Pomp and circumstance will be almost as center stage as football today, when the University of Massachusetts plays its first home game at Gillette Stadium.
For first-year coach Charley Molnar and the Min utemen, the pregame flyover and the coin toss by comedy legend and UMass graduate Bill Cosby will be nice. It is, in the coach’s mind, secondary to the task at hand.
That task is to bounce back from last week’s loss at Connecticut and play with Indiana of the Big Ten Conference.
"We came right back on Friday afternoon and had a practice. As soon as you get on the field, you can start putting those bad feelings away," said Molnar. "Then you start looking forward and anticipating the next game.
"That’s the great thing about football. You only have to wait a week and you get another chance to brush everything aside and start anew."
The Minutemen will, in Molnar’s words, start anew at 3:30 when they host the Hoosiers in the first-ever Division I-FBS home game for the Minutemen.
UMass made its BCS-level debut a week ago Thursday night, losing to Connecticut 37-0. It was not a pretty game.
The Minutemen were outgained 372 yards to 56. UMass had only three first downs and went the entire first quarter without moving the chains. UMass was 3 of 15 in third-down conversions, and that’s no way for an offense to get started.
"The UConn game was a disappointment for us, especially on the offensive side of the ball," said Molnar. "We never really got into any kind or rhythm, never really established anything as far as the run or the pass."
Looking at the scoreboard, one might think that the first game was a total disaster. Molnar and his staff, especially his defensive coaches, didn’t look at it that way. If you take away two non-offensive touchdowns, the 23-0 score still isn’t great. But Molnar said his defense performed better after looking at tape than it did in the moments immediately following the game.
"I thought we came out of the game far better than I thought we would going into it," said Molnar. "The score was a little bit misleading because two of the touchdowns, one was a blocked punt for a touchdown and one was a pick-six.
"You take those off the board, and if the offense would have sustained anything, I think it would have been a really good day by the defense.
The UMass defense may have to put together another "really good day" against the Hoosiers. That’s because second-year head coach Kevin Wilson is, like Molnar, considered an offensive guru. Unlike Molnar, Wilson has a veteran quarterback.
Instead of redshirt freshman Mike Wegzyn at the helm for UMass, Wilson trots out sophomore Tre Robinson. Robinson was 26 of 36 for 280 yards and a touchdown. Last year, Robinson rushed for 426 yards, second on the Hoosiers. He isn’t as good as Michigan’s Denard Robinson, but the two are similar.
"They would love for him to develop as a passer. You can see that because he has a good passing skill set," said Molnar. "They’ve got a guy that can really be a dual-threat. Once he mat ures, I think he’s going to be really good."
In the Big Ten conference call this week, Wilson said he was fairly happy with how his team played. He said they had 451 yards in total offense but "left some points on the field."
Defensively, the Hoosiers allowed Indiana State to run 64 offensive plays for 387 yards, but held ISU to touchdowns in the first quarter and very late in the fourth.
The Indiana defense sacked Indiana State quarterback Mike Perish five times, two by defensive tackle Larry Black. That should challenge the UMass offensive line, which gave up two sacks against Connecticut.
While these two teams don’t mirror each other, the second-year Indiana coach said UMass and IU aren’t polar opposites.
"There are some similarities scheme-wise to what UMass does offensively [and] defensively," said Wilson, who came to Indiana two years ago after being the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. "Defensively, I thought [UMass] played very, very well. They’re very stout up front and at linebacker. Their safeties played very well. I think it’ll be a great challenge for our offense."
It will also be a challenge for the UMass youngsters to improve from week one to week two. There are six freshmen, or redshirt freshmen listed as starters. The UMass head coach said he’d start veterans if they were better.
"They’ll still be freshmen Saturday afternoon, unfortunately," said Molnar. "They can’t become sophomores overnight.
"What we’d like to do is just really minimize the mistakes the freshmen made."