STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — University of Massachusetts coach Mark Whipple thought his team played scared Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
His players contested that notion. Quarterback Blake Frohnapfel said the team is young and just made too many mistakes. Linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox contended that, rather than being afraid, they were simply out-executed.
Regardless of how one chooses to explain UMass dropping to 0-4, the facts are this: The Minutemen were outgained, 464 total yards to 266, finished with just 3 yards rushing, and were outplayed in a 48-7 loss to Penn State.
“Certainly our worst day,” Whipple said. “I don’t really know what happened. We played scared, frightened, and from the first snap.
“We have to go back to work. We couldn’t have beaten their JV’s today.”
Blunders came early and often for Whipple’s side. A first-down fumble by Frohnapfel cost UMass momentum on its opening drive, which ended with Matthew Wylie pushing his first collegiate field goal attempt wide right from 39 yards.
Early in the second quarter, with UMass at the PSU 32 and trailing just 6-0, Frohnapfel was sacked on first down, then threw three straight incompletions, the last being an overthrow of Jean Sifrin in the end zone.
“The way the coverage worked out, that was really the guy I was supposed to be going to,” Frohnapfel said. “There was a little pressure, but that’s a pass I’m going to have to complete.”
The floodgates opened from there.
Penn State (4-0) scored 28 points in the second quarter, as its previously muddled ground game got on track. It started with Bill Belton’s 24-yard touchdown run on what appeared to be a broken play, swelling the Nittany Lions’ lead to 13-0.
Just 1:23 later, after Penn State linebacker Mike Hull forced UMass receiver Tajae Sharpe to fumble, Belton scored on a 20-yard dash out of a wildcat package. Zach Zwinak then scored on runs of 5 and 1 yard to reach the halftime margin of 34-0.
Besides fumbles and overthrows, UMass was hampered by missed tackles, bad snaps, and untimely penalties.
“Our best players again didn’t do what we thought they needed to do,” Whipple said. “Can’t miss touchdown passes, can’t miss a field goal, we’ve got to tackle better; there’s a lot of things to address.”
The second half was not much better for the visitors, as the Nittany Lions’ Akeel Lynch scored on a 15-yard run, capping a 10-play, 72-yard drive, with 8:10 left in the third quarter. Late in the third, Penn State backup quarterback D.J. Crook, a sophomore who starred at Barnstable High, threw his first career TD pass to make it 48-0.
“We haven’t shown that we’ve been able to [have success in the running game] consistently,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “We were able to get a bunch of guys reps, and we were able to stay healthy.”
UMass eventually dented the scoreboard on the first play of the fourth quarter, as Sharpe caught a Frohnapfel pass and ran 77 yards.
Frohnapfel finished 17 of 33 for 263 yards. Senior Alex Kenney, formerly of Penn State, ran for 18 yards on the first play from scrimmage but UMass finished with just 3 yards rushing on 28 attempts.
Receiver Marken Michel was one of the few bright spots for the Minutemen. The redshirt junior, who is back with the team after a year away, finished with a career-high 104 yards on six catches.
“Every day, we work on routes with Blake,” Michel said. “But, personally, the numbers don’t talk. It’s the scoreboard that counts. We didn’t get the win today.”
UMass returns home next week for its Mid-American Conference opener against Bowling Green. The Minutemen were the only team in the country to play four programs from power conferences (ACC, Pac-12, SEC, Big Ten) in their nonconference schedule.
“We’re definitely going to be ready,” Michel said. “We’re definitely a lot further than we were my last two years here. I think we’re going to be a lot more prepared and ready for the MAC.
“We’re ready to take this thing head-on.”
It starts with erasing mistakes.
“This isn’t where we wanted to be at the end of the nonconference schedule, but this is not going to hold us back in the MAC,” Michel said.
“We still expect to win the whole MAC. That’s our goal.”