UMass Opens MAC Play At Miami (Ohio)
• UMass opens its Mid-American Conference era this Saturday with a trip to Miami (Ohio) for the first-ever meeting between the two programs. The Minutemen enter the contest with an 0-3 record following the loss at No. 17 Michigan, while the Red Hawks are 1-2 on the year with a win over Southern Illinois and losses to Ohio State and Boise State.
• The game will be televised live on ESPN3.com, ESPN Plus and ESPN GamePlan. The syndicated package will be aired in the Springfield market on ABC40 WGGB and in the Boston market on ABC5 WCVB. For a complete list of stations and markets in the ESPN Plus Syndication package, visit http://espnplus.com/home/mac-stations.
• Voice of the Minutemen Josh Maurer and analyst Matt Goldstein will have the call on the UMass Sports Radio Network. The game can be heard live starting at Noon on 105.5 FM WEEI (Springfield), 1440 AM WVEI (Worcester) and 95.9 FM WATD (South Shore). The broadcast is also available online through www.UMassAthletics.com and on smart phones and tablets through the TuneIn app.
• Though this will be the first game for UMass as a member of the Mid-American Conference, UMass has previously played three current members of the league: Ball State, Buffalo, and Toledo. The Minutemen are 1-1 against Ball State with the last meeting coming in 1988; 5-4 against Buffalo with the last meeting in 1998; and 1-2 against Toledo with the last contest in 1999.
• UMass is coming off a tough 63-13 loss at No. 17 Michigan last Saturday despite several strong performances by individual Minutemen. Christian Birt returned an interception 32 yards for his first career touchdown, while Brendon Levengood hit a pair of field goals. Hafis Williams had a career-high five solo tackles and Deion Walker had a career-high 63 yards receiving.
• Michael Cox leads UMass in rushing with 113 yards in three games. Mike Wegzyn is 41-of-77 through the air with just one interception to date. Wegzyn also has a rushing touchdown to his credit. Marken Michel leads the Minutemen with 8 catches for 82 yards, while Tajae Sharpe and Deion Walker each average 10+ yards per catch.
• Defensively, UMass is led by middle linebacker Perry McIntyre who has 26 tackles including 13 solo stops. Free safety Darren Thellen is second on the team with 21 tackles and an interception. All told, the Minutemen have forced five turnovers through three games. The defensive line has been a solid rotation of nine players during the year with end Stanley Andre and tackle Hafis Williams combining for 24 tackles.
• Next up for UMass will be the Minutemen’s first-ever home MAC game against Ohio at Gillette Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN3.com with kick-off set for 3:30 PM.
UMass Set For Inaugural FBS Season
• The 2012 season represents a new era in UMass football as the Minutemen transition from a storied past at the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Mid-American Conference.
• The 2011 season marked the final year in the FCS (formerly I-AA) for the UMass football program as the Minutemen are now in year two of their transition period to the FBS (I-A). Along with a new conference and division comes a new home field as UMass will begin playing at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. - also home to the NFL’s New England Patriots.
• UMass will become eligible for the MAC Championship and will be Bowl-Eligible in 2013.
• UMass joins UConn (Big East) and Boston College (ACC) as the only New England FBS schools.
UMass History Thumbnail
• This is the 130th season of UMass football. UMass has an all-time record of 556-529-51 (.513) in 1,134 all-time games. The Minutemen won two of the last six conference championships (2006 and 2007) as members of the Colonial Athletic Association and the Atlantic 10. In 2008, UMass posted its seventh winning season in a row with a 7-5 record. Over its last nine years at the FCS level, UMass made three NCAA Tournament appearances. In 2007, UMass went 10-3, going 7-1 in the inaugural season of the CAA.
• UMass was the winningest program in the CAA over a 10-year span from 1998-2008 with an 83-44 record with a 65.7 win percentage.
• The Minutemen have won 22 conference championships - the last two coming in 2007 and 2008. All-time UMass had eight NCAA Tournament appearances winning the 1998 national title and also playing in the championship game in 2006 and 1978.
Lots of New For 2012
• Along with the move to the Mid-American Conference, UMass welcomed new head coach Charley Molnar in December 2011. Molnar assembled a new coaching staff which is made up of a veteran group with coaching experience at the highest collegiate and professional levels.
• On top of having the new coaching staff, UMass will also be changing its offense from a pro-style attack to a spread, no-huddle scheme.
• On the defensive side of the ball, the Minutemen return to their traditional 4-3 look after playing the 2011 season using a 3-4 defense.
• Continuing the ‘New Trend’ are the Minutemen’s new uniforms. UMass is wearing the new Adidas “Tech-Fit” football uniforms and have stepped away from tradition with black helmets. Additionally, the logo used for the helmets is a new design of the UMass word mark to standout more. UMass debuted new all-black uniforms in the Gillette opener against Indiana (9/8).
UMass Against FBS Teams
• Prior to UMass’ transition to an FBS program, the Minutemen played a I-A opponent in 12 of the previous 13 years. In five of the last seven years, UMass played narrow games with FBS teams, losing by 10 points or fewer including the 2010 season’s 42-37 loss at Michigan. UMass has played a ranked FBS team in three of the last seven years having playing then-No. 10 Texas Tech in 2008, then-No. 12 Boston College in 2007, and then No. 20 Michigan in 2010.
• Since FCS (Division I-AA) was formed in 1978, UMass posted a record of 8-23 against I-A foes, with the last victory being a 26-10 triumph over Ball State on Sept. 1, 1984, at home at McGuirk Stadium.
• UMass had Michigan on the ropes in Ann Arbor in 2010 leading 17-7 before the Wolverines were able to score two touchdowns in the final 61 seconds prior to halftime. Michigan extended the lead in the third quarter with another pair of touchdowns, but UMass battled back with three scores in the fourth quarter. A missed on-side kick with 2:05 left in the game allowed Michigan to run out the clock for the win. Kyle Havens was 22-of-29 for 222 yards and 2 touchdowns. Jonathan Hernandez rushed for 114 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Julian Talley had seven receptions for 91 yards and a score.
Former Minutemen In The NFL
• Entering the NFL Regular-Season, UMass figures to be well represented on Sunday afternoons. The most prominent UMass alum is none other than Victor Cruz whose improbable story and highlight reel season in 2011 captured America’s attention. Cruz helped the New York Giants to a Super Bowl win while setting a franchise record for receiving yardage in a single-season. Along with the publicity he garnered for his signature ‘Salsa Dance’ as a touchdown celelbration, Cruz also wrote a book during the off-season which became a best-seller.
• Lining up opposite from Cruz in last year’s Super Bowl was James Ihedigbo with the New England Patriots. Ihedigbo previously played three years with the New York Jets alongside Vladimir Ducasse and is now with the Baltimore Ravens.
• Ducasse was drafted in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft and is entering his third season with the Jets.
• Also currently on NFL rosters are Jeremy Cain (Jacksonville Jaguars), Jeromy Miles (Cincinnati Bengals), and Josh Samuda (Miami Dolphins).
• John Griffin (Jets), Chris Koepplin (Patriots), Jeremy Horne (Kansas City Chiefs), Travis Tripucka (St. Louis Rams), Emil Igwenagu (Philadelphia Eagles), and Julian Talley (New York Giants) were all cut from their respective squads during the final week of the preseason. Igwenagu was then signed to the Eagles’ practice squad.
• Former Head Coach Mark Whipple is currently the quarterbacks coach in Cleveland after a stint at the University of Miami as offensive coordinator and with the Pittsburgh Steelers where he coached Ben Rothlisberger.
• The previous high mark for UMass products in the pros came in 1968, when UMass had five players combined between the NFL and AFL, prior to the leagues’ merger in 1970. That year, tight end Milt Morin played for the Cleveland Browns, quarterback Greg Landry was a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions, quarterback John McCormick played for the Denver Broncos and halfback Terry Swanson and lineman Ed Toner suited up for the then-Boston Patriots.
Offensive Line A Strong Foundation
• The UMass offensive line returned nearly complete from a year ago with the exception of four-year starting left guard Josh Samuda, however, Anthony Dima suffered a preseason injury that forced him to miss the UConn and Indiana games. The group is the most veteran of any offensive position giving the Minutemen a strong foundation to build around.
• Stephane Milhim, Nick Speller and Dima started every game last season, while Quinton Sales returns as one of the top centers in program history. John Wallace and Michael Boland made their first career starts at UConn.
Wegzyn Gets The Nod At QB
• Kellen Pagel took over as the starting quarterback during the spring, however, he was diagnosed with post-concussion symptoms when preseason camp started. Mike Wegzyn redshirted the 2011 season as a freshman and the big arm from Tennessee earned the starting job in Pagel’s absence.
• A.J. Doyle, Charley Molnar’s first recruit at UMass, will be the back-up to Wegzyn with Ian Shultis behind him on the depth chart.
• The season-opener at UConn was Wegzyn’s first career start, with him going 9-of-22 for 56 yards and an interception.
• Against Indiana (9/8) Wegzyn scored the program’s first FBS touchdown with a 16-yard scamper. The play was set-up by a 56-yard throw to Marken Michel in the first quarter. He finished the Indiana game going 18-of-26 for 151 yards with another 32 yards rushing.
• Wegzyn’s older brother Matt was formerly a tight end at Tennessee.
Wegzyn Showing Improvement
• Despite being in his first year of action under center, quarterback Mike Wegzyn has thrown just one interception in 77 attempts this season. Since throwing that pick at UConn, Wegzyn has gone 67 passes without turning the ball over.
Rush By Committee
• UMass also graduated 1,000-yard rusher Jonathan Hernandez, but return several running backs who could fill the void. Chris Burns, who transferred from Pittsburgh prior to the 2011 season, and fifth-year Michigan transfer Michael Cox also figure to play prominent roles in the ground attack. The duo combine a mix of power and speed in the Minutemen’s spread offense.
• Jamar Smith, Jordan Broadnax, and Stacey Bedell will also figure into the run game as UMass certainly features a deep group in the backfield.
• Smith missed much of the 2011 season due to an injury forcing Broadnax to play as a true freshman.
Burns Steps Up In Camp
• After playing on special teams in 2011, Chris Burns surged onto the scene during the spring and summer training camps. A transfer from Pittsburgh following the 2010 season, Burns split reps with the first team between Jordan Broadnax and Mike Cox during both training sessions.
• At Pittsburgh, Burns played 17 games including 12 during the 2010 season.
1,000 Yard Standard
• UMass has produced a 1,000 yard rusher in 19 of the last 33 seasons. Despite not having a 1,000-yard rusher in 2009 and 2010, Jonathan Hernandez hit the mark last season. In 2010, UMass almost had a pair of 1,000 yard running backs in Hernandez and John Griffin.
• UMass had 1,000-yard rushers in seven straight seasons from 2002-08 thanks in part to Steve Baylark who did so all four of his years with the program. Marcel Ship is the only other player in program history to hit the 1,000-yard mark four consecutive seasons. Shipp also holds the program record with 2,542 yards during the 1998 I-AA National Championship Season.
• UMass All-American and ESPN commentator Rene Ingoglia was the last running back besides Baylark and Shipp to have back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons.
Walker, Cox Look To Make Impact
• Former Notre Dame wide receiver Deion Walker and former Michigan tailback Mike Cox each joined UMass over the summer as fifth-year transfers. The duo both received their undergraduate degrees in the spring and are now enrolled in grad school at UMass.
• Walker played in 7 career games for the Irish. Cox played in 12 career games for the Wolverines.
• Walker was rated as the seventh-best wide receiver in the country by SuperPrep and the 11th-best wide receiver in the nation by Scout.com coming out of high school. Cox was a four-star prospect from Avon Old Farms in Connecticut.
• Prior to college both players were standouts in other sports as well at the prep level. Walker was a standout basketball player and triple-jumper winning state championships in both. Cox grew up playing hockey as a center and right wing for the Boston Jr. Bruins before focusing on football.
• A big story entering the Michigan game was Cox’s return to his alma mater after graduating from Ann Arbor in Spring 2012. Against his former teammates, Cox rushed for a season-high 81 yards on 18 carries.
Michel Looks To Be A Play Maker
• One of the top pure athletes on offense, Marken Michel’s speed will definitely be an asset to the revamped wide receiving corps. Michel played in all 11 games in 2011 - primarily on special teams - posting 3 catches for 31 yards and a touchdown. During the offseason, Charley Molnar consistently praised Michel as one of the program’s top wide receivers entering the season.
• Michel had his best career game against Indiana with five catches for 68 yards. His 56-yard reception to set-up Mike Wegzyn’s rushing touchdown marked the longest of his career.
• Michel leads the Minutemen with 8 catches for 82 yards (10.2 avg.) despite missing the Michigan game due to injury.
13 Minutemen Make Debut On Offense
• In the season-opener at UConn, 13 Minutemen made their collegiate debut on the offensive side of the ball. Both Mike Wegzyn and A.J. Doyle saw their first career action at quarterback, while Michael Boland, John Wallace, Michael Cox and Tajae Sharpe also made their first career starts for UMass.
Veteran Defense Leads The Charge
• Despite losing All-American linebacker Tyler Holmes to graduation, the UMass defense returns nearly all of its major contributors in 2012. Fifth-year senior Darren Thellen is the leader of the corps from his free safety position after having a break-out year in 2011. Thellen broke school records for interception return yardage (172) after picking off five passes during the year.
• Joining Thellen in the secondary is an experienced group led by Antoine Tharpe, Christian Birt, Ed Saint-Vil, and Mike Lee who all have started games during their careers.
McIntyre Anchors The Defense
• Perry McIntyre anchored the linebackers alongside Holmes last season and finished the year on a tear with 52 tackles over the last four games. He finished the 2011 season with 116 total tackles just two shy of Holmes.
• McIntyre leads the defense with 26 total tackles this season highlighted by 12 against UConn.
• In 35 career games, he has 248 total tackles (103 solo), 16.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.
Defensive Line Stout Up Front
• Three of UMass’ starting defensive linemen return with Chaz Thompson, Brandon Potvin and Kevin Byrne manning the trenches. Notre Dame fifth-year transfer Hafis Williams figures to make an impact as does Ryan Delaire and Stanley Andre who moves from outside linebacker to defensive end.
Williams Bolsters Interior Line
• Joining fellow Notre Dame transfer Deion Walker is Hafis Williams who also received his undergraduate degree in the spring and is enrolled in graduate school at UMass. The defensive tackle played in 24 games for the Irish with 19 career tackles.
• Coming out of Elizabeth High School in 2007, Williams was rated the 9th-best player in New Jersey and the 35th-best defensive tackle in the nation.
• Williams leads all defensive linemen with 12 tackles through three games including five solo stops at Michigan.
Thellen A Career Leader
• From his free safety spot, Darren Thellen is one of the key figures of the UMass defense. The fifth-year senior has played in 36 career games with 31 starts entering the Miami game.
• Thellen had a career-high and team-best five interceptions in 2011 for a school record 172 return yards. His 128 return yards against Central Connecticut State (10/8/11) stands as the single-game record in UMass history.
• Run support is also one of Thellen’s strong suites as he has 181 total tackles at UMass including a career-high 14 set against James Madison (11/19/11) and 11 against Indiana (9/8/12) - 9 of which were solo stops.
• Thellen earned national attention following the UConn game (8/30) as he batted a thrown-away ball back in bounds to Tom Brandt for an interception in the first half. The play was ESPN Sports Center’s No. 1 Play of the Day.
Andre Makes Move To End
• A linebacker for his entire career, Stanley Andre makes the move to defensive end for the 2012 season. Depth at the position prompted the defensive coaching staff to make the move with Andre’s combination of size, strength and speed making him a good candidate against the run and on the edge.
• In his previous two seasons, the Dorchester, Mass., native played in 12 games with 11 tackles - primarily on special teams.
Hilliard Impressive In Opener
• Greg Hilliard received high praise in the preseason from the coaching staff and showed why in the season opener at UConn. The sophomore outside linebacker had five tackles including two TFL’s and had a forced fumble and recovery in the Red Zone to prevent a UConn score.
• The top returning corner back for 2012 is Antoine Tharpe who has 20 starts in 23 career games. Tharpe started all nine games last season missing two due to injury. The speedy cover corner had a career-high seven pass break-ups for the year including three against Holy Cross in the season-opener.
• In the 2012 season opener against UConn (8/30), Tharpe hauled in his first career interception and had five tackles including one TFL.
Brandts A Linebacking Duo
• If No. 37 and No. 47 look strikingly similar, there’s good reason for it. Tim (47) and Tom (37) are twin brothers from Natick, Mass. At 6-foot-2, the pair are separated by a mere three pounds. Tim played in all 11 games last season with 33 tackles, a forced fumble and 3.5 TFL’s. Tom played in 9 games with 9 tackles and one TFL. For his career, Tom has played in 20 games overall.
• Tom Brandt posted his first career interception in the season-opener at UConn (8/30) as part of a highlight play where Darren Thellen batted a thrown-away ball back inbounds during the first half. The play was ESPN Sports Center’s No. 1 Play of the Day.
• Tom also had a career-high 8 tackles against Michigan and has 14 of his 20 in the last two outings.
Rookies Earn Minutes In Secondary
• Several key freshmen and redshirt freshmen have made an impact on the defensive secondary after injuries to Christian Birt and Ed Saint-Vil forced a bit of shuffling in the line-up. True freshmen Khary Bailey-Smith and Joe Colton have each stood out in the secondary spots. Bailey-Smith has 9 tackles on the season, while Colton earned the starting nod in front of his hometown fans against Indiana at Gillette turning in six tackles including four solo and one TFL.
Winning The Turnover Battle
• UMass has forced a turnover in all three games this season with 4 interceptions and one fumble recovery. The Minutemen have had more take-aways than opponents in each game with the exception of Michigan where each team turned the ball over once. At UConn, the Minutemen had two interceptions and one fumble recovery.
Special Teams Key
• Jeff Strait was key in the season-opener at UConn with a career-high nine punts for 378 yards (42.0 average).
• Colter Johnson handled the punting duties against Indiana turning in a 44.1 yard average including 3 over 50 yards. At Michigan, he had six punts for a 38.5 yard average including a 53 yard kick. With good hang time, three of his six punts were fair caught.
• Brendon Levengood has handled the kick-off duties for the second straight season. At Michigan he also resumed duties as place kicker where he was 2-for-3 including a long of 32 yards. His only miss was on a 45 yard kick in the fourth quarter which had plenty of distance, but was just wide left.
Freshmen Making An Impact
• In 2012, UMass has played a total of 25 true or redshirt freshmen. Of those, 18 are true freshmen including starters Michael Boland (OL), Joe Colton (FS), and Tajae Sharpe (WR). All told, UMass has started six true or redshirt freshmen this season.
Michigan Crowd A New Record
• The crowd of 110,708 fans at the Michigan established a new program record as the largest attendance to witness a UMass sporting event. The previous mark was 110,187 also set at Michigan back in 2010.
• The Michigan attendance also became the third most to see a MAC game. In 2005, 110,971 fans at the Big House saw Michigan face Northern Illinois for the league record. In the MAC top 10 for single-game road attendance, Michigan is the opponent for every one.
Charley Molnar Radio Show
• The Bud Light UMass Football Coach’s Show With Charley Molnar airs live on Thursday night’s from the Hangar Pub & Grill on University Drive in Amherst. Each Thursday night, Coach Molnar joins Voice of the Minutemen Josh Maurer along with player guests to give insight into the program and take a look at the week’s upcoming opponent. The show airs on 105.5 FM WEEI in Springfield and 1440 AM WVEI in Worcester from 7-8 PM.
Sept. 6 Indiana
Sept. 27 Ohio
Oct. 4 Western Michigan
Oct. 11 Bye Week
Oct. 18 Bowling Green
Oct. 25 Vanderbilt
Nov. 1 Northern Illinois
Nov. 8 Akron
Nov. 15 Buffalo
Community Service A Program Standard For Molnar
• One of Charley Molnar’s core tenants as a football coach is to engage his players with the community through service projects. In his time at UMass, Molnar, his staff and members of the team have volunteered and helped at events throughout Western Mass.
• Over the summer, members of the football team volunteered at the Boys & Girls Club each week in Holyoke, Mass. The players served as mentors at the Club and engaged the children in activities.
• Players also helped with Habitat For Hummanity, were representatives at the Special Olympics torch lighting ceremony, visited local schools and helped work the Relay For Life.
Carter Donates Bone Marrow
• One of the most notable and selfless acts came from redshirt junior Ryan Carter during the offseason. Carter found out he was a match for a bone marrow transplant after being tested during the Minutemen’s Bone Marrow Registration Drive last fall.
• Carter underwent surgery in February at Mass General Hospital in Boston. His bone marrow was transplanted to a five-year old boy who he has never met.
Veteran Coaching Staff
• Charley Molnar has assembled a veteran coaching staff with experience at the highest levels of football. The staff is comprised of coaches who have spent years at Bowl Championship Series (BCS) schools as well as time in the National Football League and the United Football League. The experienced staff has found success at every level of the college game and in the professional ranks as the Minutemen begin a new era of football in Amherst.
• “I think the staff we have assembled has the knowledge, experience, and teaching tools to make us a successful program in all phases of the game,” said Molnar. “This is a highly motivated group of professionals who know how to gain success not just in football, but in daily life. Their experiences as coaches and players will serve as the foundation for what we want to build here - championship caliber football played by championship caliber young men.”
Stadium Upgrades At McGuirk
• As part of the transition plan to the FBS, McGuirk Stadium in Amherst will be receiving several upgrades over the next two years. With groundbreaking anticipated in February, the two main projects include a new Field House for the program which will house offices, locker rooms, meeting rooms, a theatre, athletic training facilities, video facilities and strength & conditioning facilities. This will mark the first time in the modern era that all support services for the program will be housed in one complex. Additionally, a new press box will be built. McGuirk Stadium was opened in 1965 and seats 17,000 fans. The newest renovations to the stadium include a FieldTurf surface which was installed in 2006 and permanent lighting in 2008.
Ad Campaign In Full Blitz
• One of the challenges in playing at Gillette Stadium is attracting a new fan base to fill the sizable facility. UMass enlisted the Gold Group advertising firm to assist in the promotion of the program and the move to the new venue. Along with radio and television exposure, billboards in both Eastern and Western Mass were acquired and a number of MBTA buses sport UMass Football advertising in Boston. Both traditional and grass roots efforts are in the works for the balance of the season to reach over 100,000 UMass alums in the Boston/Eastern Massachusetts area.
They’re In The Game
One of the highlights of the transition to the FBS level for UMass fans was the inclusion of the Minutemen in EA Sports’ NCAA Football ‘13 which hit stores this past summer. Several years ago, EA Sports phased out the inclusion of FCS teams leaving UMass off the small screen. Fans would create and share customized rosters, however, and create teams based on UMass’ attributes to get around the Minutemen’s previous exclusion from the game.
MAC Preseason Poll
As the newest member of the MAC and in the second year of the FBS transition period, UMass was picked to finish 7th in the MAC East Division. Ohio was picked to win the East, while Toledo was picked to win the West.