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UMass football hoping for red zone success in return to Gillette Stadium

Quarterback Mike Wegzyn (11) and the University of Massachusetts offense hopes to improve its red zone efficiency during Saturday's game against Ohio at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

Quarterback Mike Wegzyn (11) and the University of Massachusetts offense hopes to improve its red zone efficiency during Saturday's game against Ohio at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. Purchase photo reprints »

Instead, missed opportunities in a 27-16 loss to Miami (Ohio) dropped the Minutemen to 0-4.

After seeing progress in different aspects of his team’s performance each of the last three weeks, Minuteman coach Charley Molnar is hoping red zone efficiency takes a jump at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

“I feel like we’ll be better this week. I feel like guys will be more focused in that area. All the work we’ve done in the red zone has to start paying dividends for us,” he said. “It’s been a point of emphasis for us since spring ball. I promised my team since I got here that we would spend more time working in the red zone than any team in America. I think we have. We have a package that we work on constantly. We didn’t go outside that package (Saturday). We just didn’t execute it very well.”

Freshman quarterback Mike Wegzyn was confident things were moving in the right direction.

“This week in practice has been our best week. I think we’ve really improved on the offensive side,” he said. “We’ve been moving the ball really well, especially in the red zone. We haven’t had many penalties at all. I’m really excited about this week.”

UMass ranks 11th in the Mid-American Conference in scoring percentage inside the 20-yard line with three touchdowns and three field goals in nine visits. While the Minutemen missed opportunities at Miami, their five visits to the red zone (two touchdowns, one field goal) were more than the four trips in the previous three games combined.

“It was foreign turf for us. We hadn’t been there very much. It felt strange,” said Molnar, who thought the problems against the RedHawks were correctable. “We really came down to just a few errors in the course of the game that were major errors and they all seemed to happen inside the 10-yard line. ... Sometimes it’s the pressure of the game. Sometimes the defense makes an excellent play and sometimes the offense doesn’t perform as well as they do in practice.”

Among MAC teams to have played four games already only Eastern Michigan, which has scored six times in seven visits, has spent less time inside the 20.

Saturday represents good news and bad news for UMass. Teams that get into the red zone against the Bobcats usually score, but they rarely get there. In four games, Ohio foes have just nine trips to the red zone, but they’ve scored seven TDs and a field goal. Ohio leads the MAC in fewest points allowed at 18.0 per game.

“Sometimes it doesn’t come down to the opponent,” Molnar said. “It comes down to us and how well we’re playing. What we did wrong, most of it was done wrong by us.”

Penalties haven’t helped as the Minutemen have been flagged a conference-high 32 times for 271 yards, which is second most in the MAC.

COACH TO CURE MD — The UMass and Ohio coaching staffs will be wearing special patches as part of the Coach to Cure MD week to raise awareness for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

The coaches are among 120 of 124 Bowl Subdivision staffs nationwide, including all MAC teams, participating in the event, which is a joint venture between the American Football Coaches Association and Parent Project MD. Including other divisions, over 550 schools and over 5,000 coaches are expected to participate.

For more information or to donate fans can go to www.CoachtoCureMD.org.

Fans can also donate $5 by texting the word “CURE” to 90999.

FIREWORKS — Immediately following the game there will be a fireworks display accompanying the postgame concert by the UMass marching band.

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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