Notre Dame’s a 4 TD favorite, the Bees have been slain, and CJ Prosise is still running wild as of the time I’m writing this on Wednesday night. So, before anyone else gets injured, let’s talk about the Irish’s upcoming battle.
The When/Where/What Time/Etc. vs. the Minutemen of UMass, 3:30 PM ET, NBC. LET THIS ALL BE YOUR OFFICIAL WARNING…..HE’S BAAAACK…..
— UMass Football (@UMassFootball) September 20, 2015
The Opposing Coach: The Minutemen are run by Mark Whipple, who had so much fun coaching them in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, that he signed back on to be their head coach again before the 2014 season. Whipple replaced former ND OC Charley Molnar who lasted just two seasons at UMass before his ousting. The Minutemen, obviously living up to their name, found Molnar’s consecutive 1-11 seasons, the first two at the FBS level for the school, to fall short of expectations. Enter(Return) Mark Whipple – The Knute Rockne of UMass football. His legend looms large given that his first season with the Minutemen was the one and only FCS championship in the team’s history. Feel free to opine below about who will play him in Mark Whipple: All American.
In 2014, one way of thinking about Whipple’s performance was that he was 200% more successful than Charley Molnar. In another, more accurate way, his team was 3-9. If you’re trying to profile what type of game plan to expect, the safe bet is AIR RAID. In 2014, UMass was the 14th most pass heavy team in all of college football…well, of the offensive plays they got to call…they were 14th most likely to call pass. So far in 2015 they’ve upped that to 4th nationally…in pass play percentage.
Whipple’s resume is probably more impressive than many would think. He was the QB’s coach for Pittsburgh from 2004-06, and just as Weis was getting ready to bring his schematic advantage to Notre Dame, Whipple was picking up a Super Bowl ring of his own. He’s also had stints as The U’s OC and the distinct pleasure of coaching Brandon Weeden while with the Cleveland Browns. Am I really on a third paragraph about Mark Whipple? Okay…moving on.
The UUUUUUU(Mass)’s Last Game: In a game that no doubt had LOTS of ND advanced scouts in attendance so they could see not one but two future opponents, UMass and Temple battled to one of the best finishes of the day on what was a great Saturday of college football. Temple was coming off wins versus Penn State and the Gunner Kiel-led Cincinnati Bearcats and, even as the road team, seemed to be prohibitive favorites. But you don’t just walk into Gillette Stadium and mess with Massachusetts. You most certainly DO NOT. Temple ripped the heart out of ND’s next opponent with a 25 yard field goal with just seconds remaining to deny the Minutemen the win, 25-23. This was apparently a big blow to UMass Bowl Aspirations. I can’t tell if that link is serious or not.
Even for a team that’s made losing tough, close games a habit, this one had to hurt. They’re a more competitive team than their record from last year (3-9) and this year (0-2) might suggest. Over that stretch, 6 of their 11 losses have come by a combined 21 points. The Irish seem focused and unified from all of the adversity they’ve had to face, but taking this week’s opponent as a total walk over would be a mistake.
I feel dirty writing down that cliche remark.
I think it’s a given that were a team to in fact ignore that they had a game this week that 1) the coach should be fired, and 2) they’d stand a good chance to lose. I’m not of the opinion either of those things has/should occur.
Team Talent: On (virtual Excel style) paper, this is the largest talent gap Notre Dame will have over an opponent all season. While skewed somewhat by their FCS status prior to 2012, even over the last couple of recruiting cycles, you’re talking about a team that is recruiting players roughly at the same grade as Navy. This is not a knock on Navy as those players are taking on responsibilities more important and long-term than those which occur on a football field, but if you’re a non-military school recruiting like one…you’re in trouble. A cool new tool 247 Sports introduced just today is their own “Team Talent Index.” The lazy people like myself just take the composite totals from recruiting cycles and ignore the fact that transfers, suspensions, injuries, and NFL jumps all occur. 247’s focuses on the 85 best graded player on the active rosters to develop their index. Notre Dame currently sits at #8 nationally. UMass (along with all 3 service academies) did not make the top 100, which is as far as their ranks dip at the moment. In other words: smart systems agree with lazy systems…these two teams are of a different class talent-wise. If we were in Southwest seating priorities, ND’s an A. U Mass is on standby for a C.
Trends/Thoughts/Stats: This is absolutely one of those games where UMass must play perfect and hope for multiple Notre Dame mistakes in order to make this competitive. It would easily be the biggest win in the history of the UMass program to come to Notre Dame and knock off the #6 team in the country. It’s hard to imagine it happening. Look, the team cannot ignore their opponent this week or diminish them, but as a fan/observer, I can.
BCF Toys has what they call the Massey Index to evaluate team types. If ND wants to be an Elite Team (defined as Top 5 nationally), then it is expected to post dominant wins versus FBS competition. A “dominant” win is defined as winning by 25 or more points. On average, “Elite” teams will beat FBS competition by 25+ points 44% of the time. In a 12 game schedule, that means 5 such wins. The Irish have one and are looking for four more. This game really must be the second such dominant victory to stay on pace to “look” like an Elite team.
There are three players on the Minutemen to keep your eye on:
- Blake Frohnapfel – Blake, aside from having an unpronounceable last name that made me look it up about 12 times to ensure I got the spelling right is the team’s best player and quarterback. Again, this is a team that will pass, pass, and pass some more. He’s a volume passer though, not an efficiency master. B-Frohn has completed just 55% of his passes over the past year+. Since the start of 2014, he’s thrown 27 touchdown and 12 interceptions. For reference, last year Everett Golson threw 29 TD’s and 14 picks. The Frohn-man was a Davey O’Brien watch list member. I’m excited to tweet out his name at least once or twice.
- Tajae Sharpe – UMass has 53 receptions as a team so far this year. Sharpe has 22 of them. Last year Sharpe had 85 receptions, the next closest had 41. In the loss to Temple, Sharpe had 11 receptions and became UMass’ most prolific receiver of all-time. So, can we all take a guess as to who Blake will be targeting?
- Jovan Santos-Knox – If the Minutemen have a Jaylon Smith, it’s this guy. Okay, they don’t have a Jaylon Smith, but the senior linebacker will be their all everything on defense. If we’re lucky some Tyler Luatua/Santos-Knox collisions are in our future. Only, no injuries, Tyler. Heck, same for you Jovan. I’m tired of injuries.
Tex will drop the predictions post either late Friday or Saturday morning. Call for big numbers people. The Irish need a calm, dominant performance.