MADISON, Wis. – Massachusetts football coach Charley Molnar emphasized throughout the preseason that he won’t base his team’s success this season simply on wins and losses.
After Saturday’s result, that’s probably a good thing for the Minutemen.
The UMass defense was torched for 598 yards – 393 on the ground – and struggled to get any offensive rhythm in a 45-0 loss to No. 23 Wisconsin in front of 76,306 at Camp Randall Stadium.
The Minutemen (0-1) kicked off just their second season in the Football Bowl Subdivision on Saturday and certainly looked like a team still in transition.
They allowed three different Badgers to run for over 100 yards each, offensively committed six penalties at the line of scrimmage, turned the ball over twice and only reached Wisconsin territory on two separate occasions.
“I think (Saturday) there’s a lot of self-inflicted wounds that happened,” said UMass quarterback Mike Wegzyn, who finished the game 9-for-23 passing for 73 yards and an interception before being pulled in favor of A.J. Doyle midway through the third quarter. “Offensively we struggled to get things going. Defensively things didn’t go our way.”
With that being said, the Minutemen played a competitive first half. They held Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave to 36 yards and an interception by safety Devin Brown on 4-of-11 passing and only trailed 17-0 despite giving up 226 yards on the ground.
UMass should’ve came within a touchdown of the Badgers with 3:52 left in the first half on Blake Lucas’ 47-yard field goal, but it was erased because Molnar called timeout as the play clock was expiring just as the snap was made.
On his second attempt, Lucas’ kick went wide left, and Melvin Gordon responded with a 70-yard touchdown run two plays later.
So instead of trailing 10-3, UMass quickly found itself in a 17-point hole.
“Well, the clock was ticking down and we could tell our center wasn’t aware of the clock and our special teams coach and I were looking at each other and we had to make a decision really fast,” Molnar said. “We were right on our kicker’s limit for that day. And if we take a 5-yard penalty, now we’re out of field goal range. … (Lucas) should’ve made it the second time like he made it the first time, really.”
However, despite the missed opportunities and big plays allowed, UMass had a much better taste in its mouth at the half than it did in its season opener at Connecticut 12 months prior.
“(The halftime attitude) was totally different than a year ago,” Molnar said. “Guys were excited at halftime. We knew that we’d only have one or two opportunities to stay in the game offensively. We had to make something happen. When we didn’t a little bit of wind came out of our sails.”
The inability to stop the run was ultimately the Minutemen’s Achilles heel. Wisconsin scored four of its six touchdowns on the ground, and UMass’ defensive front seven looked completely overpowered by a much larger offensive line.
Gordon (144 yards) and senior James White (143) combined for 221 rushing yards in the first half alone, and both finished the game with a rushing touchdown of over 50 yards. Freshman Corey Clement also ran for 101 yards and a score during garbage time in the second half.
Stave then took advantage of a worn-down defensive backfield in the third quarter with a pair of long touchdown strikes to Jared Abbrederis, who beat Trey Dudley-Giles in single coverage for scores of 65 yards and 57 yards.
Before long, it was 38-0 after three quarters.
“I don’t think we played that well on defense,” linebacker Stanley Andre said. “We definitely need to be more fundamentally sound. … We just let big plays get ahead of us and that’s essentially what it was.”
Redshirt freshman Stacey Bedell ran for just 70 yards on 19 carries and a fumble in his first collegiate start and first game since breaking his collarbone last season. Molnar said there’s “more to Stacey than what we saw (Saturday).”
UMass hopes to see more improvements on both sides of the ball when it takes on Maine in its home opener on Sept. 7.
Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.