Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: UMass football searching for answers after winless start


FOXBOROUGH >> Two weeks into the 2016 season, the University of Massachusetts football team is 0-2.

Both losses, a 24-7 decision at Florida and Saturday's 26-7 defeat at the hands of Boston College, looked similar on the scoreboard. In reality, they were anything but.

Last week, UMass hung in against a nationally-ranked team and three quarters into the game had given the Gators quite a scare. On Saturday, UMass' hopes for a signature victory against an old New England rival vanished more quickly than the yard markings on the Gillette Stadium turf as the grounds crew prepared for a soccer match Saturday night.

The Minutemen scored first in what was dubbed "The Battle of the Bay State." Unfortunately for UMass, the Eagles scored next and rattled off 26 unanswered points.

Going into last week's game against Florida, UMass .head coach Mark Whipple had said the team didn't practice as well as it played. When I visited the Amherst campus Wednesday, the coach said the team practiced better. It just didn't put points on the board.

"There's no question that we want to win a game," said Whipple, adding that "there's a process."

Now, there are UMass football fans who say the heck with "a process," how about a few wins?

Saturday's defeat was especially frustrating for those fans because many of them were looking at the possibility of an upset, or at minimum covering the 16 points that BC was favored by. Neither happened.

This was, after all, a Boston College football team that struggled with Georgia Tech's triple-option offense before losing by a field goal last weekend over in Dublin, Ireland. There were some in the press room who thought the Eagles might have been ripe for a win by UMass.

When I was in Amherst Wednesday, Whipple said that it had been a good week of practice, especially coming off the game in The Swamp. That didn't seem to translate to Saturday's game at Gillette.

"Our guys were nervous coming out. They jumped offsides, but we didn't do that in Florida where you would expect it," Whipple said during Saturday's post-game presser. "It looked like a first game."

It was a decidedly rough game for first-year starter Ross Comis. The redshirt sophomore was sacked eight times and that was the major factor in an amazing statistic. UMass had minus-23 yards rushing in the game. The Minutemen had 122 total yards against a BC defense coached by one-time UMass head coach Jim Reid, and had 93 of those yards in the first 15 minutes.

Whipple didn't mince words when he was asked about the performance of Comis.

"He lost the game, and as a quarterback, you don't like to lose," said the coach. "He only has two touchdowns in two games. A lot of that has to do with the people we're playing. Their numbers speak for themselves."

Some of those same Twitter followers were wondering if perhaps Virginia Tech transfer Andrew Ford deserves some snaps.

"He's the best guy we've got," Whipple said, giving Comis the vote of confidence. "He competes. The other guys have to help him."

So far, the guys in maroon and white are saying all the right things.

"You have to let go of the past. You have to play play-by-play," UMass fullback John Robinson-Woodgett said in the press conference. "You can't think about the last play, only the next play and just keep playing the game."

The coach, who is in his second stint at UMass — a stint that included winning an NCAA Division I-AA [now I-FCS] title — sees progress and like his players, remains optimistic.

It helps that only one of UMass' next five games will be against a Power 5 team. That's Mississippi State, UMass' foe on Sept. 24 back here at Gillette. Next Saturday, UMass hosts Florida International, a team the Minutemen beat last year at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

"This week finally felt like I was back at UMass practicing football the way we used to be able to practice. We were much more competitive [in practice[ than we have ever been. We have more players and young guys are given good looks," said the coach. "I think [this] was the best week we've had physically, mentally, emotionally. I think practice carried over into the game. Now we've just got to eliminate our mistakes and be smarter."

Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.


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