Last time the Massachusetts football team traveled out to the state of Michigan, it left with a bitter taste in its mouth.
The team is hoping that won’t happen again.
Three weeks after the Minutemen (0-5, 0-2 Mid-American Conference) suffered a 50-point loss to Michigan, the team will head back to the “Great Lakes State” to face Western Michigan on Saturday.
Despite the winless record and, once again, being decisive underdogs against the Broncos (2-3), the general attitude in the Minutemen locker room is hopeful.
“I think the guys really feel good about where they’re headed and they know they’re just a few short steps away from being a winning football team,” UMass coach Charley Molnar said. “And each and every day we try to take as many of those steps as we can.”
The Minutemen had arguably their best performance of the season last week in a 37-34 loss to the Bobcats at Gillette Stadium as redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Wegzyn threw for a career-high 373 yards and the first four passing touchdowns of his career.
UMass took its first lead of the season and bounced back several times to regain leads throughout the game. It even led by touchdown late in the third quarter with multiple chances to put the game away, but penalties and missed opportunities down the stretch, as well as a career game from Ohio running back Beau Blankenship ultimately sealed the Minutemen’s fate.
Wegzyn said his team still has some work to do as it tries to maintain the numbers it put up last week.
“You don’t want to go back to doing anything else, so I think as a mindset, that’s what we are going into with,” Wegzyn said. “I mean, we’re looking to do the exact same thing, and actually do better than we did last week.”
WMU senior quarterback Alex Carder will miss his second straight game on Saturday as he attempts to come back from a finger injury on his throwing hand that he suffered in the Broncos’ 30-24 victory over Connecticut on Sept. 22.
In his four games as the starter, Carder threw for 1,049 yards and eight touchdowns, including a 364-yard, five-touchdown performance against Eastern Illinois. Carder led WMU to a 2-2 record in that span.
But without him under center, the Broncos sorely missed his production as they lost decisively last week in its MAC opener, 37-17, to Toledo. Backup quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen threw for 232 yards, but tossed three interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown.
The UMass defense will be watching wide receiver Jaime Wilson, who ranks third in the nation in receptions (47) to go along with his 533 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
The Broncos also boast a two-headed rushing attack of Dareyon Chance and Brian Fields, who have combined for over 500 yards in five games. And as a collective unit, the WMU running game has accounted for seven touchdowns this year.
“They’re so diverse with all of their different personnel groups that they use, so they really keep you on your toes throughout the course of the afternoon,” Molnar said.
Wegzyn is hoping his team can finally put everything together to gain a long-awaited victory.
“I was looking to get it every other weekend as well, but I think this week, it’s really looking promising for us,” Wegzyn said. “Last week we really showed what we can do as an offense, and I’m hoping to make yet another stride forward and improve even off of last week.”
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.