Image courtesy of The Maroon Musket
IUSportCom contributor Brian Singer previews what fans can expect to see this Saturday when Massachusetts hosts the Hoosiers in Gillette Stadium.
Coming off an exciting 24-17 win over in-state rival Indiana State, the Hoosiers turn the page to opponent number two, the Minutemen from University of Massachusetts. Saturday will be the first FBS game for UMass ever played in Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, so it’s bound to be a battle on the gridiron.
The opponent: University of Massachusetts Minutemen
The 2012 season represents a new era for the Minutemen as they continue the transition into the FBS. This season marks year number two for the squad in the Mid-American Conference, a huge change from the FCS, University of Massachusetts’s former league. The Minutemen won two of the last six conference championships (2006 and 2007) as members of the Colonial Athletic Association and the Atlantic 10. In 2008, UMass posted its seventh straight winning season with a 7-5 record, as its defense proved to be more than superior. Over the team’s last nine years at the FCS level, UMass made three NCAA Tournament appearances. In 2007, UMass went 10-3, going 7-1 in the inaugural season of the CAA. UMass held the title for the most wins in the CAA over a 10-year span from 1998-2008 with an 83-44 record.
Along with the move to the Mid-American Conference, UMass welcomed in new head coach Charley Molnar back in December. Along with Molnar came an entirely new coaching staff that undoubtedly has the proper experience to turn around a program.
Despite the prior success the team had, it appears the Minutemen need to spend more then a few minutes looking at the game film from their season opener against the UConn Huskies. A 37-0 loss was the headline in Amherst last weekend, a game that the squad would like to forget. Just two years ago the team played University of Michigan in their season opener, and fought to the end, conceding defeat by a narrow margin, 42-37. This game went a bit differently…
UMass was held to just 59 total yards, reaching just three first downs during the game. Mike Wegzyn, the Minutemen’s freshman quarterback, didn’t take a single snap on UConn’s side of the football field. Add in an interception returned for a touchdown, a blocked punt, and a few other misfortunes, there weren’t too many highlights that UMass could look forward to. However, I was able to find one. Safety Darren Thellen landed the number one play on ESPN’s “Top Ten” plays, as he skillfully tipped a ball in bounds so his teammate could grab the interception. The team may only have gotten three yards on the ground, but they can say they were number one on SportsCenter’s “Top Ten” plays the next day!
X-Factor: New Offensive Formation
Along with the new coaching staff came a new style of offense for this 2012 season. UMass elected to switch from a pro-style offense to a spread, no-huddle offense with the intentions of throwing off the defense.
The change in offense came at a good time, with the change in conference and a freshman quarterback coming in. Mike Wegzyn – the Knoxville, Tennessee native, knows how to use his legs wisely. At 6’5, 215 pounds, Wegzyn fits in well in the new spread offense, but struggled majorly in the season opener, going just 9-22 in the air with a total of 56 yards. He didn’t find any more success on the ground, as he rushed four times for a loss of eight yards.
This new no-huddle offense should ideally produce more plays, with less time wasted. The total play ratio last game was 70:47 in favor of UConn. It’ll be interesting to see what adjustments head coach Molnar makes to the offense, if they stick with the spread offense, and whether or not the freshman quarterback can bounce back as a leader under the spotlight at Gillette Stadium.
University of Massachusetts Statistics (2012):
Total Offense: 59 yards per game
Scoring Offense: 0 points per game
Total Defense: 372 yards per game
Scoring Defense: 37 points per game
University of Massachusetts Individual Leaders (2012):
Passing: Mike Wegzyn- 41% completion rate, 9-22, 52 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INTs
Rushing: Chris Burns- 11 rushes, 26 yards, 1.5 yards per carry, 0 TDs
Receiving: Rob Blanchflower- 2 catches, 17 yards, 0 TDs
Before the season started, the first three games for the Hoosiers were looked at as very winnable. The most challenging one, according to many – including the infamous Lou Holtz – was going to be against the UMass Minutemen. However, after watching the Uconn vs. UMass game, and the Indiana vs. Indiana State game, I think peoples’ assumptions have changed. UMass – with a new head coach and a new system on offense and defense (changed from the 3-4 which they ran in the 2011 season to the 4-3) – the squad looked lost out on the field.
On the other hand, Indiana looked like their chemistry was forming nicely. Tre Roberson, a sophomore from Indianapolis, looked like he was “finding his groove” as the game developed, completing 26 of his 36 passes. He connected with Shane Wynn six different times for a total of 95 yards, including one play which went for 71 yards and a touchdown. Against the new 4-3 defense the Minutemen are playing, look for receivers such as Wynn and junior Duwyce Wilson to test those linebackers in the middle of the field.
The Hoosiers running game should have a field day against UMass’s inexperienced, and mediocre at best, defensive line. The Hoosiers spread the wealth on the ground in the last game, with four different players getting at least 7 rushes (one being Roberson). The main back was D’Angelo Roberts who lead the team with 67 yards on 22 carries. If the offensive line – arguably the team’s biggest worry – can maintain its shape, the rushing game will be huge for the Hoosiers and I expect large numbers on the ground.
Don’t forget, top receiver Kofi Hughes returns from his one-game suspension. Take that, Minutemen!
X-Factor: Kofi Hughes
How could he not be? Hughes – last year’s leading receiver – returns from his one-game suspension, hopefully even hungrier and more determined than he was before his suspension. It appears to be a big game for him due to the sole fact it is his first game.
What does Kofi Hughes do in big games? Last year vs. Big 10 rival Ohio State, Hughes broke out for 147 yards on 8 receptions. Hughes can spread this UMass defense out. As the safeties concentrate on him, it’ll open the field for guys like Wilson, Wynn, and Latimer. Even if he doesn’t get all the looks from Roberson, Hughes’s presence on the field alone is a benefit to the Hoosier squad. But, if Hughes’s number does in fact get called on at a time of need, expect him to come through.
Hoosier Statistics (2012):
Total Offense: 451 yards per game
Scoring Offense: 24 points per game
Total Defense: 387 yards per game
Scoring Defense: 17 points per game
Hoosier Individual Leaders (2012):
Passing: Tre Roberson- 72.2% completion rate, 26-36, 280 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs
Rushing: D’Angelo Roberts- 22 rushes, 67 yards, 3.0 yards per carry, 0 TDs
Receiving: Shane Wynn- 6 catches, 95 yards, 15.8 yards per catch, 1 TD
I like Tre Roberson to continue spreading the ball around, and I do expect he’ll use his legs more this game. UMass defense seems to be overmatched by the elusive Hoosiers whom will line up against them. UMass was lost on offense, but to be fair, UConn’s defense has been better than Indiana’s in the past. Therefore, I think UMass will put up their first points of the season, but not too many.
Final: 39-10 Indiana