Lack of offensive execution dooms Minutemen in shutout loss

By Stephen Hewitt

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

FOXBORO — The look on Mike Wegzyn’s face was anything but encouraging.

The redshirt freshman quarterback made his way to his seat in the press room with his shoulders slumped and eyes blank. His voice, cheerful and optimistic three weeks ago, was low and monotone as he answered questions about another Massachusetts football team loss, and more specifically, arguably the most forgettable performance of his young career.

Through the first five weeks, the theme of the Minutemen’s season was progression. The offense was scoring more and more points week to week and Wegzyn’s numbers were incrementally improving, culminating in a 373-yard, four-touchdown performance against a now-ranked Ohio team on Sept. 29.

But now, like air let out of a balloon, what seemed like progression has turned into regression.

It started at Western Michigan two weeks ago, when Wegzyn and the offense couldn’t find much rhythm, totaling just 218 yards as a unit. They thought last week’s bye would provide a fresh start on Saturday against Bowling Green. Instead, it was just more of the same.

Wegzyn finished Saturday’s 24-0 loss to the Falcons going 9-for-25 with 23 passing yards and two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. Late in the third quarter, he was replaced in favor of backup A.J. Doyle in a scene that was more reminiscent of the season-opener at Connecticut than his career performance three weeks ago.

“It’s the most frustrated I’ve been in a while,” Wegzyn said.

Playing without receiver Alan Williams and offensive lineman Nick Speller – who both are still suspended for academics – as well as tight end Rob Blanchflower due to injury didn’t make things easy for Wegzyn. Playing against Bowling Green, one of the Mid-American Conference’s top defenses, didn’t help either.

But the quarterback wasn’t making excuses.

“We accepted the challenge as an offense, and personally I take that in my hands,” Wegzyn said. “As a quarterback I need to lead the offense and get things going, even when they’re not, and I didn’t do that today.”

The offense was stagnant all afternoon. UMass accumulated only 118 yards of total offense, six first downs and crossed midfield three times. And on third downs, the Minutemen couldn’t do much of anything, converting just once in 16 attempts to move the chains.

“It was horrific, absolutely horrific,” UMass coach Charley Molnar said.

“We’ve got a pretty broad third down package that we work on week in and week out. … We just couldn’t execute (it) today.”

With three consecutive road tests – including one next week against an SEC team in Vanderbilt – it’s back to the drawing board for the offense. While Molnar acknowledged that Wegzyn hasn’t matched what he’s capable of, he said some adjustments may need to be made.

“Today, he was just not himself,” Molnar said. “Things that he does in practice every day … and today he just didn’t do them. We’ll have to go back and look and see, make sure that he’s confident in what he does and he knows what he’s doing, and if we’ve got too much on his plate, then we need to take something off.”

Defense shines despite defeat

For as poor as the offense may have played on Saturday, the defense played more than well enough for the team to potentially come away with a victory.

The unit, which has given up at least 40 points on multiple occasions this season, gave up a season-best 17 points and helped the Minutemen stay in the game for the majority of the afternoon.

Linebacker Kassan Messiah, who made a career-high 16 tackles in the game, said the bye week gave the defense fresh legs and an opportunity to figure out what’s expected of them, not only as a unit but individually.

“The break definitely gave us some time to reflect back on the season, the things that we can improve on individually that can ultimately make the team better,” Messiah said.

Molnar was particularly impressed with Messiah and defensive back D’Metrius Williams, both freshmen, who were instrumental in the defense’s performance.

“They’re outstanding,” Molnar said. “They took the loss hard, they play hard. They’re talented, but because of their enthusiasm and their effort, it brings them up another notch.”

Williams’ halftime tweets earn national attention

Williams, who had a breakout game with seven tackles and three pass breakups, may have been a little too enthusiastic when the Minutemen headed into the locker rooms for halftime.

After making a number of plays in the first half, Williams took to Twitter to share his thoughts.

Williams retweeted some posts from beat writers giving him praise before writing: “IM OUT HERE BALLIN’ .. 2nd half bouta qet started time too qet mo’ money.”

Williams eventually took his tweets down and apologized for creating attention, but not before it started going viral around Twitter and eventually picked up by national sports blogs such as Deadspin and SB Nation.

There is no written policy regarding social media usage during halftime, according to John Sinnett, UMass assistant director for media relations, but Molnar said he’ll handle the situation.

“Immature on his part, obviously,” Molnar said. “We’ve already discussed that as a staff policy, but I’ll take the blame on that and say I just didn’t drive it home enough. You know, I guess I have to say it every week, ‘Don’t tweet during halftime.’ But he did, so I’ll deal with it.

“He made a mistake and he’ll suffer the consequences, but it’s not a death sentence to him by any stretch.”
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.