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UMass freshmen give football program bright future  

Quarterback Mike Wegzyn is one 17 freshmen who helped the University of Massachusetts football team nearly upset Ohio on Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

Quarterback Mike Wegzyn is one 17 freshmen who helped the University of Massachusetts football team nearly upset Ohio on Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. Purchase photo reprints »

But at the odd times when the true freshman linebacker does look ahead, he marvels at what the Minutemen might become. Santos-Knox was one of 17 freshmen (eight true, nine redshirt) that all contributed in UMass’ best effort of the season. They nearly upset Ohio before falling 37-34.

“From (the season-opening loss to) UConn Saturday, there’s been a huge improvement,” Santos-Knox said. “I know we’re growing. The game has become a little more slow. We’re seeing our reads a lot faster. ... We’re building the foundation for something big.”

Quarterback Mike Wegzyn, a redshirt freshman, turned in the best game of his young career throwing for 373 yards and four touchdowns.

Joe Colton, a walk-on safety, and Kassan Messiah, a true-freshman linebacker, each had 12 tackles, while Trey Dudley-Giles, who was defending passes from Florida high school quarterbacks a year ago, broke up two from Ohio while making eight tackles at corner.

The Minutemen started rookies at three spots on offense and four more on defense as well as placekicker Blake Lucas.

“As a head coach, I have one eye on the present and one eye on the future. To see these guys working together and really getting on the same page and really starting to connect, it’s certainly encouraging for the future,” UMass coach Charley Molnar said. “Knowing that these guys have a chance to be impact players for three years after this one is exciting, but I have to temper that enthusiasm wondering where are we today? As we’re building that chemistry, there’s a lot of work to be done. The payoff will really be two and three years from now, but you can see it getting better and better and it’s exciting.”

Santos-Knox said the players are trying to learn as much from the veterans as they can before assuming even larger roles down the road.

“It’s the most valuable experience we can get. We have great leaders like Perry McIntyre out there teaching us the ropes. It just makes the process easier getting all this experience. When I’m a senior or even a sophomore I’ll be ready. ... I want to make to make this program like a Boise State. As the program builds, I want to be part of it.”

Wegzyn agreed.

“I try not to think too far down the road. I’m trying to take it a week at a time and keep improving as much as we can each day. But down the road if we keep improving at this rate and we keep making this progress, we’ve obviously got a really bright future,” he said. “If we have four years together, the opportunities are endless. Guys are going to be really experienced down the road.”

Colton said the key is to be as hungry and motivated down the road as they are right now.

“If we keep coming out in practice and busting our butt and keep doing our best on and off the field with our grades and in the weight room and being a good person, we can definitely make things happen,” Colton said. “We have to work hard every single day. We can’t let up.”

HEALTH UPDATES — Molnar expected that wide receiver Marken Michel (arm), offensive lineman Michael Boland, defensive lineman Galen Clemons and safety Christian Birt, who all had head injuries, to all be back in action Saturday when the Minutemen travel to Western Michigan. Defensive lineman Daniel Maynes (abdomen) is likely to see action as well.

Molnar listed linebacker Greg Hilliard as questionable, Hilliard will see a doctor today.

HEISMAN CHASE— The knock on Geno Smith, and it was a quiet knock, was that his big early numbers had come against tomato can opponents Marshall, James Madison and Maryland.

Whether or not West Virginia’s stat machine quarterback would be a legitimate Heisman candidate would be determined by how he did over a four-game stretch that started Saturday against No. 25 Baylor.

So far so good. Smith threw for 656 yards and eight touchdowns in West Virginia’s 70-63 win over the Bears. For the fourth time in five games, he had more TD passes than incomplete ones (six) as the Mountaineer football team put up more points Saturday than its basketball team did on 13 occasions during the 2011-12 season.

Smith will try to keep it going at No. 11 Texas Saturday, followed by a trip to undefeated Texas Tech on Oct. 13 and a home game against No. 7 Kansas State on Oct. 20.

Smith is bidding to become the third Smith to win the Heisman, a club that currently includes Minnesota running back Bruce in 1941 and Ohio State quarterback Troy in 2006.

BIG NUMBERS WEEK — Smith was hardly alone players putting up video-game caliber stats. In the first four weeks of the season, just one FBS quarterback threw for 500 or more yards (Houston’s David Piland, 580 in a loss to Louisiana Tech), but last week, five different QBs made it halfway to 1,000, including two in the same game as Baylor’s Nick Florence racked up 581 yards and five TD’s against Smith and WVU.

Zac Dysert Miami (Ohio) threw for 516 yards and ran for 108 more giving him a Mid-American Conference single-game record 624 total yards.

Ohio’s Beau Blankenship’s 269 yards rushing against UMass were the largest total for any player this season, while Baylor’s Terrance Williams’ 314 yards receiving (on 17 receptions) were also a nation’s best this year.

GAMES OF THE WEEK: This week should shed light on who is or is not a legitimate championship contender.

No. 4 LSU at No. 10 Florida, 3:30 p.m., CBS — Starting Saturday, four of the Gators’ eight remaining games are against top 10 teams.

No. 5 Georgia at No. 6 South Carolina 7 p.m., ESPN — The winner gets a leg up in the race to win the SEC East/Get pounded by Alabama or LSU in the SEC Championship game.

No. 8 West Virginia at No. 11 Texas, 7 p.m., FOX — This meeting of undefeateds will have a huge impact on the Big 12 race.

No. 21 Nebraska at No. 5 Ohio State, 8 p.m., ABC — Ineligible for postseason, the Buckeyes are chasing an undefeated season. The Huskers are the only remaining ranked team on their schedule.

No. 23 Washington at No. 2 Oregon, 10:30 p.m., ESPN — Beating Stanford gave the Huskies legitimacy, but beating the Ducks is a much more difficult challenge.

MAC GAMES OF THE WEEK: Northern Illinois at Ball State, 3 p.m., ESPN3 — Two teams with realistic designs on representing the MAC West in the conference title game square off.

ON THE ROAD TO — A Florida State vs. Oregon championship game.

Information from personal interviews, newspaper articles and sports information releases was used in this report.

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.

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