UMass grid record has Whipple on the clock

  • UMass quarterback Andrew Ford is fourth in the FBS in passing yards with over 1,200 this season, but his Minutemen (0-4) have yet to win a game. He will face a stout Tennessee defense today. For the Recorder/JERREY ROBERTS

For The Recorder
Friday, September 22, 2017

In the fourth year of a five-year deal, UMass football coach Mark Whipple has shown an amazing ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. His teams have squandered six double-digit leads in the second half, contributing to an 8-32 record that includes blown leads of 41-14 to Miami of Ohio in 2014, and 28-10 to Toledo in 2015.

This season they led Hawaii, 28-14, in the third quarter and lost 38-35. That was in the season-opener and set the tone for the Minutemen, who are 0-4 and 26-point underdogs going into today’s game at Tennessee at noon. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

Any other coach would’ve been long gone by now — Charlie Molnar was ousted after two wins in two years — but Whipple put UMass on the map by beating heavily favored Georgia Southern to win the 1998 National I-AA title.

He is beloved in Amherst and was out of football when UMass came calling. At his introductory press conference he said he’d returned “to get the jewelry.”

Last week, during the second half of their 29-21 loss at Temple, UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford was interviewed by ESPN’s Mike Corey and Rene Ingoglia and was clearly irked by a quarterback fumble that led to a Temple touchdown late in the first half.

“We’re trying to build a winning program and that’s what we’re focused on,” he said. “Games like we had earlier this year against Hawaii, when you’re up two touchdowns in the second half, closing games out … here tonight closing the first half out in a solid way, that’s the corner we have to turn and we haven’t figured that out yet.”

Bamford’s in his third full year at UMass, and the five-year contract extension he signed this month underscored the fact he’s beholden to no one inside the athletic department.

He was educated at Ithaca College and cut his administrative teeth at Yale and Georgia Tech — schools with fabled and rabid football traditions, respectively.

At UMass he inherited the coaches of the three major spectator sports. Hockey coach John Micheletto was gone after one season, Derek Kellogg was gone after two and Whipple will likely be gone after this season if he can’t finish at least 4-8.

Florida kicker Eddie Pineiro has converted twice from 54 yards. During spring practice he booted an 81-yarder in full pads.

Why is this important? Because last week in Gainesville his presence forced the Tennessee secondary to defend against a short sideline pass to Brandon Powell, giving Tyrie Cleveland enough room in single coverage to gather in the 63-yard Hail Mary pass from Gators’ quarterback Feleipe Franks.

When the reasons are given why Mark Whipple didn’t succeed in Amherst, his failure to get a decent kicker will be near the top of the list.

Trailing by eight points with 37 seconds left in last week’s game against Temple, kick-returner Andy Isabella wasted 11 precious seconds by letting a punt roll dead. “You thought he’d be aggressive and just try to get it, save some yards, save some time,” said ESPN analyst Rene Ingoglia.

Ingoglia didn’t say it, but Isabella’s mental lapse was the fault of the coaching staff. Someone had to tell him to grab the ball and run, no matter what.

Coaching was ultimately to blame for Ford’s first-half fumble with under a minute to play. Whipple or an assistant had to tell him not to do anything crazy like roll out holding the ball like it was a loaf of bread.

The ball was swatted out of his hand and the Owls scored 14 points in under a minute. That’s how games are lost.

The aforementioned Rene Ingoglia is a UMass Hall of Famer — the first running back to average 100 yards a game in a season — and is now an Orlando police detective.

On the air he doesn’t fall into the trap of being a UMass apologist. After a call went against the Minutemen he said, “UMass will be upset, but it was the right call.”

Ingoglia escaped Hurricane Irma’s wrath, though not without worry. “Where I was in Orlando, for twelve hours from Sunday through Monday, I thought my roof was going to blow off.”

The Minutemen roll into Knoxville today losers of seven straight games and eleven of their last 12. … Place kicker Michael Schreiner missed three more field goals in last week’s nine-point loss to Temple. UMass has been outscored 18-0 this season between the uprights. … Redshirt junior place-kicker Theo Youngue is in his third season watching from the sidelines. He shares No. 92 with freshman defensive lineman Caleb Washington. The UMass website lists him as a high honors student at Nyack (N.Y.) High School where he was a member of the National Honor Society. … UMass has allowed the most sacks (23), most sacks per game (5.75) and most yardage lost (125) in the FBS. … Tennessee has recorded just three sacks all season, but might fatten up today against the porous offensive line. … Andrew Ford’s 1,204 passing yards are fourth best in the FBS. His Tennessee counterpart, junior Quinten Dormady, has passed for 674 yards (50th). … Vols’ running back John Kelly averages 180 all-purpose yards, fifth best in the FBS. … The Minutemen have fallen to 164th in the USA Today ratings, one spot below Florida International. The Minutemen added the Golden Eagles to the schedule on Dec. 2, trading a likely loss for a win after the Oct. 14 game against USF was postponed. … A seat for today’s game behind the UMass bench at 102,455-seat Neyland Stadium cost $42.90 on StubHub.