UMass ready to turn the page to Mid-American Conference play

Last modified: Monday, September 24, 2012
AMHERST - While the results have produced some ugly scores so far, University of Massachusetts football coach Charley Molnar hasn't doubted his first-year Bowl Subdivision team's effort in its first three games.

But as the Minutemen get set to begin their first season of Mid-American Conference play Saturday at noon at Miami (Ohio), Molnar would like to see some of that hard work rewarded.

"You work close to 300 days a year on football. To work that much and not have a chance to experience victories is very, very unsatisfying," he said. "We've all worked very hard. The players have put in a tremendous amount. Probably more than they bargained for when they came here. They need to validate that hard work."

He's hoping the beginning of league play represents a clean break from UMass' difficult start.

"It doesn't matter if you're in the Mid-American Conference or the SEC, at the end of the day you need to win your league. That's how you get measured," he said. "It's very, very important to us to find out how we stack up against other Mid-American Conference teams."

Senior safety Darren Thellen agreed.

"It's important to get better each week and fix our mistakes. Seeing progress will keep encouraging everyone to get better," he said. "We're finally in the MAC conference play. The last three losses, we have to kind of forget about them. We have a new slate. We have the MAC schedule now. We have to come out ready to play."

How good Miami is, is a little hard to gauge. The RedHawks, who were picked third in the MAC East in the league's preseason poll, lost two games they were expected to lose to a pair of traditionally elite teams - Ohio State (56-10) and Boise State (39-12) - and handily beat Championship Subdivision powerhouse Southern Illinois, 30-14.

"Miami has traditionally been one of the elite teams in the Mid-American Conference. I think they'll be back there again. If not right now, in the near future," Molnar said. "This would be a great barometer to see where this program is and what we need to do to get to the top."

The RedHawks will be without junior receiver Nick Harwell, who was second in the nation last year with 129.6 yards receiving per game (97 catches for 1,425 yards, nine touchdowns). He suffered a knee injury and missed last week's loss to Boise and isn't expected back soon. Even without him, the Miami offense will likely still be explosive as the guy on the passing end of most of those receiving yards is healthy. Zac Dysert has completed 99 of 116 throws so far this year for 705 yards and two touchdowns. He's been intercepted twice.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.