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Progress on offense a positive in UMass’ blowout loss to Indiana

09.09.12 at 8:42 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The common punchline following UMass’€™ season-opening 37-0 drubbing at the hands of UConn was the fact that the Minutemen failed run a single play in their opponent’€™s territory. So while Saturday’s 45-6 loss to Indiana may not look much different on the scoreboard, the outing was a huge step forward for a young offense in transition.

After putting up just 56 yards through the air against UConn, redshirt freshman Mike Wegzyn bounced back by going 18-of-26 for 151 yards passing, including a trick-play pass to Marken Michel for 56 yards that set up the team’€™s first score. The outing was a positive progression for the young quarterback in the eyes of first-year UMass coach Charley Molnar.

‘€œHe took a step forward, but you’ve got to remember, he was starting at ground zero if you were at the game last week,’€ Molnar said. ‘€œHe took a step forward — a small step. He was more confident [Saturday], his eyes weren’€™t as big. He responded to the pressure of the defense or errors that he made and he was able to bounce back much better than he did a week ago.’€

What was most encouraging about the outing was that the Minutemen, who looked lost offensively against UConn, showed some flashes of success in a variety of looks in their offense. The Minutemen mixed it up offensively, allowing Wegzyn to stretch the field vertically, showcasing Michael Cox taking snaps in a wildcat formation as well as some under-center and pistol packages.

After producing just three yards on the ground a week ago, the UMass rushing attack had a new life, keyed by the inclusion of several quarterback runs to change the pace from Cox (36 yards on 15 carries), who spent much of the game scrambling to get back to the line of scrimmage. Wegzyn, though, says the offense is just a step or two away from being where it wants to be.

‘€œIt’€™s extremely close to clicking,’€ Wegzyn said. ‘€œI think, if you look back at it, there’€™s a lot of times we’€™re moving the ball and then there’€™s this one play that, if we would’€™ve been on page, every single person, that would’€™ve changed the outcome of the drive.’€

INDIANA’S GROUND GAME SETS PACE

Whether it was the dual-threat capabilities of Indiana quarterback Tre Roberson or the more conventional spread offense run by backup Cameron Coffman after Roberson’€™s injury or the troupe of running backs rotating throughout the game, the Minutemen had no answer for the Hoosiers offense in the first half.

After surrendering 372 yards of total offense again the Huskies, the Minutemen gave up 427 yards to the Hoosiers in the first half alone. The Hoosiers, who finished with 606 total yards offensively, including 321 on the ground, transitioned perfectly from running threat of Roberson (105 yards and two TDs rushing, 98 yards and one TD passing) to the more conventional Coffman (159 yards and one TD passing).

‘€œ[It was] not anything schematic out there, it was just that our tackling was atrocious,’€ Molnar said. ‘€œI mean, I saw more missed tackles today than I ever expected to see. In fact, I was hoping we’€™d play darn near perfect in that area just because we tackled well in the first game, which is usually the worst tackling game of the year for the defense.’€

The biggest threat the Hoosiers had offensively, though, was not any particular individual standout, it was the team’€™s ability to hand off the ball any time it wanted, leading the UMass defense to overcompensate. Running backs Tevin Coleman, Isaiah Roundtree, D’€™Angelo Roberts and Stephen Houston combined for 219 yards on 42 carries on the day.

‘€œThe pocket passing hurt us, but what really hurt us at the end of the day was the run game,’€ Molnar said. ‘€œTheir ability to dominate us up front was really the difference defensively. Linebackers, everybody tightens up to the box and now it’€™s easier to throw the ball.’€

UMass stopped the bleeding in the third quarter, keeping the deficit at 32, before allowing the Hoosiers to score on a 14-play, 80-yard scoring drive early in the fourth quarter.

COX THE MAN IN UMASS BACKFIELD

After Chris Burns led all UMass running backs with 11 carries last week against UConn, it was surprising to see his name absent from the box score against Indiana. Burns, who was completely healthy, according to his coach, apparently has been supplanted by Cox as the team’s feature back.

‘€œBurns’€™ performance last week was not what he had hoped for,’€ Molnar said. ‘€œFor a guy who basically had the job, every rep with the starters throughout summer camp, [he] just didn’€™t handle some of his responsibilities like a guy who’€™s been around and should have.’€

According to Molnar, Burns was expected to take some snaps later in the game. However, by the time his turn had come, the score was long out of reach, leading Molnar to insert some of his younger backs, Jordan Broadnax and Stacey Bedell, in order to get them some in-game reps.

Read More: Charley Molnar, Michael Cox, Mike Wegzyn, UMass