The Massachusetts football team outgained Miami (Ohio), but penalties and poor red zone execution derailed the Minutemen as they fell to the RedHawks, 27-16, in UMass’ first conference game as a member of the Mid-American Conference on Saturday.
Running back Michael Cox piled up a career-high 188 rushing yards and two touchdowns as part of the Minutemen’s 471 total yards of offense, compared to Miami’s 408.
But UMass (0-4, 0-1 MAC) scored on only three of its five red zone possessions as the Minutemen struggled to finish drives the entire contest.
UMass coach Charley Molnar was disappointed with the loss, especially with his team’s inability to come away with points in the red zone.
“We had opportunities to stay in the game throughout. Didn’t finish the deal a number of times,” Molnar told UMassAthletics.com. “(We) drove the ball, moved the ball with confidence somewhat effectively. We had our sputters and what not, but we still were able to get the ball down close and then we just couldn’t finish it for whatever reason.”
The most apparent case came with UMass trailing 27-10 in the first minute of the fourth quarter when quarterback Mike Wegzyn was intercepted at Miami’s 4-yard line. The turnover brought an abrupt halt to an impressive 14-play, 61-yard drive that could’ve kept the Minutemen within striking distance.
Wegzyn was also intercepted on the first play of the second half when trailing 14-3 after the RedHawks failed to recover an onside kick.
“You could just feel the winds leave our sails when that happened,” Molnar said to UMassAthletics.com. “I’m not sure we ever got it back after that.”
Redshirt senior linebacker D.J. Adeoba suffered a leg injury in the first quarter, and is likely out for the season, according to Molnar, but a pair of other linebackers stepped up in the wake of his absence.
Perry McIntyre finished with 12 tackles for the Minutemen while freshman Kassan Messiah had 10 tackles in his first career start.
Molnar was impressed with Messiah’s play and knew he had the potential to be an effective player.
“We knew he was going to be really good, or very good, and I didn’t know when it would happen but he did show up today,” Molnar said to UMassAthletics.com. “I liked the fire in his eyes, I liked the confidence of such a young football player and he really looked like he belonged out on that football field.”
The Minutemen’s red zone struggles started on their second drive of the game, setting up inside the Miami 10-yard line. Wegzyn connected with running back Jordan Broadnax for what appeared to be a touchdown to give UMass its first lead of the season. The play was erased, however, as receiver Deion Walker was whistled for offensive pass interference for setting a pick to open up Broadnax.
The promising, 14-play drive came away with no points when kicker Brendon Levengood missed a 36-yard field goal in the final minute of the first quarter.
Wegzyn had a difficult game throwing the ball, completing just 19-of-40 passes for 213 yards and three interceptions.
On the other side, Miami quarterback Zac Dysert was efficient for the entire contest, completing 12-of-22 for 192 yards and three touchdowns and an interception. The senior also showed his athleticism with 12 carries for 76 yards and another touchdown on the ground.
The RedHawks kicked off the scoring on a 49-yard touchdown pass from Dysert to Dawan Scott with 14 minutes, three seconds left in the second quarter.
After Levengood nailed a 30-yarder for UMass, Dysert and Miami responded with a six-play, 89-yard drive finished off by another touchdown pass to Scott to extend its lead to 14-3.
Despite the turnovers, the Minutemen offense continued to show signs of improvement, as they had no problem embarking on long drives. UMass had six drives of 10 plays or longer, but only two came away with points.
Cox brought the Minutemen within 11 with 5:08 left in the third quarter on an acrobatic, 9-yard touchdown run that saw Cox front flip over a would-be tackler to cross the goal line.
Cox was explosive all game long, bursting into the second level of the Miami defense on a number of occasions.
Molnar felt the offensive line had a lot to do with Cox’s breakout performance.
“For the first time in our four games, we started the same offensive line two weeks in a row,” Molnar said to UMassAthletics.com. “I thought that was a plus.”
Up next for UMass is Ohio on Saturday at Gillette Stadium as MAC play continues.
Stephen Sellner can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Sellner.