Winless UMass football team optimistic heading into Saturday’s game
JOSH KUCKENS UMASS head football coach Charlie Molnar discusses strategy with his offense during the season opener against UCONN on Thursday night at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, CT. Purchase photo reprints »
AMHERST — During Tuesday’s practice, University of Massachusetts football coach Charley Molnar got a message from freshman linebacker Byron Cooper.
He “said to me today, ‘We’re going to be the best team in the MAC before the year is over.’ That was a mighty bold statement for a team that’s 0-2 in the MAC,” Molnar said. “That’s what they’re talking about in the locker room. That’s a great testament to their belief. It was really good to hear him say that. The guys have good energy. They sense that we’re so close.”
The Minutemen will try to turn close into cigar Saturday at 2 p.m. when they travel to Kalamazoo, Mich., to take on Western Michigan.
The Minutemen nearly upset Mid-American Conference preseason favorite Ohio Saturday, but saw a late lead disappear. While UMass (0-5, 0-2 MAC) has received external praise for hanging with the Bobcats, Molnar was adamant that his winless team shouldn’t be feeling any satisfaction.
“If our guys are getting praise for there performance, I don’t know who could be giving it,” he said. “Because it’s certainly not coming from our building.”
The Broncos (2-3, 0-1) aren’t fielding much praise at the moment either. Entering the season, they figured to be one of the many contenders in the MAC West, but through five games they’ve been inconsistent and now injured.
After nearly upsetting Minnesota on Sept. 15, the Broncos appeared to have things going in the right direction when they upset Connecticut 30-24 a week later. But WMU lost starting quarterback Alex Carder to an injury to his throwing hand. He missed last week’s loss to Toledo and won’t play Saturday.
His replacement, junior Tyler Van Tubbergen, has had success before. Replacing Carder last year against Akron, he completed 19-of-21 passes for 252 yards and six touchdowns. He wasn’t nearly as sharp Saturday, throwing three interceptions including one that was returned for a touchdown.
Molnar said the Minutemen wouldn’t be underestimating him after one tough game.
“This guy has played before. He had one heck of an afternoon a year ago. It’s not like this guy hasn’t had success,” said Molnar, who said the quarterback change wouldn’t alter UMass’ approach. “Defensively we’ll just do what we do. We mix up quite a few fronts and coverages and we’ll continue to do the same. We don’t want to trick ourselves as we’re trying to fool him. We’re playing a lot of guys so we can’t get too complex. We’re going to stay within our scheme, within our package. We’ll do the usual things that we do.”
Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit said his staff has all but disregarded early UMass game tape.
“The UConn tape, we’ve really dismissed that one. We’re looking at the last few games and you can really see that the kids are playing with a lot more confidence. I have the utmost respect for their coaches,” Cubit said. “You can see they’re getting better. They’re fundamentally sound on defense. They don’t do a lot, but what they do they do very well.”
UMass senior center Quinton Sales said he’s hoping that improvement finally turns into a win.
“I’ve felt like it was close every week. Last week was real close and that was a good football team. We came together and we’re bound to come together a little bit more this week,” he said. “I’m ecstatic after every win I’ve ever got, but since it’s taken so long to happen, and I thought it would happen sooner, this one will have a little added bonus. We’re extremely thirsty right now for a win.”
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