Friday August 31, 2012

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- University of Massachusetts football coach Charley Molnar has admitted that this is not going to be an easy first season for the Minutemen. After one night, it might be even a little harder than he thought.

The Minutemen failed to pick up a first down until the final 33 seconds of the first half. While the Minutemen weren't moving the ball, Connecticut scored on three of its first four possessions, returned a Mike Wegzyn pass for a second-quarter touchdown and jumped out to a 20-point first-half lead.

"We didn't throw the ball very well, we didn't run the ball very well and we didn't pass protect very well," said Molnar after the Huskies upended the Minutemen 37-0 Friday night at Rentschler Field.

"I'm shocked we didn't score quite a few times," said the first-year UMass coach. "I came into the game thinking we had made progress."

The Minutemen had 59 total yards on offense in 47 plays. The defense surrendered 372 yards, but was on the field for 70 plays and the first-year head coach wouldn't pin much blame on that side of the ball. Wegzyn was 9 for 22 with an interception for 56 yards. Chris Burns carried the ball 11 times for 26 yards.

With only one game in the books, there is plenty of time for the Minutemen (0-1) to figure it all out and be the team Molnar and his coaches want to see. But they may not get a better play than one the UMass defense turned in during Thursday's first quarter.

It was third down and 11 at the UMass 31-yard line when the Minuteman pass rush flushed quarterback Chandler Whitmer out of the pocket. Whitmer tried to throw the ball out of bounds but free safety Darren Thellen was having nothing of it.

Thellen leaped out of bounds and while still in the air, deflected the ball back in play where linebacker Tom Brandt caught it at the 17. Brandt returned it 20-yards to the UMass 37. That turned out to be the biggest play of the first half for the Minutemen.

"That was just luck. I was in Cover 2 coverage," said Thellen. "I wanted to get the pick but I knew I couldn't make it. I just jumped up and I saw one of my teammates close."

UMass got the ball for the first time in its FBS history, as UConn (1-0) won the toss and elected to defer. Jordan Brodnax took the kickoff at the 3-yard line and got to the 20. Three plays later, the Minutemen were forced to punt. That turned out to be a familiar tale in the first 30 minutes.

The Minutemen had the ball six times in the first half, punted five and a sixth possession was stopped when Wegzyn was picked off by Dwayne Gratz with 1:49 left in the half. Wegzyn tried to hit Marken Michel on a sideline pattern, but the redshirt freshman quarterback had Michel locked in from the snap. Gratz read Wegzyn's eyes, stepped in front of the pass and went down the sideline for the 37-yard touchdown.

The Huskies scored a touchdown on their first possession. A 47-yard punt by Jeff Strait gave UConn the ball at its 25. Twelve plays and 75 yards later, Lyle McCombs bulled in from a yard out to give the Huskies their first touchdown of 2012.

UConn ran the ball nine times and threw three on that first touchdown. The big play was a third-down conversion pass play of six yards from Whitmer to Geremy Davis to the UMass 26. Four plays later, Nick Williams took a handoff from Whitmer on a flanker-reverse, but was stopped by Antoine Tharpe just shy of the end zone. McCombs scored on the next play.

Another three-and-out for the Minutemen gave the ball back to the Huskies. That top-play nominee by Thellen and Brandt gave the Minutemen their best opportunity of the game.

The drive started at the UMass 37, and proceeded to march backwards. Brodnax was tackled for a 3-yard loss on a pass from Wegzyn. The UMass quarterback ran for 3 yards on second down and was sacked by linebacker Yawin Smallwood on third down. That was the last play of the first quarter, and fair to say, the last real chance the Minutemen had to score against the UConn starters in this game.

UConn took Strait's 36-yard punt at it's 30 and moved smartly into UMass territory. The Minuteman defense stopped the drive at their 19, forcing Chad Christen to attempt a 36-yard field goal. Christen split the uprights to make it 10-0.

Wegzyn was finally relieved by true freshman A.J. Doyle with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Huskies with a commanding 34-0 lead.

In between, the Minutemen were outscored 13-0 in the second quarter and 27-0 after three.

It was the first time UMass had been shut out since losing 34-0 at Rhode Island back on Sept. 30, 1995.