The University of Massachusetts football team has won three of its last four games, but it heads to Ohio for Tuesday night’s game against Akron unsure of who will be under center.
The Minutemen (3-7, 3-3 Mid-American) are fresh off a 24-10 home victory over Ball State last Wednesday. Quarterback Blake Frohnapfel fueled the attack through the air, throwing for 424 yards on 28-for-44 passing.
However, Frohnapfel’s availability is in serious jeopardy after he was carted to the locker room in the fourth quarter Wednesday with an injury to his right leg.
In his place, freshman quarterback Austin Whipple — coach Mark Whipple’s son — repeatedly handed the ball off as the Minutemen closed out the Cardinals.
When leading rusher Shadrach Abrokwah was banged up late in the contest, UMass sophomore Lorenzo Woodley and junior Elgin Long combined to carry the final 14 snaps. Long’s 7-yard plunge into the end zone with 5:40 remaining put the game out of reach.
In an offense that relies heavily on its aerial assault — the Minutemen are ranked sixth in passing yards (340.5 yards per contest) — Frohnapfel is the linchpin. Once a backup quarterback at Marshall, Frohnapfel has accounted for 437 of the Minutemen’s 442 passing attempts.
Coach Whipple remained noncommittal on a starter Monday morning, stating that though Frohnapfel felt a little better, the coaching staff would not make its decision until Tuesday afternoon.
Austin Whipple has not thrown a pass in a live game since 2012 when playing for the Salisbury School in Connecticut. He redshirted as a walk-on at Penn State last fall.
While UMass is on the rise, the Zips (4-6, 2-4) enter Tuesday’s bout having dropped four in a row. Three of the losses came on the road, including their latest — a 55-24 dismantling at Buffalo.
Like the Minutemen, Akron does most of its damage through its passing game.
Quarterback Kyle Pohl has thrown for 1,721 yards and seven touchdowns, but has not looked the same since returning from a head injury two weeks ago against Bowling Green. The junior has completed only 46 of 91 passing attempts the last two games, throwing three interceptions and zero touchdowns.
Making offensive cohesion all the more difficult for Akron has been the play of Tommy Woodson. The freshman signal-caller has cut into Pohl’s playing time, accounting for nearly a third of the passing attempts by the Zip offense. Woodson has completed 53.1 percent of his passes for 806 yards and five touchdowns with six interceptions.
The Zips have a pair of receivers with more than 400 yards on the season in junior Zach D’Orazio (496 on 47 catches) and senior L.T. Smith (430 on 40 catches). In the backfield, junior Conor Hundley and senior Jawon Chisholm alternate in the running game, having logged 463 and 358 yards, respectively.
Where Akron can hurt the Minutemen is on defense, especially if there is a young quarterback under center.
The Zips have 24 sacks this year, good for second in the MAC. Freshman linebacker Jerome Lane leads the team with five sacks, while junior linebacker Jatavis Brown and senior defensive lineman Nordly Capi each have four.
Akron’s defense is also the best in the conference at stopping teams on third down, allowing conversions only 37.4 percent of the time.