Florida International U

FIU Panthers wary of UMass offense under Mark Whipple

Massachusetts head coach Mark Whipple, right, talks to quarterback Blake Frohnapfel during the first half against Notre Dame, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in South Bend, Ind.
Massachusetts head coach Mark Whipple, right, talks to quarterback Blake Frohnapfel during the first half against Notre Dame, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in South Bend, Ind. AP

In an era when even Alabama has got a better shot at holding another Top 25 team under 20 points in a video game than on the field, some FBS newbies decided to surf the offensive wave instead of erect a sea wall against it.

Take FIU’s opponent on Saturday, the University of Massachusetts.

When the school rehired former University of Miami offensive coordinator Mark Whipple for a second turn as head coach in 2014, he squeezed 30.1 points per game out of the Minutemen in the 10 games started by quarterback Blake Frohnapfel.

Frohnapfel missed the last two games, and despite beating their Mid-American Conference foes statistically, the Minutemen suffered five close losses to finish 3-9.

While the results resembled FIU’s 2014 season, the scenery resembled FIU’s 2014 opponent, Old Dominion: recent FBS promotion, established and productive quarterback (Taylor Heinicke), prolific offense, permissive defense. FIU went on the road, got involved in a game of basketball-like scoring runs and lost 38-35 on a walk-off field goal to end its bowl hopes.

UMass is averaging 428.3 yards but only 21.3 points this season and is 0-3. Don’t be surprised, however, if a similar shootout occurs on Saturday. FIU is low on healthy safeties and missing junior middle linebacker Treyvon Williams. The Panthers probably will run a simplified defense to help their next young men up while UMass’ offense throws a David Copperfield show of illusions at FIU.

“They’re 0-3. But look who they’ve played,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “The teams that have beaten them [Colorado, Temple, Notre Dame] are 10-1 [combined]. And one of them is No. 6 in the country [Notre Dame]. And it was 21-20 with five minutes to go in the second quarter [against Notre Dame]. They’re a very good team. We know that. They’ve got nine seniors starting and six or seven on offense. They’ve got one sophomore among their 22 starters.

“Offensively, they’re doing a great job. Defensively, they are, too. You can look at the stats, but stats don’t always indicate tough. Temple had 67 yards on 37 carries, under 2 yards an attempt. And they should’ve won that game. You can’t just look at stats. You’ve got to look at the tape.”

Back when artificial turf looked like Grandpa’s 30-year-old pea-soup-shade sweater and conferences pondered whether conference title games were worth the trouble, programs built from defense and searched for running backs. Skill seemed harder to find.

Not anymore.

“In their case and Old Dominion’s case, they’ve got a good quarterback,” Turner said. “It starts with that. If you have that, you always have a chance. With the spread offense, it’s easier to get that going earlier than it used to be.”

FIU defensive coordinator Matt House pointed to the head coaches. Whipple has held offensive coordinator or offensive assistant jobs over the past 30 years when he wasn’t a head coach. Old Dominion’s Bobby Wilder coached each skill position at Maine before moving to offensive coordinator, then to Old Dominion.

(Though both Whipple and Wilder’s teams play the wide-open style associated with the western time zones, each spent most of their football lives on New England soil.)

“The one thing about offense — if you get two or three good playmakers, it can come together faster,” House said. “[Frohnapfel] is a really, really good player. He can make all the throws. They’ve got explosive receivers. I know Coach Whip, and he does a good job.”

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

Saturday: FIU at Massachusetts

Kickoff: 3 p.m.; McGuirk Stadium, Amherst, Massachusetts.

TV/radio: ESPN3; WNMA 1210.

Favorite: UMass by 3.

Records: FIU 2-2 (0-1 Conference USA); UMass 0-3 (0-0 MAC).

Series: First meeting.

FIU injuries: Questionable — DB Niko Gonzalez (undisclosed); DB Wilkenson Myrtil (concussion). Doubtful — OL Trenton Saunders (undisclosed); LB Treyvon Williams (knee). Out — LB Davison Colimon (pectoral); DB Jordan Davis (knee); S Shermarke Spence (arm); WR Shawn Abrams (undisclosed); RB Napoleon Maxwell (ACL); OL Jordan Budwig (shoulder).

UMass injuries: Questionable — TE Brandon Howard (undisclosed); DB Kelton Brackett (knee); LB Peter Ngobidi (foot); LB Da’Sean Downey (ankle). Doubtful — TE Sharif Custis (knee). Out — WR Jalen Williams (quad); DB Khary Bailey-Smith (knee); DL Sha-Ki Holines (knee).

PROBABLE FIU STARTERS

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

POS.

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

POS.

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

QB

12

Alex McGough

So.

DE

11

Denzell Perrine

Sr.

RB

1

Alex Gardner

So.

DT

44

Darrian Dyson

Sr.

WR

14

Dennis Turner

So.

DT

93

Imarjaye Albury

Jr.

WR

81

Thomas Owens

So.

DE

55

M. Wakefield

Sr.

TE

80

Ya’Keem Griner

Sr.

LB

53

Anthony Wint

So.

TE

87

Jonnu Smith

Jr.

LB

34

Jephete Matilus

Sr.

LT

78

Dieugot Joseph

Jr.

LB

29

Vontarius West

So.

LG

79

Kai Absheer

Fr.

CB

3

Richard Leonard

Sr.

C

64

M. Montero

Jr.

CB

7

J. McKinnon

Sr.

RG

68

Chris Flaig

So.

S

33

Niko Gonzalez

So.

RT

65

Daquane Wilkie

Fr.

S

38

Wilkenson Myrtil

Jr.

PK

43

Austin Taylor

Jr.

P

6

Stone Wilson

Fr.

PROBABLE UMASS STARTERS

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

POS.

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

POS.

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

QB

7

Blake Frohnapfel

Gr.

DE

54

Trey Seals

Sr.

RB

6

Jamal Wilson

Sr.

NT

92

R. Kitching III

Sr.

FB

33

Rodney Mills

Sr.

DT

5

Peter Angeh

Jr.

WR

19

Shakur Nesmith

So.

LB

25

Joe Colton

Sr.

WR

1

Tajae Sharpe

Sr.

LB

17

J. Santos-Knox

Sr.

TE

85

Brandon Howard

Sr.

LB

42

J. R-Woodgett

Jr.

LT

77

Tyrell Smith

Jr.

LB

3

Kassan Messiah

Sr.

LG

73

Fabian Hoeller

Jr.

CB

4

Randall Jette

Sr.

C

78

Matt Sparks

Sr.

CB

1

Kelton Brackett

Sr.

RG

71

Michael Boland

Jr.

SS

9

T. Dudley-Giles

Sr.

RT

68

Elijah Wilkinson

Jr.

FS

24

Charan Singh

Fr.

PK

23

Blake Lucas

Sr.

P

99

Logan Laurent

So.

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