In what will surely be a slightly less intense matchup than last week's contest, Penn State will take on the Minutemen of Massachusetts this Saturday at Beaver Stadium. UMass has had a rough go of it to start their season, with a 30-7 loss to Boston College, a 41-38 loss to Colorado, and a 34-31 loss to Vanderbilt. The teams will square off with a 4:00PM kick time at the Beav, where the team will spend it's next two weeks. This is the biggest game on the Minutemen's schedule, so the words "trap game" will be mentioned a lot in the coming days. Fear not, though. After all, even Vandy beat them.
If you've attended a game at Beaver Stadium in the past few years (the last two especially), you've probably learned a lot of new songs. One would naturally assume that this means the band must be working hard and learning new songs. Well, they probably are. It's a shame that instead we are turning down for something and being forced to build the crescendo of Sandstorm before being ripped away from the recognizable part like a puppy at a breeding farm is ripped from its mother.
Last Season - UMass: 1-11 (1-7), iPod: 99 Problems
UMass suffered through quite the hardship last season, with their only win coming in a 17-10 victory over Miami (OH). They were defeated by 27 points or more six separate times, including 45-0 to Wisconsin, 32-3 to Buffalo, 63-19 to Northern Illinois, and 51-23 to Ohio. Surely not what former Notre Dame coordinator Charley Molnar was hoping for in his second season at the helm for the Minutemen.
The iPod that controls Beaver Stadium spent last season blaring the classics, such as Shipping Up to Boston, Don't Stop Believin', and Kernkraft 400. It also fostered the return of one ballad about a kind girl whose named rhymes with Shmaroline. It was quite a season for the iPod, but unfortunately that took away from the Blue Band. While the speakers blared at every opportunity, the band turned from cheering section leaders to fans with free tickets.
The Minutemen decided to shake things up, but in a familiar way this offseason. After the failed experiment that was Charley Molnar as a head coach, a friendly face has returned to the UMass sideline. The man who was in control during the most successful stretch of football in Minutemen history, Mark Whipple, is once again leading the charge against
the British the MAC. For a fan base that has become fractured in recent years, partially due to the move to play their home games in Gillette Stadium, they could use a sense of familiarity. At the time, this move was made with the optimistic view that it would entice more fans to come out to games. Instead, it left half of the fan base either unwilling to travel to Gillette for games, or unwilling to pay for the more expensive seats. Bringing Austin Whipple's father back into the fray though, gives the older generation of fans reason to care again. His mere presence on the sideline improved the immediate future for his team, even if it won't show up in the record books this season.
I'm sure the Beaver Stadium iPod spent it's time listening to all the hot radio stations, picking up what the young people like to listen to these days. The results of this dedicated study by the iPod has led to such classical hits as "Problem" by Ariana Grande. While the iPod sat back and did its due diligence, all the Blue Band did was announce that Director Richard Bundy was retiring*. A sure sign that the iPod is winning this battle.
*In all seriousness, it is a great disappointment that Bundy is retiring. He will be remembered in Penn State folklore for a very, very long time.
Despite giving up an unacceptable amount of points already this season, the UMass offense has kept the team in two of their three games. Marshall transfer Blake Frohnapfel has performed admirably this season, holding a 117.5 QB rating to go along with a TD/INT ratio of 5/2. The hope for the Minutemen always was that Frohnpafel would show enough to earn that starting job, so it's a definite positive to see him take the reins in that regard. Star wide receiver Tajae Sharpe has been consistent and reliable so far, going for no less than 73 receiving yards in a game. The rushing attack has had a more difficult time getting going, only having exceeded 100 yards as a team once in three games to this point.
When things are going well, the Beaver Stadium iPod loves to use its go-to song, Kernkraft 400 by Zombie Nation. And who can blame it? It's loud. It's intense. It's provocative. It gets the people going. And as long as the iPod is playing, it doesn't have to worry about hearing Seven Nation Army from the Blue Band. This iPod v. Blue Band matchup is starting to feel a bit like Alabama vs. Lehigh, in Tuscaloosa. How can Lehigh (the Blue Band) even hope to stand a chance when the odds (stadium speakers) are stacked against them (are super loud)?
This is where UMass has truly gone wrong. The crux of the defense was always going to be the secondary, which is full of very solid players who have good chemistry and are no pushovers. The response by UMass opponents so far? Pounding the rock. Colorado and Vanderbilt ran for 156 and 160 on the ground respectively, and Boston College racked up a whopping 338 yards of ground and pound. So there is clearly a weak spot there that Penn State should be able to exploit and give their running backs some confidence heading into B1G play. However, the aforementioned secondary has mostly lived up to their billing. While the running game has killed the defense, the secondary has allowed over 173 yards passing just once, to Colorado.
Finally, the first category where the Blue Band can put up a fight against the iPod. Sure, the iPod can pull out the lion roar and Welcome to the Jungle from time to time while the Nittany Lion defense is on the prowl, but this time truly belongs to the Blue Band. No one can deny that the dark and ominous tones emitted from the band of blue brothers and sisters are the true instigator to mass chaos in the student section. When there's a big play to be made by the defense, the sounds of the brass ringing out dark, minor chords sting the senses and ignite a roar that no stadium effect can emulate.
UMass kicker Blake Lucas is 2/4 on field goal attempts this season with a long make of 34 yards, while connecting on all of his extra points. Punter Brian McDonald is currently averaging 39.1 yards per punt. The kick return game has been decent, but not spectacular.
The iPod doesn't usually participate in special teams fun, and the Blue Band is typically in the middle of the fight song when the extra point team comes on to the field. So advantage Blue Band?
UMass joined the MAC in 2012. UMass is leaving the MAC after the 2015 season because they declined an offer to join on a full time basis.
The Beaver Stadium iPod is probably pink.