If you made your way down to McGuirk Stadium to watch the Massachusetts Minutemen spring game and stayed for the whole thing than you deserve some serious props. If you streamed it online at least you could switch it over to last weeks episode of Game of Thrones or something. Sitting your seven best players, on a team that isn't deep to begin with, will make you appear much worse than you actually are. Sitting your star quarterback can make you look like you've never run a pass play before. So while this makes looking at how the two teams did overall pretty useless there were still individuals who flashed signs of great things to come and others who dropped the ball, both literally and figuratively.
With Blake Frohnapfel sitting out (due to him coming off an injury and the fact that he is the de facto starter) there was a foursome of quarterbacks battling for the honor of being named QB2. Ross Comis (Team Minutemen) and Andrew Whipple (Team UMass) got the majority of the snaps. Comis looked good in his first series as he scrambled around and completed 3-4 passes. But as the game wore on he became increasingly inaccurate due to not setting his feet when when throwing the ball. He is undersized and does not yet have the arm strength to throw off balance. When he stood tall in the pocket he was better but too often he seemed to rush himself when there wasn't any real pressure. He's young and being only a freshman he should get better. He might have a little Johnny Football in him. He did have a nice one yard dive into the endzone.
Austin Whipple looked pretty awful every time he was on the field the fourth quarter. His reads were poor when he wasn't checking down and that caused him one interception but he should have been picked at least four more times. He telegraphed passes, threw ducks and even fell down without being hit on a fourth and goal. Surprisingly he was the only quarterback to throw a touchdown as he hit a wide open Dan Jonah on a crossing route. His best drive came when running a perfect one minute drill. He completed three passes all to the sideline to stop the clock and set up the game winning field goal. It's still hard to get though three plus other quarters out of your memory.
Randall West and Andrew Verboys saw a few series each but when they were in they handed off more than dropped back to pass. Verboys was picked on a deep ball that floated forever.
Lorenzo Woodley looked pretty decent for Team Minutemen as he was workhorse and ran hard with a low pad level. He did get stuffed in all his goal line attempts which is very worrisome but with Frohnapfel out I'm sure the defenses were stacking the box since the quarterbacks weren't much of a threat. J.T. Blyden showed some flashes of last year but he couldn't get anything substantial going. Manwon Brisbane had the best run of the game with a 20 yard scamper that brought him into the redzone. Shadrach Abrokwah saw limited carries and was carried off the field in the second half with an apparent leg injury that turned out to be a cramp. Again with a diminished passing game the defense was able to focus on stopping the run so it made it hard on the backs.
Jalen Williams looked like the WR2 that UMass needs this season. He showed good hands and was used heavily on end-arounds. This wasn't much of a surprise as he is a known quantity. The amount of end-arounds and WR sweeps that UMass ran was kind of alarming. Those plays are fine once or twice in a game but not once or twice in a series. Again I'll chalk that up to lack of a coherent passing game and needing to run something creative.
Another WR that saw himself seemingly get more carries than catches was Marken Michel. He was the only other player to run the end around effectively other than Williams and was very reliable over the middle. I can seem him in the slot this year reeking havoc on nickelbacks. Elgin Long seems to be his competition for this role and could be an interesting battle in the summer.
Shakur Nesmith was another favorite target tonight. Unfortunately for him he was on the end of many Ross Comis errant passes thrown behind him. He had few easy catches and made good use of his opportunities. He had a nice spring game last year but didn't do much in that following season so hopefully he won't do the same this year. Connor Lemieux had a nice showing with an excellent 20 yard grab on a flag route down by the goal line.
Well we didn't find the next Jean Sifrin that's for sure. Sharif Custis was on the receiving end of a nice pass from Whipple and he seemed to be the best pass catching option. Brandon Howard was targeted a few times but it was a quiet day overall from the position. For those of you on A.J. Doyle watch I don't think you'll much of him this season. His blocking skills are comparable to his passing ones.
Early in the game both offensive lines seemed to get a good initial push. They opened up some holes big enough for Paul Blart to run through untouched. As the game wore on though the defense was able to penetrate the line more, disrupting the running game and harassing the quarterback. Tyrell Smith played well as he always finishes his blocks and rarely will his guy get to pile on the running back. One of the guards for Team UMass (couldn't see the number) absolutely destroyed a linebacker on a kick-out block. It was a thing of glory that I'm sure will be replayed multiple times in film.
Robert Kitching was a beast Friday night. If there was a defensive lineman in the backfield it was probably big 92. Whipple will have some bruises this weekend from him. The Minutemen defense will be in good shape if he can play like that in the season. Al Leneus also showed some flashes of capability along with Peter Angeh. This trio of lineman combing for three sacks.
The backers came to play today. Shane Huber, who hasn't played since September of 2013 after tearing his ACL, looked to be every bit as good as the player he was then. Huber was on almost every special teams and on defense was flying all over the field with his named being announced on every tackle. He also picked off Whipple as he read him from the beginning of the play. If he is paired with Jovan Santos-Knox on the inside that will be a formative lineup. Michael Dowe Jr. was disruptive on the pass rush and recorded a strip sack. Adam Richard was another force and delivered some big hits and was one of the more physically dominating player on the field. John Robinson-Woodgett and Peter Ngobidi both looked like they could step in and contribute as well.
DuVaughn Beckford was the man of the hour in the defensive backfield. He had a nice interception which he high pointed and dropped another one one that Whipple threw right at his hands. Joe Colton was hitting with his usual vigor and looked to be ready to go. Something of some concern was all the dropped interceptions from the group as a whole. They should have had at least eight picks as they were jumping routes left and right only to have the ball bounce of their hands. They were definitely the weak group of the defense as they should have locked down the passing game with all the poor throws coming there way. Every other ball seemed to be a duck and too many of them were either completed or should have been picked. Against a better QB I'm not sure how this unit will hold up. Let's hope Randall Jette not suiting up was a key reason.
Kicking and Punting
Logan Laurent looked good place kicking and punting. His punts were about 35-40 yards and had pretty good hang-time. He made two field goals: one was a forty yarder that careened in after hitting an upright and the second was a 30ish yarder to win the game. Blake Lucas hit his only field goad attempt and went out for his second but a fumbled snap deprived us from seeing more from the ever-struggling kicker. With Caggiano not yet on scene it's tough to say we have a leader in the club house for place kicker. On kickoffs both guys were suspect as they couldn't seem to get it past the 10 yard line. That won't cut it during the season.
Despite the lack of star power there are a few things to be taken away as a team from the game. One was the goal line offense. It looked atrocious with the only goal line score coming from a Ross Comis one yard keeper. None of the running backs were able to get through and it wasn't for a lack of attempts. The offensive play calling overall was also perplexing with so many WR end-arounds. This will hopefully go away once Fro and Co. come back to their rightful starting spots.
It's tough to read too much the Minutemen without the complete squad on the field. There were definitely some very nice pieces like Huber and Kitching who should give UMass fans hope for an improved defense. One things for sure, without Frohnapfel under center this team will go nowhere fast.