Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Canelas: UMass football improved some, but left plenty to be desired in 2013

By Nick Canelas

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For a program in transition, the goal is to get better every year. So after a 1-11 record in its first season in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the Massachusetts football team had its sights set on bigger and better things – more wins being the obvious – in 2013.

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

With a 51-23 loss to Ohio in its season finale on Saturday, the Minutemen were left in a stalemate. UMass finished its second FBS campaign no better than it did last year as far as wins and losses are concerned. Instead, the season was a mirror image of 2012; a 1-11 record that included plenty of blowout losses and the lone win coming against a team – Miami (Ohio) – that didn’t win a single FBS game, and a number of fans’ fingers pointing toward UMass coach Charley Molnar.

The moments we will all remember from 2013 certainly won’t be good ones, starting in Madison, Wis., on Aug. 31 when the Minutemen had a chance to cut then No. 23 Wisconsin’s lead to 10-3 with halftime approaching at Camp Randall Stadium. Blake Lucas hit what would’ve been a 47-yard field goal, but Molnar called a timeout as the play clock was expiring just before the snap.

Lucas missed the kick on the second opportunity, Badgers running back Melvin Gordon ran for a 70-yard touchdown two plays later and UMass opened the year with a 45-0 defeat.

Of course, instead of chalking it up as a mistake on everyone’s part, Molnar said, “(Lucas) should’ve made it the second time like he made it the first time, really.”

That was just the beginning. There was also the loss to Football Championship Subdivision rival Maine the following week, the alumni petition over the alleged mistreatment of players and Molnar’s decision to go for the two-point conversion rather than taking the tie and overtime with an extra point against Western Michigan on Oct. 26.

There were some gruesome results both on and off the field for the Minutemen this season. However, it would be unfair to say that UMass wasn’t at least an improved product in 2013.

UMass was just a few plays away from what would’ve been an impressive three-win season; the defense made enormous strides after getting torched for 598 yards at Wisconsin, almost single-handedly keeping the Minutemen in games; the secondary spent most of the season in the top half of the Mid-American Conference in pass defense and UMass’ future at running back appears bright with the emergence of freshmen Lorenzo Woodley and Shadrach Abrokwah late in the season.

But right now there are simply too many questions that remain on this team, especially at quarterback.

A.J. Doyle will likely be the signal-caller to start next year after Mike Wegzyn lost the starting job just six quarters into the season. But if the numbers are any indication, the Minutemen won’t be any more successful in 2014 with either one at quarterback.

Doyle finished the season with 1,274 passing yards, a 54.5 percent completion percentage and threw 11 interceptions compared to just six touchdowns. Wegzyn, on the other hand, completed less than half of his passes and threw just three touchdowns to seven interceptions. Unless one of those two has a breakthrough year next year, UMass will have to find answers elsewhere because this guessing game of “When will Doyle/Wegzyn get pulled?” each week can only last for so long.

“It obviously is an area we need to improve quickly,” Molnar said after Saturday’s loss to Ohio. “This team is ready to turn the corner and we need a leader to help us make that turn faster.”

The weaknesses don’t come down to just the players, either. Molnar still has plenty to prove after a number of questionable decisions to go along with some clock-management difficulties left him subject to criticism week after week.

UMass Athletic Director John McCutcheon told the Daily Hampshire Gazette last week that Molnar will be the Minutemen’s coach next year. But anything beyond that, if you ask me, will be judged under the watchful eye of the athletic department.

There’s no telling where this team is at in its transition because not much has changed from Year 1 to Year 2. We all knew this was a process that wouldn’t be complete overnight. And definitely not in a two-year period, either.

But the Minutemen can’t be happy with the results this year. The sympathy period is over. From now on, this progress has to start reflecting on the team’s record or else more changes beyond the reported firing of offensive coordinator John Bond and wide receivers coach Allen Suber on Saturday could be in the works.

We may not have learned much about UMass this season relative to what took place just the year before. But the Minutemen at least gave everyone – fans, media, all of college football – a quick reminder that this program still has a long, long way to go before this transition is complete.

Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.

 

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