March 3, 2015

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Despite loss, UMass looked like it belonged

Taylor Snow/Collegian

After the Massachusetts football team lost its first three games of this season decisively, there were some that wanted to rip the team’s move to the Football Bowl Subdivision – one some believed was more about dollars than sense – even more.

Not only was this team losing, but the games weren’t even close and the outcomes were obvious by halftime. The Michigan blowout is understandable to many. But the losses to Connecticut and Indiana didn’t draw support for the unconvinced. Those losses were more fuel for the fire.

Anyone with some sense of where this team is at in the rebuilding stage knows that its first three losses – which were by a combined 145-19 score – aren’t catastrophic to the future of UMass football.

The talent gap was so wide. UMass is playing with mostly freshmen and inexperienced, first-year players that were recruited for the Football Championship Subdivision level. So it was hard to imagine the team earning a winning record after the first three games.

So the focus shifted.

The team didn’t hang its head over the losses and instead looked to learn from its mistakes and experiences. The Minutemen moved on and prepared for the portion of their schedule that UMass coach Charley Molnar said would be even more important for the future of his program: the Mid-American Conference schedule.

“At the end of the day, you need to win your league, that’s how you get measured,” Molnar said last Wednesday. “So how we do in our league is very, very important to us, to find out where we’re at and how we stack up against other Mid-American Conference teams.”

And with all things considered, they don’t stack up too badly.

For the first time this season, UMass stayed competitive for nearly all four quarters on Saturday in its 27-16 loss to Miami (Ohio), and it was by far the best game it has played this season.

Granted, the Redhawks are a step below the teams UMass played to start the season, but it was a noteworthy step for the Minutemen considering these are the caliber teams that they will be facing for the foreseeable future as a member of the conference.

The team did face similar mistakes from the non-conference schedule.

Seven times, the Minutemen drove inside the Miami 30-yard line on Saturday. They scored two touchdowns, but youthful mistakes cost them more points, including a first quarter touchdown that was called back for a penalty. It would have given them their first lead of the season, but instead they ended up missing a field goal and getting nothing out of it.

Quarterback Mike Wegzyn, perhaps too confident in how he was improving week-by-week, tossed three interceptions, including a costly one early in the fourth quarter inside the Miami 5-yard line that wasted a chance to get back in the game.

And while he made some impressive throws through difficult coverage, Wegzyn looked like a freshman when big plays presented themselves, especially deep in Miami territory or on fourth down.

Just like last week, too, the team made headway in certain areas.

Michael Cox had the most productive day of his career, rushing for 188 yards and two touchdowns, including one in which he pulled off a front flip over a Miami defender and into the end zone.

The Minutemen were a productive 11-of-19 on third down. They also gained more yards than the RedHawks (471 to 408).

These are all good things. Sure, the loss will sting for a few days, just like the first three did, but eventually, it will subside again, and they will work on improving.

UMass may have let an opportunity slip on Saturday, but for once, it looked like it belonged, and with it being against a team in the MAC, that was important.

If it’s an indication for the future, this team will be just fine.

Stephen Hewitt can be reached at shewitt@student.umass.edu and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.

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