UMass football struggles again in loss at Vanderbilt

Last modified: Saturday, November 17, 2012
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The University of Massachusetts discovered Saturday night why most college football fans believe the Southeastern Conference is the best in the country.

Vanderbilt, a middle-of-the-pack SEC team, completely dominated the Minutemen and won handily 49-7 before 32,227 fans.

The Commodores set the tone early, as Michael Cox, the leading rusher for UMass, was thrown for an 8-yard loss on the first play from scrimmage. The Minutemen (0-8) managed only 54 rushing yards on the night, marking the second time in the last three games that the ground attack was held to less than 60 yards.

“The scoreboard doesn’t always show the direction a team is headed,” UMass coach Charley Molnar said. “But I know where this team was, where we are, and where we’re going. It’s a slower journey than I would have wanted, but I’m not discouraged.”

It was the first time the Minutemen played a team from the Southeastern Conference, which had seven of the top 25 teams in last week’s BCS standings.

Despite gaining only 23 total yards in the first quarter, UMass trailed just 7-0. The Minutemen were helped by a Vanderbilt offense that committed six penalties in the quarter.

The Commodores (4-4) drove to the UMass 15-yard line early in the second quarter and appeared on their way to a two-touchdown lead and control of the game. But cornerback Darren Thellen made a fourth-down tackle in the open field and gave the Minutemen the ball and momentum.

Quarterback Mike Wegzyn, returning to the state where he played his senior year of high school, threw a 21-yard completion to Marken Michel to spark a drive that eventually took the Minutemen to the Vanderbilt 9-yard line. But an incomplete pass just beyond the reach of tight end Rob Blanchflower and a fourth-down run by Jordan Broadnax failed to produce a first down and gave the ball back to Vanderbilt.

The UMass defense seemed encouraged by the offense moving the ball and forced a punt. Perry McIntyre and Kassan Messiah made key stops in the series.

The Minutemen then started another sustained drive, with Cox rushing for a key first down to keep it alive. But on fourth-and-four from the Commodores’ 28, Wegzyn was forced to throw under pressure and his pass fell incomplete.

Then it all changed.

Vanderbilt drove 72 yards on eight plays, scoring on a 25-yard pass when quarterback Jordan Rodgers caught the Minutemen in a blitz and found tight end Kris Kentera on the sideline. Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, was 17-of-21 for 217 yards and two touchdowns.

Broadnax then fumbled the kickoff and Rodgers ran it in three plays later to put the Commodores ahead 21-0.

“I thought our defense played really strong until that last two minutes of the half,” Molnar said. “It was a lot like last week.

“ I thought we’d go into the locker room down 7-0 and then see how we came out in the second half,” he added. “But the fumbled kickoff made it very difficult for us. Now we were down 21-0 and those are different circumstances.”

The game turned ugly for the Minutemen in the third as Vanderbilt scored 28 points in less than half a quarter to put the game away.

Rodgers capped a 57-yard drive by rolling to his right and hitting a skidding Chris Boyd for a 14-yard touchdown to put the Commodores ahead 28-0.

A little more than a minute later Wegzyn was hit as he threw and his pass was picked off by Vanderbilt cornerback Trey Wilson who trotted in from 17 yards for a touchdown that seemed to deflate UMass.

Before the quarter was over, the Commodores added two more quick touchdowns on a 74-yard run and 40-yard punt return for a 49-0 lead.

Both teams cleared their benches in the fourth quarter. Reserve quarterback A.J. Doyle kept UMass from a second consecutive shutout by throwing his first career touchdown pass to Deion Walker late in the game to make the final score 49-7.

Cox ran for 56 yards on 17 carries. Wegzyn was 15-of-27 for 162 yards. The Minutemen managed 264 total yards compared to 443 for Vanderbilt.

UMass remains on the road when it visits Northern Illinois at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.