The UMass football team was one play and two questionable calls away from winning its first game as a FBS program.
Mike Wegzyn played, by far, his best game as a college quarterback and has continued his steady progression. He had 373 yards and four touchdowns - to go along with 40 yards rushing – against the Bobcats. Wegzyn continues to impress with his undeniable toughness and confident decision making.
It appears that Wegzyn is on the same page as his receiving corps. Deion Walker, Alan Williams and Rob Blanchflower each had career days. Williams stole the show with seven catches for 127 yards and three touchdowns. His unsportsmanlike front flip was the only negative in what was easily Williams’ best game as a Minuteman.
The offense has progressed steadily through the first five games of its FBS campaign. In order, the Minutemen have scored: zero, six, 13, 16 and 34 points. It’s clear that coach Charley Molnar’s offense is starting to take hold, and the results are showing up on the scoreboard.
UMass still has a hard time stopping the run, but the defense prevented Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton from gaining anything on the ground – a problem that has surrounded this program throughout the season. Beau Blankenship had an impressive game on the ground, and if the Minutemen plan to win a few MAC games this year, they have to figure out a way to get some penetration and stop the run.
While the Minutemen looked impressive against the class of the MAC, the UMass fans were disappointing. Less than 9,000 showed up to Gillette Stadium to cheer for their Minutemen, and many that did sat on their hands throughout the game. UMass has put a lot of money into fan outreach, but the result has been underwhelming.
Below are the game notes from UMass’ best offensive performance:
The Kids are Alright: Many prognosticators pegged UMass’ 2012 recruiting class to be one of the worst in the MAC, and who could blame them? Molnar only had a limited period of time to get commitments and had to work with a foundation that Kevin Morris – a notoriously bad recruiter – had pieced together. However, yesterday true freshmen Joey Colton and Kassan Messiah were two of the three leading tacklers for the Minutemen. Messiah continues to impress at linebacker and has made the most of his time as a starter. Colton got the starting nod after Christian Birt went down with another injury and tallied 12 tackles. When you look back at Molnar’s first class, neither Messiah or Colton raised eyebrows. Many picked Messiah to be a tight end, and Colton joined the program after signing day. It looks like both are fitting in just fine.
The Old Boys aren’t Bad, Either: All three grad student transfers are starting and making noise for the Minutemen. A week after Michigan transfer Mike Cox had his best game of the season, Deion Walker, a Notre Dame transfer, answered with one of his own. Walker had a series of acrobatic catches, took several gut-wrenching hits, and ended up with 162 yards receiving and a touchdown. Molnar said “he’s gotten better and better each game since Indiana.” You can tell that he’s trying to be the No. 1 receiver on this team. Cox had a nice game as well and had 93 yards on 22 carries and was a steady producer yet again. Don’t look now, but if Cox keeps it up he could end up with 1,000 yards rushing this year. Meanwhile on defense, Notre Dame transfer Hafis Williams is a reliable defensive lineman for UMass and had six tackles, the most for a defensive lineman. Williams already has 22 tackles this year and looks like a great get for the Minutemen.
Kicking Conundrum: The kicking situation for UMass is all over the board. Against Ohio, true freshman Blake Lucas was kicking field goals, and Brendon Levengood was kicking PATs and taking kickoffs. Lucas lost his job after a tough game against Indiana (missed PAT, missed field goal). Then, against Miami (OH), Levengood missed 36 yard field goal, later hitting a 30 yarder. I assume the field goal kicker is whoever has the “hot foot” during the week. It is kind of funny that Molnar acknowledges Levengood’s stronger leg but has him kicking PATs in lieu of field goals. The only constant is Colter Johnson at punter, who has actually been doing a great job this year. At some point this kicking situation has to sort itself out, right? Right?
The Offensive Line is Gelling: After a few games of mediocrity, the UMass offensive line is playing better as a unit. Against the Bobcats, the O-line gave Wegzyn plenty of time, allowing only one sack during the game. I think a lot of it has to do with right tackle Anthony Dima who has been a welcome addition after returning from injury. Ohio has a smaller defensive line, so one of the concerns was whether their athleticism would trump UMass’ size. The Minutemen held up well, and I was particularly impressed with Jamie Cassleberry, a 6’6, 280-pound redshirt freshman who started at left guard. I had the chance to see Casselberry in person during the Michigan game, and he is an impressive physical specimen. He looks like an oversized inside linebacker. With a little more experience, this kid could be good in the coming years.
Welcome Back, Perry: A week after I gave Perry McIntyre a hard time for playing soft, he came up big against Ohio. McIntyre had 14 tackles, two for loss, against the Bobcats. While UMass still had a hard time getting good pressure on the running back, McIntyre did a nice job clogging up the middle on blitzes. McIntyre and Messiah are a solid duo at linebacker, and Tom Brandt and Jovan Santos-Knox are fighting for the other outside linebacker position.
I’m Not Buying the Globe Anymore: The Boston Globe ran a front-page story about Boston College’s loss to Clemson, but UMass fans had to flip to the back of the section to find the UMass writeup. The UMass score was one page before the high school wrapup and was a page behind the other college football scores. Time and time again the Boston Globe has ignored or disrespected UMass, and fans of the Minutemen should take notice. At a time when the newspaper industry needs as much support as it can get, the Globe has systematically pushed UMass and its large alumni base aside. I’m speaking with my wallet (and blog, of course).
God Bless America: After the game, I went out to my car and spoke to a few alumni about the progression of the program. While enjoying my post-game cigar, two military men stopped by to talk football. One of them told me he reads the blog and enjoys what we do around here. His buddy said, “When we were over in Afghanistan, he would use his time on the computer to look at your blog and UMassHoops.” I honestly can’t think of a better compliment.