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Massachusetts Minutemen vs Temple Owls recap: Owls stun Minutemen 25-23

The Massachusetts Minutemen played the Temple Owls tough but found another way to lose on Saturday in a game they should have won.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Being a Massachusetts Minutemen football fan comes with its share of challenges. You have to deal with constant needling at the program's status and record since joining FBS. You have to fight the good fight against detractors from your own campus and alumni base who would rather see the program cut than succeed. But most of all, you have to deal with the Minutemen's uncanny ability to lose in brutal, soul-crushing fashion at least a handful of times each season.

Saturday was a prime example for the UMass faithful as their Minutemen dropped a tightly-contested game against the Temple Owls 25-23 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. The combination of a blocked PAT, 2-point run back, and last second field goal sunk UMass in a game that should have been a statement victory for their program.

The game began as a defensive struggle, with the teams trading punts and turnovers on downs throughout the majority of the 1st quarter until the Temple offense put together a lightning-fast 2-play, :37 second drive that covered 50 yards and ended with a 23-yard touchdown pass from P.J. Walker to Adonis Jennings.

UMass promptly fumbled the ball away and Temple drove down and scored again a the beginning of the second quarter, a 14-yard run from Jahad Thomas the scoring play. It turned out to be Thomas' only score on the day as the UMass defense did an exceptional job containing the AAC's leading rusher and holding him to 66 yards on 25 carries.

This was a critical juncture for UMass, as at times in the past it would be at this point where the wheels would fall off and the game would get away from them. They had not been executing on offense at all and they needed to make sure they scored to keep the game within reach. They did just that with an quick drive that ended with a 48-yard pitch and catch from Blake Frohnapfel to Rodney Mills on 4th & 2 for a score. It was the third time (out of four total) in the first half the Minutemen went for it on 4th down, and their first of two conversions after they failed twice earlier.

The Minutemen managed to force a turnover on the next drive with Khary Bailey-Smith intercepting Walker, but they were not able to make it count as they punted shortly after. Temple was unable to mount a drive and the teams traded punts again before trading field goals to make the score 17-10 Temple.

After another interception of Walker by UMass CB Kelton Brackett, the Minutemen marched down the field for another Frohnapfel-to-Mills touchdown to tie the game at 17 going in to the half. The highlight of the drive was a fake field goal by the Minutemen where Frohnapfel completed a pass to placekicker Blake Lucas for the first down.

Coming out of the break Temple put together a long drive that culminated in a field goal, taking a 20-17 lead and chewing up about half of the 3rd quarter in the process. After that drive it was a defensive battle with the teams trading punts until there were approximately four minutes to go in the game. This is where things got weird.

The Minutemen had the ball after forcing the Owls to punt and were looking to drive for the go-ahead score. After a run on 1st down, Blake Frohnapfel threw what could potentially be his worst interception ever since coming to Amherst to Temple CB Stephaun Marshall. At the time it looked like that would be all she wrote for the Minutemen, as there was 3:30 left and Temple had Jahad Thomas to hand the rock to.

Thomas ran for 7 yards on 1st down, but on 2nd down, UMass LB John Robinson-Woodgett forced a fumble that was recovered by Brackett and gave the Minutemen new life. UMass took full advantage and drove the ball down the field with Frohnapfel finding RB Jamal Wilson on the screen pass for the go-ahead score.

UMass was up 23-20 with just over one minute to go, all they needed was the PAT to give themselves a two-score advantage and then a defensive stop to seal the victory. But Blake Lucas' attempt was blocked, scooped up, lateraled, and run back for a 2-point score by Temple to make the game 23-22 UMass. Not to be lost on the play was an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a late hit handed out to UMass C Matt Sparks, the 15-yard infraction tacked on to the ensuing kickoff. That penalty was just one of many for UMass on Saturday (12 penalties for 106 yards) but this one in particular came at the worst possible time. Sparks is the veteran leader of the offensive line as well and should know better.

Now forced to kick off from their own 20 instead of the 35, UMass wasn't able to get the ball deep to try and protect their 1-point lead. Temple ran 10 plays starting with just over one minute on the clock, their two-minute drill offense converting on two third downs to allow K Austin Jones to kick the 32-yard field goal that won the Owls the game and broke the Minutemen's hearts.

UMass 3 Up/3 Down

3 Up:

Tajae Sharpe - Tajae Sharpe was a beast again on Saturday, hauling in 11 catches for 156 yards and passing UMass legend Adrian Zullo to become the Minutemen's all-time receptions leader (he has 188 catches for his career and at least 10 more games to go). All Sharpe does is make catches and rack up yards. It's shocking he hasn't reached the end zone yet however that won't last. Sharpe's draft stock is rising with every game.

UMass' front seven - These guys took the loss to Colorado personally. They know they did not perform well in Boulder and came out on Saturday looking to make a statement, and the did just that. Holding Jahad Thomas to 66 yards on 25 carries is a huge game for them. The defense as a whole (despite giving up 391 yards passing to Walker) played very well, and made some huge stops in the 2nd half to get the offense the ball back. Very rarely in the defense the better unit for UMass, but they were today.

Logan Laurent - UMass' kicking woes are well-documented, both placekicking and punting have been an issue for Mark Whipple's Minutemen since he returned to Amherst. Laurent was forced into being a placekicker last season during the dark days and that was never his intended role for UMass. Today he showed why he's on the team, booming nine kicks with an average of 42.4 yards per punt. He also hit a career-long 55 yarder. Having quality special teams is key to winning football games, and a good punter is a weapon that has not been in UMass' arsenal in a while.

3 Down:

Blake Frohnapfel - Frohnapfel's stat line from the Temple game reads 29/55, 393 yards 3 TDs 1 INT. In nearly every case that is a praise-worthy game to say the least. But Frohnapfel is not passing the eye test right now, and it's disturbing to see. He threw a couple of great balls today, but he threw far more bad overthrows that were drive and momentum killers. His interception in the 4th quarter as previously stated was painful to watch and should have cost UMass the game were it not for the defense getting the ball back. He is not making the throws he was last season and he needs to correct whatever is causing him to sail half his passes over his receivers' heads. He also needs to stop making that one mistake a game (like his INT Saturday) that is just a horrendous decision. Hope we see more of 2014 Frohnapfel going forward.

UMass' running game - Another two-time entry on this list, the UMass running game was non-existent again Saturday, with the team combining for 45 yards on 24 carries. It's difficult to put a finger on what exactly is wrong with the rushing attack, but the bottom line is it's not a threat in any way, shape, or form. Opposing defenses don't have to worry about stopping it and they can concentrate their efforts on blitzing Frohnapfel and doubling Sharpe to limit what UMass can accomplish on offense. Something needs to change here and soon.

UMass' play-calling - Mark Whipple is an experienced, National Championship and Super Bowl-winning coach, but over the last two weeks he has made some head-scratching decisions when it comes to calling plays. UMass was running halfback dives with not a lot of time on the clock in the 4th quarter on Saturday, and it is near impossible to figure out why. At least the Minutemen are a threat when the ball is in the air. Why they would hand it off when trailing late is puzzling, and that's being diplomatic about it.

UMass' discipline - We have a bonus 4th entry in to this segment today, and it's the Minutemen's inability to control themselves. UMass committed 12 penalties for 106 yards on Saturday, and that is an unacceptable level of discipline from a team that cannot afford to shoot themselves in the foot. If even half of those penalties were cleaned up this could have been a very different game for UMass. The Minutemen want to end up in a bowl game this season, somehow, some way. They will never get there if they keep beating themselves like the did on Saturday.

***

UMass had a lot on the line on Saturday and instead of getting the type of win that would help in so many more ways than just the W/L column, they threw away that chance in such a way that their fans can't help but ask: "Can it possibly get any worse?"

The Minutemen likely lead the NCAA in "Should Have Been Wins" over the last season-plus. But "SHBWs" aren't in the box score, only "Ws" are. Very soon the Minutemen need to start turning the former into the latter on a consistent basis or it could kill their program.