Notes from the sideline: UMass squanders early season gifts

  • UMass receiver Sadiq Palmer hauls in a pass during the Minutemen’s 17-13 loss to Tennessee last weekend. AP PHOTO

For The Recorder
Friday, September 29, 2017

With each passing week, it’s more apparent that the UMass football team wasted an opportunity to be at least 4-1 or perhaps undefeated.

Their first five opponents — Hawaii, Coastal Carolina, Old Dominion, Temple and Tennessee— are a collective 1-8 against the FBS. Last week, Coastal Carolina was beaten, 52-10, at home by Western Illinois — an FCS team.

The Chanticleers beat UMass four weeks ago, 38-28.

Old Dominion was skunked by Va. Tech, 38-0, Temple was thrashed by USF, and Hawaii lost in overtime to Wyoming.

UMass also squandered an opportunity to win their first “statement” game in the FBS era by losing to 23rd-ranked Tennessee, 17-13.

The Volunteers were caught in the classic “trap” game between SEC foes — Florida and Georgia — and the Vols were ripe for an upset. Instead, the game turned into a snoozefest, with the two teams combining for 18 punts.

“It was lackluster and uninspired,” said the Knoxville News Sentinel’s John Adams. “Keep in mind this is an awful UMass team, and anything that happened good (for Tennessee), you have to preface it with that.”

This afternoon, the Minutemen are 8½-point underdogs against Ohio University at McGuirk Stadium. It’s a similar setup to last week, the Minutemen being the rest stop between conference opponents Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan.

The Bobcats are a quintessential mid-major team with enough size and talent to beat Kansas but not enough speed and guile to beat Purdue.

If quarterback Andrew Ford and tight end Adam Brenneman are able to play (and coach Mark Whipple said they are), expect a high-scoring game. Ford is eighth in FBS passing yardage and will have his full complement of receivers — Brenneman (24 catches, 369 yards), Andy Isabella (23-352) and Sadiq Palmer (20-282).

The Bobcats are averaging 37.3 points and 409 yards a game from scrimmage. Their quarterback tandem of Nathan Rourke and Quinton Maxwell have passed for 846 yards and seven TDs. Rourke gets most of the snaps; Maxwell’s tossed the only two interceptions.

The rushing attack is anchored by A.J. Oulette (59-348) and Dorian Brown (35-174). Julian Ross and Rourke have combined for  seven rushing touchdowns.

Win or lose, it’ll be exciting. Something like the 73-point scoring explosion fans saw in week one against Hawaii.

It’s Hall of Fame weekend at UMass and the school’s six inductees will be included in the game-day ceremonies.

Tennis coach Judy Dixon retired last spring with a 356-241 record in 28 seasons and was a five-time Atlantic 10 coach of the year. 

Baseball coach Mike Stone also retired this spring with 358 wins, two A-10 titles and a pair of NCAA World Series appearances.

Jane Welzel co-captained the 1975-76 water polo team and the 1977 cross country team and appeared in five consecutive women’s marathon Olympic Trials.

In 1969, Bob Hansen led the NCAA in slugging percentage and helped propel the Minutemen into the College World Series where they beat top-seeded Southern Illinois.

Tim Edwards hauled down rebounds for coach Jack Leaman inside the Curry Hicks Cage, earned an MBA at Harvard and devoted his life to public service, working for the EPA and the Deptartments of Defense, the Interior, Commerce, Energy, and HUD.

Clarence Brooks will be honored posthumously. Brooks was an offensive lineman who helped lead the Minutemen to their first ever postseason win, beating Cal-Davis in the 1972 Boardwalk Bowl.

SHORT YARDAGE: Mark Whipple to a sideline reporter about last week’s winning touchdown drive by Tennessee: “Bad personal foul (by game captain Da’Sean Downey) and then we blew the coverage.” … SEC-TV analyst Andre Ware critcized the UMass punt return team — “When they need to field the ball they don’t, and when they shouldn’t they do” — and said of the Vols’ pass rush, “Truth be told, a couple of the sacks are on the quarterback (Andrew Ford).” … Tennessee dropped from 23rd to out of the Top 25 Coaches Poll. … Today’s irresistable force versus immovable object is Maryland (3-0) at Minnesota (3-0). First-year Gophers’ coach PJ Fleck goes against second-year Terps’ coach DJ Durkin. Minnesota is a 13-point favorite. … On Sunday in East Hartford, Michael Tarbutt missed a last-second, 33-yard field goal and UConn lost to East Carolina, 41-38. The announced attendance was 14,036, but the crowd looked smaller on TV. … UMass is ranked 125th of the 130 teams in the FBS by masseyratings.com. Ohio is 82nd. The Bobcat’s only loss in four games was 44-21 to an improving Purdue team in Lafayette.

Gonzo coaching scenario: If UMass loses and falls to 0-6 today, UMass AD Ryan Bamford will fire Whipple, keep the rest of the staff intact and give the new coach a chance to view the wreckage thorough the lens of the remaining six games.

That would send shock waves through the UMass good-old-boy network, but it won’t happen. Bamford will wait until after the season finale in Miami on Dec. 2 and decide whether to keep Whipple or let him go and hire his own coach under his own terms.