UMass blown out in 1st ever FBS contest

By Stephen Sellner

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Well, it can only go up from here.

Maria Uminski/Collegian

There was an interception returned for a touchdown, a blocked punt for a touchdown and at the end of the first quarter, UMass had more penalty yards (19) than total yards (12).

At the end of it, the Massachusetts football team walked away from its first game in the Football Bowl Subdivision with a 37-0 loss to Connecticut on Thursday night at Rentschler Field.

UMass (0-1) struggled mightily all night long with redshirt freshman Mike Wegzyn starting under center in his first collegiate game. The Minutemen notched 59 yards of offense — compared to 372 on the UConn side — and failed to cross midfield one time. It was the first time UMass was shutout since Sept. 30, 1995, in a 34-0 loss to Rhode Island.

Coach Charley Molnar was shocked to see his offense struggle so much in its first game.

“I’m disappointed in tonight,” Molnar said. “I’m shocked we didn’t score. I’m shocked we didn’t score quite a few times. I came in to the game thinking that we had made progress and that would start to show tonight and for whatever reason it didn’t.”

Wegzyn finished 9-for-22 for 56 yards and an interception while spending most of the contest trying to escape the relentless UConn rush. Wegzyn was relieved in favor of true freshman A.J. Doyle midway through the fourth quarter.

Molnar felt that the pressure on Wegzyn had more to do with the young signal-caller than anything else.

“Some of it was definitely from UConn and winning the matchups against the [offensive] line but a lot of the pressure was self-inflicted wounds by Mike,” Molnar said. “You know, he didn’t pull the trigger fast, had guys open and just kind of got stuck on the peg a few times.”

Wegzyn said he plans to use the rough start as a learning experience and build off of it going forward.

“You just have to swallow your pride, look at what you did wrong and correct it and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Wegzyn said. “It’s more of a building kind of game.”

Umass vs Uconn from Daily Collegian on Vimeo. Video by: Cameron McDonough

Defensively, the Minutemen hung around and played well in between the hashes, but struggled setting the edge on the outside and covering the flats, which proved to be costly.

The Huskies rushed 43 times for 147 yards. Running back Lyle McCombs had 82 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown.

UConn’s first drive of the game covered 75 yards in 12 plays with the series lasting seven minutes, 29 seconds. McCombs finished the drive with a one-yard touchdown run.

UMass looked overmatched at times and Molnar said that he felt UConn was bigger, faster and stronger. However he thought that motivation and coaching could neutralize some of those factors.

In his first game as a head coach, Molnar called the game, “the longest day of my life.”

“It went really, really fast up until kickoff and then after that first series or two, man, it was long. I’m like, ‘Come on, guys. Let’s get this thing going,’” Molnar said.

Despite the route, UMass had the play of the night.

Trailing 7-0 in the closing minutes of the first quarter, the Minutemen flushed Huskies quarterback Chandler Whitmer out of the pocket. Whitmer tried to throw the ball away but UMass safety Darren Thellen leaped out of bounds at the UMass 12-yard line and tipped the ball back into the field of play into the hands of teammate Tom Brandt for the interception.

“I would say it was luck, you know,” Thellen said. “I wanted to get the pick but I knew I couldn’t make it so I jumped up and I saw [Brandt] close so I tried to throw it to him and fortunately he caught it and made the play.”

UMass Press Conference from Daily Collegian on Vimeo Video by: Cameron McDonough.

Other than the one bright spot from Thellen, it was a painful start to a new era of UMass football and Molnar expects to be better next time out in the home opener against Indiana on Sept. 8.

“We’ll be better next week,” Molnar said. “It damn well better be.”

Stephen Sellner can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Sellner.