be going to a bowl game. They were so good offensively and the defense finally got it together after the Bowling Green game. UMass is, in my biased opinion, the best 3-9 team in the country.
Before the season I think 3-9 was probably optimistic. At the end though UMass really should have been 6-6.
JA: I tend to agree, and I'm usually a pessimist about these things. If a team tends to win games big and lose games close, assuming no huge player loss, the teams tend to be better next season. If teams tend to win close and lose big, the signs usually point to much more improvement needed.
The Minutemen had no close wins and three blowout wins. On the opposite side of the ledger there were five close losses and four blowout losses. I hate to make excuses to paint a prettier picture, but you take out the two games without Blake Frohnapfel and the Penn State Power 5 game, that's five close losses and one blowout loss. You have to expect the team to pick up half of those, right? That's a 5-6 win team right there.
MM: Those two games without Froh were down right unwatchable. Not to take a shot at Austin Whipple but there was a reason be was a walk-on at Penn State. They really need to start developing a real backup for next year.
Besides those two games there were a ton of fun games and moments. Let's go best and worst moment. I think the Bowling Green had to be my favorite. Even though it was a loss that game was a statement from the team and fan base that UMass football is here for real. There are a lot of worsts to pick from too. I'll go with the end of game management from the Miami game. The last 30 seconds were managed so poorly and UMass gave away a game they should have won easy. That game was the microcosm of the season.
JA: I'm going best moment was the Kent State win. First win of the season, and first blowout win of the Minutemen's FBS career. It showed the fan base that the Minutemen can both win and be dominant, which is something they haven't seen in years. Meanwhile the worst moment had to be the last two games. While I get the Miami argument, the team not only rebounded, they rebounded hard, winning 3 of the next 4. If anything that was UMass' rock bottom moment, after losing to Colorado up 10, missing a chip shot field goal for the tie against Vandy, then the Miami debacle. When all is said and done, at least those games were entertaining. The Whipple experience was a crime against humanity. It was old UMass, who we wanted to forget ever existed, for newer, faster, sexier UMass.
That does bring us to our most and least valuable players. Its gotta be Froh and the kicking game, right? I can see you coming in with a Tajae Sharpe or a Jean Sifrin, but did either really do much without the Unhappy Apple chucking the ball. Is there any reason that Frohnapfel shouldn't be among the top 3 in MAC Player of the Year voting?
The less said about the kicking game the better, but it literally cost us 2 games. Let's just forget that those kicking issues existed.
MM: Absolutely agree that Froh is the most valuable player on UMass and I'd vote him number one in the MAC.
I would also love to see if any team's kicker(s) have cost their team more wins than the guys UMass trotted out there. Missing field goals are one thing but extra points? High school teams have better kickers than we do.
Since you brought up the receiving gods that are Sharpe and Sifrin I'll ask the elephant in the room. Will they stay or will they go? I think Sifrin is gone for sure since he a dinosaur in college at 27 years old. I'd lean no for Sharpe but it only takes one scout to think he's a top two round talent.
JA: Why can't you just let me reminisce about the good times just once without bringing up the impending bad. Five weeks ago I would've said no to both. Now I'm still leaning no to both, but I'm teetering with Sifrin. Do I really think that Jean Sifrin would be a productive NFL player right now? More importantly does Jean Sifrin think he'll be a productive NFL player right now? Nothing would be worse for a player than leaving college to not even make it past the practice squad. Given Sifrin's low service time (not even a season!), I think he comes back for one more. What's another year of tape.
Sharpe is a bit easier, take out the long flukey touchdowns in garbage time and his yards per game average against P5 schools is 48 yards per game. Combine that with ending on a whimper, he isn't going to be impressing enough scouts to get a top three round pedigree. He knows when he comes back he'll have a full season (hopefully!) of Froh, and improved offensive line, and hopefully a run game to give him space. There's no reason he shouldn't enjoy another season of feasting on MAC defenses and building up his draft resume.
Let's talk worst case scenario, what does UMass do if both leave?
MM: Covert one of the twenty QB's to wideout? If Sifrin leaves we still have some servicable options. Brandon Howard is a solid blocking tightend and is reliable although he only had four catches this year. Rodney Mills is more versatile and isn't a typical tightend but he did finish third in receiving yards. If Sharpe leaves than that would give oppurtunities for Jalen Williams, Shakur Nesmith and Marken Michel to showcase their talents. Both Williams and Marken had pretty good seasons with Michel finishing in fourth with 386 receiving yards. Nesmith is intriguing because of his 6-4 frame. While not the giant that Sifrin is, he could be a useful redzone option.
You know what? I'm actually not that worried if they both leave. I think Froh can make any of these guys look good.
What did you think of the running game this year? Whipple started embracing his inner Bill Belichickian and switching around the starter on a game to game basis.
JA: The running game was definitely in contention for least valuable player. Besides being generally ineffective most the season, our running backs seemed to have the habit of fumbling the ball at the most critical moments. Some of blame can be placed on the offensive line, which was a sieve (and credit to Frohnapfel for doing what he did with almost no time to throw), and I understand that some major injuries occurred, but with the stable of running backs UMass has, someone has to step up next season. When you're 10th in the nation in passing yards, running lanes should open up. You can't be 115th in rushing yards.
MM: Speaking of sieves, how about the UMass defense. They definitely got better as the season progressed but they were almost as bad as the kicking game at the beginning. The good news is only two starters will be departing. However those two are Stanley Andre and Daniel Maynes who were both significant leaders and parts of that defense. With so many returning players, the defense should be light years improved next year.
Who would you say impressed you the most on the defense this year? For me it was Jovan Santos-Knox. He led the team in solo and total tackles with 53 and 143. That 143 total tackles was good for 3rd in the nation. He also led UMass with 8.5 tackles for a loss and also led in forced fumbles with 3.
JA: I'd have to agree. One thing that always bothered me though was valuing tackles as a counting stat. Being 3rd in the nation in tackles is great, but I'd rather not have a player have the opportunity to get that high. Teams with good defenses tend to have lower tackle totals, as they keep opposing offenses off the field. If this UMass team wants to take the next step, the defense is going to have to start taking control of games, especially when they know the opponent is throwing to keep up with the high powered offense.
Let's wrap this up. What's your overall grade for the season, and any last thoughts.
MM: I'd give the season a B. I actually looked forward to watching UMass play, which is something that hasn't been said in a while. Before the season I think this result would have gotten an A but I just can't give it that after leaving so many wins on the table. That being said, this was a great first season for Whipple and gave the program and great platform to build off of.
JA: I'm going B+, which seems silly for a 3-9 season, but it was a season I actually enjoyed watching. Compared to the past two where games were a slog and it wasn't even enjoyable, this season was a rousing success. Call it grading on a curve.