The Buffs got killed by Jean Sifrin last year, and thankfully he’s gone to the NFL. What other weapons does UMass have other than superstar WR Tajae Sharpe?
The loss of Jean Sifrin is all types of sad, and he will be greatly remembered on this day as Colorado was his coming out party. I still remember fondly Sifrin jumping over two defenders in the endzone like it was nothing. But enough reminiscing, we're here to talk about the very near future. Replacing Sifrin, though currently labeled as an H-back, is Rodney Mills. I've been gushing over Mills all preseason, and if he had matched Sifrin's catches last season, he'd have a very similar stat line. Mill's is probably the second biggest threat in the passing game after Tajae. Behind Blake Frohnapfel is Jamal Wilson, who is coming off an injury shortened season but showed flashes of high-level play before being injured last year. Even with those guys, expect to see a lot of Frohnapfel to Sharpe.
Blake Frohnapfel has gotten a lot of press as a sleeper QB. How do you expect him to do and is he really that good?
Can we even call Blake Frohnapfel a sleeper anymore? He was named first team All-MAC by every one with a pulse, ranked #8 by Bleacher Report as the top QB-WR duo, was named a top 30 quarterback by Yahoo! sports. I could go on for ages here. When you're on the front page of USA today online, I don't think you can be a sleeper. To answer your question, yes, he is that good. Some of that is driven by the sheer amount of attempts he's asked to make, as the running game tends to struggle. You don't put up 300 yards a game when you have no talent though. This season we could be talking 4,000 yards passing and 30 touchdowns. We'll see how his leg healed (it was broken with two games to go last season), but fans have to remember that last season he came in as a transfer, hardly practiced with the team, and needed time to learn the playbook. This season he'll be a whole other animal.
The focus of any Mark Whipple team will be the offense, but tell me about the defense. Who should we watch out for and what’s their calling card? Bend, don’t break or high risk, high reward?
It's tough to give the defense a calling card when last season their calling card was "let the other team into the endzone and cough up any lead." The Minutemen's defense should be improved this year, but how much remains to be seen. There is definitely a studs and duds aspect to the defense, as there are some high caliber players picking up the slack for some less than ideal choices. Randall Jette, Trey-Dudley Giles and Javon Santos-Knox have all been getting lots of preseason praise. Robert Kitching is primed for a breakout season, and will shore up the middle of the defensive line. If UMass's ends can get to the quarterback, which they struggled to do in the past, the defense can be reborn, if not, it'll be more of the same from last year.
Who should we watch on the offensive side of the ball?
I've spoke about Frohnapfel at length above, and really that's the answer. He'll be asked to throw the ball 30 times, and if you're not watching him throw the ball, you'll probably be watching Tajae Sharpe catch it. Sharpe is headed to the mid-rounds of the draft to start the season, and he'll be using this season as proof that he should probably go higher. Be ready for a lot of Hip-Hip-TAJAE!
How do you see this game playing out?
If this was home I'd feel a lot better about it, I know that the high altitude messes with players. Even still, I think the Buffs are reeling from the Hawaii loss and are now facing a similar challenge. This UMass team is better than last years, and I don't know if I can say the same for the Buffs. Lets go with the same score from last year, but reverse it in UMass's favor. I am a homer, after all.
Quick Hitter Predictions
CU's Oline vs. UMass's Dline- Advantage: Push. A week ago, I would've said this matchup is very much in the Buffs' favor. However, the poor showing against Hawaii has me doubting this unit. They very much look the part, and against the Minutemen's hybrid front, they should be able to push them around. You could've said the same thing about the 'Bows last Thursday, too. This is a push until proven otherwise.
UMass's Oline vs. CU's Dline- Advantage: CU. As with every other spot on the field, Massachusetts is experienced, with the youngest guy starting (according to their recently released depth chart) being third year junior Elijah Wilkinson. As the Buffs have found out, experience doesn't always equal good play. I expect Jim Leavitt's D to be all over the field, and the defensive line got some good penetration on last Thursday. That should continue.
CU's QB vs. UMass's DB's- Advantage: Slightly CU. Sefo Liufau gets the nod for his performance in Gillette last season. He played really well, and he and Spruce basically brought CU back by themselves. The Minutemen somehow are starting four seniors in the four slated starting spots, with the most lethal being 5th year man Randall Jette, who picked off Sefo last year. The amount of snaps returning on this team is insane. This time, Sefo wins out, and rebounds from a bad start to 2015
Umass's QB vs. CU's DB's- Advantage: CU. This unit BALLED out against Hawaii, and rightfully so, as they have high expectations. Well, all except Kenneth Crawley, who got beat twice, and paid for it both times. Crawley is too good to not bounce back, so look for the bulldog attitude to come out. Blake Frohnapfel is a good QB, as mentioned above, so the Buffs are going to have to stay on their toes, but I like these DBs too much to pick against them.
CU's Skill Players (WR, TE, RB) vs. UMass's Back 7 (LB's and DB's)- Advantage: Push. If you had to guess what's worth mentioning about this part of the Minutemen, what would you guess? Anyone saying something other than experience needs to get their head checked. Every player in the linebacking corps is a 4th year player, with three seniors and a redshirt junior. Jovan Santos-Knox is a thumper at the heart of the D, and Kassan Messiah is dangerous coming off the edge. The tight end was disappointingly absent from the box score for CU, and I'd hope that they use the middle of the field more, with wide-outs and the split end (Dylan Keeney is bound to break out at some point). Michael Adkins ran very well, but Christian Powell struggled and Phillip Lindsay didn't quite find his groove until late. It's hard to see more than one back having a good game again. And of course, on the outside, Brian Lindgren needs to find a way to get more creative getting Nelson Spruce the ball, and getting both Fields and Bryce Bobo involved more. Move them around and sling the ball.
UMass's Skill Players vs.CU"s Back 7- Advantage: Push. Tajae Sharpe did well against the Buffs last year, and expect that trend to continue, he's one of the best wide receivers in the country. Behind him, however, I couldn't tell who else they have, and I'm sure they won't make much noise on Saturday. In the backfield, Jamal Wilson is a bruiser who gashed an easily gashable unit up front for CU last year, but Jim Leavitt won't let happen again. The linebackers played a non-descript game against Hawaii, with no plays remarkably bad or good. Unless you count Derek McCartney as a linebacker, in which case there was a shining star. I think Addison Gillam has yet to truly make his presence felt in this new defense, and he should grow more into his role as the season goes along.
Special Teams- Advantage: UMass. After you watched the Hawaii game, there' no other answer here.