UMass isn't equipped for FBS combat

September, 8, 2012
9/08/12
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As the final chords of the national anthem echoed through the stadium, the plane approached. It was a C-5 Galaxy, an impressive piece of military engineering.

The big-bodied aircraft soared over Gillette Stadium, its noise following hard behind.

The fans cheered. The kickoff was close, the first home game against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent in the long history of the UMass program just about under way.

While the choice of equipment for the pregame flyover was probably not foremost on the minds of many, as the game went on it became clear just how appropriate it was.

You see, the C-5 Galaxy is a transport aircraft. It is not equipped for combat.

Neither are the Minutemen.

The UMass offense went three-and-out on its first series of the game, gaining a grand total of zero yards on three plays (one run, two passes). Then the punt by Colter Johnson sailed out of bounds, giving Indiana the ball at the 50.

[+] EnlargeTre Roberson
AP Photo Eric CanhaBefore breaking his leg early in the second quarter, Indiana QB Tre Roberson (5) accounted for almost 200 yards and three TDs.
One play later, the game was no longer scoreless. Hoosiers QB Tre Roberson ran a keeper, breaking an arm tackle at the line of scrimmage, juking two Minutemen defenders in the second level and sprinting to the end zone to put IU up 7-0.

The Hoosiers wouldn't need to score again -- but they did, jumping out to a 21-6 lead at the end of the first and coasting to a 45-6 win.

"We need to bring our A-game every single week," UMass coach Charley Molnar said after the game. "There's not going to be many games where the talent level is going to be even on that field. It's just not going to be. So for us to win the game -- for us to stay in the game -- we've got to bring our A-game.

"And if we brought our A-game, it quickly dissolved into a B-game or less for some guys."

There was a hint of progress on offense. It came right after Indiana's first touchdown, and if you weren't paying close attention, you might have missed it.

Using a 56-yard gain on a trick play -- running back Michael Cox took a handoff from quarterback Mike Wegzyn, who ran out to the left and caught a pass back from Cox and then chucked it long down the left sideline to Marken Michel -- and a 16-yard scamper from Wegzyn, the Minutemen scored the first touchdown in their FBS history. But Blake Lucas' point-after attempt sailed wide left, and Indiana kept the lead at 7-6.

That was as close as the Hoosiers would let the hosts get.

"I'm disappointed in the way we performed today," Molnar said. "I was expecting better."

Meanwhile, the Minutemen defense struggled to stop the Hoosiers. Before he left with a left leg injury, Roberson accounted for almost 200 yards of offense and three touchdowns.

He was injured early in the second quarter.

"He's a very good athlete, a very good running quarterback," Molnar said, "but you're exactly right -- the lanes or the holes were so big that even a less-skilled or less-gifted runner at the quarterback position would've had some chunks of yardage."

Indiana, which doubled its win total last season, finished with 611 yards of total offense (343 rushing, 268 passing).

The immediate future doesn't provide much hope for the Minutemen. Next weekend they travel to Ann Arbor, Mich., to take on the No. 19 Wolverines.

Though the announced attendance of 16,304 would have been a good crowd for UMass' McGuirk Stadium, which holds 17,000, it left Gillette, capacity 68,756, looking practically empty. When the skies opened up in the second half and the few fans there headed for cover, the effect was doubled.

Maybe it's unreasonable to expect the Minutemen to compete immediately with the likes of Indiana, a bottom-of-the-barrel Big Ten team but still a Big Ten team. Maybe it's unreasonable to ask UMass to draw more than 16,000 fans, especially considering the circumstances (an opponent with no ties to the area and a mixed forecast).

Maybe. Yet here we are, and that's what they're being asked to do.

Like a C-5 Galaxy being asked to maneuver like a fighter jet and take on the enemy directly, the Minutemen just aren't equipped for this level of engagement.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

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