EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – UConn had one message for the new kids on the block.
Welcome to big boy football.
Behind an impressive defensive performance and a steady offensive attack, UConn defeated the Minutemen 37-0 in front of 35,270 fans at Rentschler Field.
The Huskies simply outclassed a UMass team that spent much of the first half trying to find a rhythm, and a good portion of the second trying to erase the memories of the first. UConn came out of the gates on a mission, and in the first half put up 20 points, nine first downs and held the new-look Minutemen to a meager 26 yards of offense.
The Minutemen had only one first down in the first half – a scamper by Chris Burns with :33 left.
In total, UMass had 3 first downs and 59 yards of offense.
“We didn’t throw the ball very well, we didn’t run the ball very well, we didn’t pass protect very well, and so I can’t really say there’s one area that’s of greater concern than the other,” said UMass head coach Charley Molnar. “I’m shocked we didn’t score. I’m shocked we didn’t score quite a few times.”
Husky wideout Nick Williams set the tone for the offense on the first drive of the game and via a series of catches and end-arounds set up All-Everything Lyle McCombs for a one-yard touchdown to put UConn out front 7-0.
UMass was able to mitigate damages later in the quarter with a highlight-reel interception. With about two minutes left in the first quarter, UConn quarterback Chandler Whitmer was hurried out of the pocket and attempted to throw the ball out of bounds near UMass’ 17 yard line. Darren Thellen dove and tipped the ball into the hands of Tom Brandt for UMass’ first interception as an FBS program.
“Darren Thellen is a playmaker, and if that’s one of the few highlights of the night, so be it. That was beautiful. That will be on the highlight film, I can guarantee you that,” Molnar said. “We only have one Darren Thellen unfortunately. I said at the pre-game meal to one of the coaches, ‘I wish we had 105 of them, because we’d never lose a game.’”
Thellen said there was a little luck involved in the play.
“I wanted to get the pick, but I knew I couldn’t make it, so I just jumped up and I saw one of my teammates close, so I tried to throw it to him. Fortunately he caught it and made a play,” Thellen said.
The tip-to-interception was one of the few highlights for the Minutemen.
UMass was never able to sustain a consistent offensive attack through the air or on the ground. Neither Chris Burns nor Mike Cox were able to find much running room, and redshirt freshman Mike Wegzyn was consistently under pressure during his first start. Wegzyn finished the game with 56 yards passing and had an interception. He was also sacked twice.
“Some of it was definitely from UConn winning the matchup against the O-line, but a lot of it was self-inflicted wounds by Mike,” Molnar said.
Molnar replaced Wegzyn late in the fourth quarter. A.J. Doyle was relegated to mostly hand-off duty and missed his one pass attempt. Molnar indicated that Wegzyn and Doyle will be in a constant competition for the starting role, and Doyle will see more action as the season goes on.
“I think A.J. Doyle is going to play this year, and he’s going to play a lot,” Molnar said. “Mike Wegzyn is obviously not the heir-apparent – that his job is so locked up and sewn away for the next several years. It’s going to be competition each and every day, and I thought this was a great chance to get a rookie in the game. The heat was off by the time he got in the game.”
In the second quarter, UConn began with a 13-play, 51-yard drive , which ended with a 36-yard Chad Christen field goal to put the Huskies up 10-0. The Minutemen benefited from a dropped pass by Husky fullback Michael Oseicki, who was set up for a sure-fire first down on a short third down near UMass’ end zone.
With 2:47 left in the half, Christen kicked a 47-yard field goal extending the UConn lead to 13-0. With 1:40 left, Dwayne Gratz picked off a Wegzyn pass destined for Marken Michel and ran it back for a touchdown. After the PAT, the Huskies led 20-0.
UMass settled down a bit in the second half, but Colter Johnson bobbled a punt in the third quarter, which was blocked by Taylor Mack and then recovered by Max DeLorenzo for a touchdown extending UConn’s lead to 27.
In the fourth quarter, Scott McCummings, UConn’s Wildcat quarterback, scrambled and scored from one yard out to help extend the blowout to 34-0. UConn finished the route with a 19-yard field goal from Christen to end things at 37-0.
Chandler Whitmer, UConn’s starting quarterback, finished the game with 219 yards and two interceptions. Aside from Brandt’s interception, Whitmer was also picked off by Antoine Tharpe. McCombs paced the Husky offense with 89 yards rushing and a touchdown.
NOTES: Jordan Broadnax had the first kick return for UMass as an FBS program … Chris Burns had the first rush … Marken Michel had the first catch. … Safety Ed Saint-Vil was slow to get up during the third quarter and was favoring his left leg when helped of the field. Molnar said the extent of the injury was not yet known. … Safety Christian Birt was a late scratch and is suffering an undisclosed injury, according to Molnar. … Perry McIntyre led all defenders with 12 tackles in the game. … Greg Hilliard had a forced fumble.