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Monday, August 24, 2015

UMass looks for better results in Year 2 as member of the FBS

Daily Collegian/Maria Uminski

The 2013 season for the Massachusetts football team got off to a rocky start on Saturday, but coach Charley Molnar has high hopes that this edition of the Minutemen will be an improved football team from last year’s 1-11 squad.

That doesn’t mean that he has a specific goal in mind when it comes to how many games his team should win in its second year in the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Mid-American Conference, however.

“I haven’t ever spoken in terms of wins and losses with the coaches, with the team or with the public,” he said. “I don’t want to set a goal that’s too high because it sounds good and I certainly don’t want to set a goal that’s too low.

“But I expect to see not only development internally, but I also expect externally that you people watching the games, follow us on a weekly basis, will see an improved football team and say they may or may not be ready to win big in 2013, but you can see that we’ll be a competitive team in the near future.”

His team struggled to stay with No. 23 Wisconsin on Saturday and started off its season with the same sour taste that it did in 2012 when it was shutout by Connecticut in the opener.

But Molnar sees an improved team from a year ago.

“(Last year felt) different because I knew we had a long ways to go,” Molnar said. “I thought that maybe some of the guys from our football team would just step up and be able to carry the day. Once we got through the first game when I saw that wasn’t going to be the case, I tempered my enthusiasm to understand where we’re at as a football team developmentally and we were really on the ground floor.

“We’ve taken a step up. I can’t tell you if we’re on the second floor or the third floor yet. Let us play a couple of games. But we are definitely better than we were a year ago.”

Molnar also has the luxury of an experienced No. 1 quarterback that he can turn to in redshirt sophomore Mike Wegzyn. That didn’t look like it would be the case at the end of last season when backup sophomore quarterback A.J. Doyle got the start against Central Michigan, but Wegzyn outdueled him in the offseason for the starting job again.

Wegzyn was missing two of his top targets against the Badgers in junior running back Jordan Broadnax and redshirt senior tight end Rob Blanchflower due to injury. Redshirt freshman Stacey Bedell and graduate student Ricardo Miller got the start at running back and tight end respectively against Wisconsin in their absence.

But perhaps one of the biggest areas of concern for the UMass offense is the offensive line, which suffered multiple injuries last season. That meant that a lot of freshmen had to play and try to protect Wegzyn. Redshirt senior Anthony Dima anchors the line, but questions remain around him.
Molnar, however, thinks that the line is “the best since he’s been here.”

On the other side of the ball, Molnar believed that his defense was outperforming the offense when he spoke at media day in August, which can be attributed to the health of the players.

“I would say right now that the defense remains ahead of the offense,” Molnar said. “They’ve been very fortunate to be relatively injury free. We’ve had some guys out, but for the most part every guy on defense has managed to get back into the mix of things.”

The defense struggled during the game against the Badgers, though, especially against the run. The defense allowed Wisconsin to run for a total of 393 yards and three different running backs to eclipse the 100-yard mark. They were able to hold the Badgers to 17 points in the first half, but things started to unravel in the second half.

This year’s defense is led by the likes of redshirt senior Kevin Byrne on the defensive line, sophomore Kassan Messiah at linebacker and redshirt sophomore Randall Jette at cornerback.
While the Minutemen have those key players back, they will be without Perry McIntyre, who led the UMass defense at linebacker, Hafis Williams and Chaz Thompson on the defensive line and Darren Thellen at defensive back.

But while the team is built for a more successful run than last season, the next step for these Minutemen is to turn that into wins.

Cameron McDonough can be reached at cameronm@ umass.edu and followed on Twitter @Cam_McDonough.

 

 

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