STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Coaches know when their teams match up well with their opponents.
Massachusetts coach Mark Whipple tends to think that his Minutemen will have problems against Penn State (3-0) on Saturday.
When asked about how his offense matches up against Penn State’s defense, Whipple said, "We don’t."
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He added, "We haven’t really run the ball very well versus the people we’ve played against. None of them have guys like Penn State does."
In their third season as an FBS team, the Minutemen (0-3) are coming off back-to-back 1-11 seasons. They’ll play their final non-conference game Saturday before starting an eight-game Mid-American Conference schedule.
Despite scoring 69 points in its past two games, UMass gave up 75 and lost three-point games to Colorado and Vanderbilt after dropping its opener to Boston College 30-7.
Special-teams blunders (blocked field goal and punt) against Vanderbilt prompted Whipple to fire special teams coach Ted Daisher on Tuesday and take over that role.
Whipple’s defense will be going against sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg, whom he says would be a first-round NFL draft pick next year if he were eligible.
Penn State is unbeaten but not without its problems. Coach James Franklin is still trying to develop a consistent running game; the Nittany Lions are ranked 117th in rushing offense among 125 FBS teams.
Penn State is 9 of 12 in the red zone but just three of those scores have gone for touchdowns. And the Nittany Lions yielded a blocked field goal and punt against Rutgers last week in a game in which they scored with 1:13 remaining to win their Big Ten opener 13-10.
Here are things to watch in Saturday’s Penn State-UMass game:
FANCY PASSING: Hackenberg became the first Penn State player to throw for more than 400 yards (454) against Central Florida in the team’s opener in Dublin, Ireland. Hackenberg has thrown for more than 300 yards in four straight games. Franklin said this week, barring injury, he plans to redshirt backup quarterbacks Trace McSorley and Michael O’Connor. D.J. Crook would play for Hackenberg in a mop-up role.
PERSONAL SCOUTING REPORT: Whipple has not only seen Penn State’s Hackenberg on film but at Penn State’s practice and in his dorm room. Whipple’s son, Austin, now a reserve quarterback at UMass, was a walk-on at Penn State who played for former coach Bill O’Brien. Mark Whipple and O’Brien are longtime friends, and Austin Whipple and Hackenberg are former roommates. "He (Hackenberg) reminds me of a guy I had in Pittsburgh with the Steelers," said Whipple, who was a quarterback coach with Pittsburgh when Ben Roethlisberger was a rookie in 2004.
STEPPING IN: UMass quarterback Blake Frohnapfel transferred from Marshall after backing up Conference USA MVP Rakeem Cato. Frohnapfel has given the Minutemen some offensive spark, going 46 of 94 for 619 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions.
THEY’RE BACK: Whipple coached at UMass from 1998-2003, compiled a 49-26 record and won the Division I-AA title in 1998. He moved around the NFL and coached at Miami (Florida) before returning to Massachusetts in January. And, not only is Austin Whipple returning to State College, so is UMass receiver Alex Kenney. He transferred to UMass after a redshirt year and three seasons with Penn State and is a graduate of State College Area High School. He’s listed as a starter but has caught just one pass this season.
OFF THE FIELD: A Facebook movement labeled a "Joe-out" to honor former Penn State coach Joe Paterno has been organized for Saturday. People are urged to either dress like Paterno or display the number 409 to signify the late coach’s overall total number of victories. The NCAA restored Penn State’s available scholarships to a full allotment of 85 last week and also made the school eligible for the postseason. Those were sanctions the university received from the NCAA after the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse scandal. The NCAA also removed 111 Paterno-led victories from the record book. Penn State has no affiliation with the event.