UMass football team continues to struggle in loss at Northern Illinois
DeKALB, Ill. — After half of a quarter was played Saturday, the University of Massachusetts football team never had much of a chance to beat Northern Illinois.
But Minuteman coach Charley Molnar wasn’t irked just by the final score of 63-0. He also was bothered by the way UMass (0-9, 0-5 Mid-American Conference) finished the game, gaining just 99 yards in the second half and allowing the Huskies to put up 28 points when their reserves were on the field.
“I’m very, very disappointed in the way we performed this afternoon,” Molnar said. “We have a long way to go as a football team. I understand that, we all understand that … The score of today’s game, our performance in the second half was inexcusable.”
For three minutes, the Minutemen showed glimpses of the team that came within a field goal of Ohio on Sept. 29 in a 37-34 loss.
UMass was able to move the ball on its first drive Saturday, gaining 47 yards and advancing the ball to the Northern Illinois 38-yard line before quarterback Mike Wegzyn fumbled on fourth down.
The Minuteman defense followed suit, forcing a turnover on downs at their 13-yard line.
But after that, UMass could not stay with the Huskies (9-1, 6-0 MAC), and its next first down did not come until the second quarter.
“Definitely, throughout the first half, I felt we could move the ball against them, throughout the game I thought that,” quarterback Mike Wegzyn said. “It was just, for whatever reason, we weren’t on the same page and that was kind of our downfall. I never really lost confidence in us. It’s just, the expectation is set here and we’re falling short of it.”
Northern Illinois, meanwhile, scored on its next eight drives before a home crowd of 11,114.
Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch, who came into the game leading the nation in total offense, threw for two touchdowns and ran for one in the first half and freshman Keith Harris ran for two as Northern Illinois built a 35-0 halftime lead.
Lynch rushed for 157 yards and threw for 191, completing 15-of-19 passes before he was taken out after the first drive of the third quarter.
Lynch is “certainly the thing that makes this offense go here at Northern Illinois,” Molnar said. “He’s really a dynamic player for them … He’s just so hard to tackle. Everything you do defensively, you have to defend him every single play.”
In the second half, UMass made it past the Huskies’ 43-yard line just once, and that drive early in the third quarter ended when Northern Illinois recovered a fumble by Michael Cox.
But the Minutemen’s overall production wasn’t the only thing that bothered Molnar. It also was seeing Huskies defensive linemen run down the field uncontested, tacklers not wrapping up and other signs that effort was lacking.
“I think some of the guys started to think about the trip home, getting out of DeKalb,” Molnar said. “Today, I was a little bit disappointed. I don’t think every guy played until the end of the game.”
In the last month, UMass has had a rash of injuries and suspensions that have hurt an already thin squad.
“We’ve had our fair share of adversity and trials and tribulations that we’ve had to overcome,” Wegzyn said. “But I think, as a group, we needed to grow from that and build from that.”
Saturday’s loss showed that the Minutemen are a lot further from winning their first game in the Football Bowl Subdivision than they thought.
“We played well against Ohio, obviously we executed,” said Wegzyn, who was 16-of-28 for 137 yards before he was replaced by A.J. Doyle in the second half. “I think that was our best game in terms of having everybody on the same page on the same play. It seemed like the linemen were doing the same thing at the same time. The receivers were making their reads and running their routes correctly.
“For whatever reason,” he added, “we just haven’t been able to duplicate that.”