KALAMAZOO, Mich. — If the past two weeks of football were considered steps forward for UMass, go ahead and label Saturday afternoon’s performance as several disoriented stumbles backward.
After dropping competitive Mid-American Conference contests to Miami (Ohio) and reigning MAC East champ Ohio, the Minutemen fell flat at Waldo Stadium with a 52-14 loss to Western Michigan.
“It’s tremendously frustrating,” said UMass coach Charley Molnar, whose team is now 0-6 for the first time in program history.
“If we didn’t have such a good week in practice, I would stand here in front of you and say I’m not surprised. I am surprised. I knew that Western was good, there was no doubt in my mind. There was no surprise in what we saw across the field. I just thought our guys would be more competitive.”
A UMass offense that was seemingly finding its footing proved wildly ineffective, and the outcome was more akin to the lopsided losses the Minutemen suffered at the hands of Connecticut, Michigan, and Indiana to open the season.
The Broncos (3-3, 1-1) harassed quarterback Mike Wegzyn, recording four sacks while holding running back Michael Cox to 19 yards on 11 carries. Wegzyn was 12 of 19 passing for 88 yards and had 13 carries for 11 yards.
“I feel like we took a step back from where we were, definitely,” said Wegzyn, who suffered a thigh contusion late in the game but is not expected to miss any time.
“I don’t know what it was — the specifics — but we had a lot of penalties and a lot of drives where we were killing ourselves. I think we really went out there and beat ourselves today.”
The Minutemen scored their only meaningful touchdown in the waning seconds of the first half on a 1-yard dive by Cox, but even that didn’t come easy.
Wegzyn set up the TD by finding Deion Walker on a 15-yard pass. Walker dove for the pylon and looked like he got into the end zone but officials reviewed the play and ruled his knee down short of the goal line.
Wegzyn attempted two rushes from the 1 before Cox dived in to cut his team’s deficit to 28-7. The Minutemen (0-3 in the MAC) tacked on a 10-yard TD run by Jordan Broadnax with 1:41 left in the game.
The Broncos only led 7-0 after the first quarter. Tyler Van Tubbergen, who was filling in for injured starting quarterback Alex Carder, fired a screen pass to Brian Fields and Fields scampered 12 yards for the score.
Van Tubbergen, a junior making only the third start of his career and second of the season, opened the second quarter with the second of his five touchdown passes, to Justin Collins from 13 yards out.
The ensuing kickoff proved to be a backbreaker for UMass. Western Michigan’s Andrew Haldeman sent a squib kick into a stiff breeze, and the ball bounced off the Minutemen’s Tom Brandt. The Broncos recovered and put together another quick touchdown drive.
“I just saw the ball kicked and I saw it coming at me so I just tried to turn and see if it would miss me,” Brandt said. “I don’t know, it was just a quick reaction.”
Van Tubbergen threw TD passes on the first two drives of the second half to put the game well out of reach at 42-7.
“We tried to get [Van Tubbergen] to feel comfortable,” WMU coach Bill Cubit said. “Once he feels comfortable, he’s pretty good. It’s the nervousness in the very beginning. You talk about a guy that, really in four years, this is only his third game.”
The Minutemen were operating a little shorthanded with receiver Alan Williams, offensive lineman Nick Speller, and defensive backs Mike Lee and Antoine Tharpe not in action.
Molnar said their absences were related to academics and it was his decision to sit them out.
“We had guys step up and they did the job about as well as the guy they were replacing,” Molnar said.
Molnar will decide whether the players return to action on Oct. 20 when the Minutemen host Bowling Green.
“We have a bye week and when we come back, it starts our second season,” Molnar said. “We just played the best the MAC has to offer in the past two weeks between Ohio and Western Michigan.