UMass can’t overcome offensive woes in loss to Bowling Green

By Daniel Malone

FOXBORO — For two weeks, Massachusetts football coach Charley Molnar preached the need for his team to wipe the slate clean going into its final six games. But if the start of the Minutemen’s so-called “second season” is an indicator of things to come, then players, coaches and fans might be in for a long, painful month of déjà vu.

Looking to finally earn its first Football Bowl Subdivision victory, UMass instead took another step backwards, losing 24-0 to Bowling Green before a homecoming crowd of 10,846 in an offensive performance that was more disastrous than developmental.

The Minutemen’s (0-7, 0-4 Mid-American Conference) hurry-up, spread offense sputtered and stagnated throughout the afternoon, resulting in a total of 118 yards — a paltry 2-yard-per-play average — four turnovers and 10 punts.

Molnar didn’t hesitate to pin his team’s struggles on a glaring lack of execution.

“I would say so much of it was just not executing,” he said after the game. “Just pull-your-hair-out type of things that some of the guys did, and these are just basics.”

With the running game stymied for much of the afternoon (85 yards on 26 carries), the bulk of the offense’s burden fell on the right throwing shoulder of quarterback Mike Wegzyn.

Wegzyn, who threw for 23 yards on 9-of-25 attempts and was pulled from the game for backup A.J. Doyle following an interception returned for a touchdown late in the third quarter, said Saturday marked “the most frustrated (he had) been in a while.”

The Falcons (5-3, 3-1 MAC) brought heavy pressure against the UMass signal caller for much of the afternoon, disrupting the pocket, clogging throwing lanes and forcing mistakes.

Wegzyn, to his credit, didn’t shy away from the dismal display.

“Personally, I take that in my hands,” he said. “As quarterback, I need to lead the offense and get things going, even when they’re not. I didn’t do that today.”

Buried in the messy and disappointing play of the Minutemen’s offense was a strong, all-around effort from a defensive unit that has looked overmatched at times this season.

While Wegzyn and the offense failed to consistently move the ball, the defense, led by 16 tackles from linebacker Kassan Messiah, limited Bowling Green to one only score – a 16-yard catch-and-run touchdown on a screen pass from Falcon quarterback Matt Schilz to wideout Shaun Joplin – for nearly three quarters.

“Defensively, I think they played the best they’ve played this year,” Molnar said. “They tackled well, we stopped the run (and) made some great individual efforts in the back end.”

In addition to Messiah, Molnar highlighted cornerback D’Metrius Williams as one of the best players on the field Saturday. Williams, who ruffled some feathers around the Internet after broadcasting several halftime thoughts over Twitter, finished the game with seven tackles and three timely pass break-ups.

Yet for all the defense’s hard work in containing a Falcon attack that had put up a total of 109 points over its previous three games, UMass could never quite settle into a groove. Eventually, the Minutemen’s bend-but-don’t-break defense did exactly that.

A seven-play, 74-yard Bowling Green drive capped by a 2-yard touchdown pass from Schilz to tight end Alex Bayer with three minutes, 42 seconds remaining, let much of the air out of the sparse Gillette Stadium crowd, but Wegzyn’s nail-in-the-coffin interception less than a minute later landed the knockout blow.

Falcon kicker Tyler Tate tacked on a 42-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter to extend the lead to 24-0.

“Offensively, we just couldn’t put any wind in (the defense’s) sails,” Molnar said. “We couldn’t give them any life.”

With plenty of time to think about adjustments going forward while riding the bench during the final 18 minutes of his team’s seventh consecutive loss, Wegzyn appeared ready to move on from Saturday’s debacle.

“This is just another game we need to build off of,” he said. “Obviously, this isn’t anywhere (close) to where we wanted to be for this game. This isn’t how we wanted to play it and have it turn out.

“We need to turn this around. This just gives us, maybe a wake-up call, but we definitely need to go back, watch the film and learn from what we did wrong.”

Daniel Malone can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Daniel_Malone.


Jeff Bernstein/Collegian