Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Still winless, UMass football heads to Vanderbilt

Jeff Bernstein/For the Collegian

Massachusetts football quarterback Mike Wegzyn isn’t approaching this weekend’s game against Vanderbilt differently from any other game this season.

Even after a forgettable 23-yard, two-interception performance in last week’s 24-0 loss to Bowling Green that moved UMass to 0-7, the redshirt freshman signal-caller is remaining optimistic that he can help lead his team to its long-awaited first victory, something coach Charley Molnar has surely noticed.

“(His mood) is no different than after the first game of the year,” Molnar said. “He’s so resilient, he’s so even-keeled from that standpoint. … He is very optimistic about the game and his own improvement.”

Wegzyn and the rest of the Minutemen (0-7, 0-4 Mid-American Conference) will try to carry that optimism onto the field as the team closes the non-conference portion of its schedule on the road at Vanderbilt on Saturday in the first-ever meeting on the football field between the two schools.

The Commodores are a member of the Southeastern Conference, home to the last six national champions, but they haven’t nearly achieved that kind of success. Members of the SEC since 1934, they have never won a conference championship and they have finished with a winning record just twice since 1982.

However, Molnar is still impressed with them.

Vanderbilt (3-4, 2-3 SEC) has had an up-and-down 2012 season, highlighted by wins against Presbyterian, Missouri and Auburn, and a near-upset of then-No. 9 South Carolina in its season-opener.

Molnar is aware of the challenge the Commodores will pose to his team.

“You wish they had a clearer identity,” Molnar said. “They like to spread it out, they like to run, they go pro-style, they use a lot of different personnel groups, similar to that of Western Michigan.

“They appear to have some better speed at certain positions than we’ve faced all year.”

UMass vs Vanderbilt Football Preview from Daily Collegian on Vimeo.

Vanderbilt will likely feed the ball to running back Zac Stacy for most of the game. Stacy became the program’s all-time leading rusher in last week’s win over Auburn and ranks third in the SEC with 668 rushing yards, including five touchdowns.

He’ll pose as one of the toughest challenges for a young UMass defense that had arguably its best performance of the season last week against Bowling Green. Of the 24 points that the Falcons scored, only 17 came against the Minutemen defense, which is the lowest the unit has given up in any game this season.

UMass freshman linebacker Kassan Messiah said it’s critical to put back-to-back impressive performances together.

“It would be amazing,” Messiah said. “We’re trying to build. We’re not trying to regress in any way, we’re trying to get better every game, so trying to regress would not be a good thing. We’re just trying to build and make sure we build on what we did last week and hopefully we can do that.”

A week after going up against the MAC’s top defense, the Minuteman offense will have their work cut out for them against another tough defense in Vanderbilt.

As of Thursday, the Commodores rank third in the nation in passing defense. Last week, they held Auburn quarterback Clint Moseley to just 98 yards passing, and  limited the Tigers to 212 total yards overall. Auburn also only connected on two of 15 third down attempts and Moseley was sacked five times by a very active Vanderbilt pass rush.

Wegzyn is aware of the challenge that he faces, but  he’s  looking forward to return to Tennessee, where he played high school football.

“It’s another thing I’m just excited for,” Wegzyn said. “I welcome that kind of challenge. I’m excited to play them. I actually live in Knoxville, right now currently, so that’s just a couple hours away from Vanderbilt. I talked to them a lot in recruiting and all of that, so I’m excited to go play the Commodores.”

Wegzyn will also welcome back the returns of running back Alan Williams and tight end Rob Blanchflower, who will both be back on the field this Saturday after  missing the last two games. Williams was suspended for academic-related issues, while Blanchflower missed time with a leg injury.

“Those are two huge parts of our offense,” Wegzyn said. “Two big leaders on the team as well, so I think it’s going to be huge to have them back.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Saturday in Nashville, Tenn. The game will be televised on


Stephen Hewitt can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.

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