Minutemen Close Non-Conference Schedule At Vanderbilt
• UMass heads to Nashville for the first-ever meeting against Vanderbilt as Saturday’s game kicks off a four-game series over the next six years against the Commodores. The Minutemen are coming off a tough 24-0 loss to Bowling Green last Saturday at Gillette Stadium, while Vanderbilt defeated SEC rival Auburn 17-13 at home.
• Voice of the Minutemen Josh Maurer, analyst Matt Goldstein and sideline reporter Cody Chrusciel will have the call on the UMass Sports Radio Network. Adam Frenier will host the pregame, halftime and postgame shows. The game can be heard live starting at 6:40 PM (EST) 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.
• The game will be televised live Fox Sports Net and NESN with Bob Rathbun calling the play-by-play, Tim Couch with color analysis, and Elizabeth Moreau with sideline reports. Along with calling college football games, Rathbun is a 17-year veteran announcer of the Atlanta Hawks. Couch was an All-American quarterback at Kentucky and the No. 1 pick in the 1999 NFL Draft by Cleveland. Moreau covers SEC football for Fox Sports South and is a former volleyball player from Butler.
• While the UMass defense played one of its best games of the year last Saturday against Bowling Green, it was the offense which struggled picking up just six first downs on 118 total yards. On the ground, the Minutemen picked up 85 yards, but through the air only managed 33 yards - the fewest since throwing for 22 yards at Rhode Island in 2007.
• Michael Cox continues to lead the ground game for UMass with 437 yards (3.9 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. Cox scored his third touchdown of the season at Western Michigan showing his athleticism once again with a high-flying flip over the defense.
• At quarterback, Mike Wegzyn has gotten more comfortable in the pocket going 108-of-212 for 1,045 yards and four touchdowns thrown. He also is UMass’ second leading rusher with 155 yards and a TD run. Against Vanderbilt, the redshirt freshman should have two big targets back in tightend Rob Blanchflower and wide receiver Alan Williams who missed the last two games.
• Defensively, Perry McIntyre continues to show he’s one of the top linebackers in the MAC with his team-leading 77 tackles which ranks among the top five players in the league. Through seven games, the senior has posted double-digit stops on five occasions.
• UMass returns to MAC action next Saturday with a trip to Northern Illinois (3:30 PM kick-off). The game will be the second of a three-game road swing closed out the following week at Akron.
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 556-533-51 (.513) in 1,140 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. Jamie Cassleberry made his first career start against Ohio turning in a strong performance at left guard.
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, backs up 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 had thrown just one interception in 77 attempts between the UConn and the Miami (Ohio) game. Since his pick at UConn and his first interception at Miami (Ohio), Wegzyn went 82 passes without turning the ball over.
• Against Miami, Wegzyn set new career-best marks in completions (19), attempts (40) and yards (213).
• Wegzyn continued to show improvement the next week against Ohio with career best marks in nearly every category completing 27-of-51 passes for 373 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. Wegzyn’s 373 yards ranks as the 7th most by a MAC quarterback this season.
• In his first four career MAC games, Wegzyn is 67-of-135 for 697 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions.
Balanced Offensive Attack
• Until the Ohio game, UMass’ play calling had been fairly even in terms of run and pass plays. Against the Bobcats, UMass had 51 passes compared to 33 rush attempts. In both the Michigan and Miami games, UMass had 10 more rush attempts than pass attempts. The first two games and the WMU game were much closer with an average of 2 additional run plays versus pass plays.
• The Miami game saw the most rush attempts in a game (50), while the Ohio game saw the most pass attemps (51).
Run Game Improving As Cox Hits Stride
• The return of right tackle Anthony Dima helped stablize the UMass offensive line. Dima missed the UConn and Indiana games due to injury but since returning to the line-up at Michigan, UMass has a combined 182 rushing attempts for 653 yards (131 yds per game) compared to 61 attempts for 80 yards (40 yds per game).
• A big story entering the Michigan game was Michael 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.
• Cox had a break-out game at Miami (Ohio) with a career-high 188 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. His nine-yard touchdown run which was capped off with an end-over-end front-flip into the end zone was ESPN Sports Center’s No. 5 Play of the Day on Sept. 22. Against the Red Hawks, Cox was able to gain 10-or-more yards eight times out of his 30 carries.
• Cox’s 188 yards at Miami ranks as the 8th most by a player in the MAC this season.
Rush By Committee
• UMass also graduated 1,000-yard rusher Jonathan Hernandez, but return several running backs who could fill the void. Fifth-year Michigan transfer Michael Cox leads a talented stable of running backs which includes sophomore Jordan Broadnax, redshirt senior Chris Burns (a transfer from Pittsburgh prior to the 2011 season), redshirt junior Jamar Smith and freshman Stacey Bedell.
• Smith missed much of the 2011 season due to an injury forcing Broadnax to play as a true freshman. Burns played special teams in 2011, but did not record an offensive carry.
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.
Walker Growing Into Primary Role
• Fifth-year senior Deion Walker has started to assert himself on offense in the last four games after posting just one catch for 24 yards against Indiana and not playing in the game at UConn. Walker has 33 catches for 400 yards in the last five games after being inserted into the starting line-up.
• Walker has five of UMass’ 15 20+ yard pass plays this season including three against Ohio.
• His 162 receiving yards against Ohio ranks as the 4th most for a wideout in the MAC this season.
• Walker now leads UMass in receiving yards (424) and catches with 34. His 12.5 yard per catch average and 70.7 yards per game average each lead the team.
Blanchflower A Talented Tight End
• Coming into the season, Rob Blanchflower was one of the top returning offensive skill position players at tight end. He was one of two players (Tajae Sharpe) to have a catch in every game this season until an injury forced him to miss the Western Michigan game.
• Against Ohio, Blanchflower set a new career-high with 80 receiving yards and tied his career-best with five catches.
• In the Miami and Ohio games, Blanchflower had a combined 10 catches for 130 yards.
• Blanchflower ranks third on the team in terms of catches (17) and yards (186) despite missing the last two games due to injury.
Williams Gaining Role In Offense
• Alan Williams has been a versatile player his entire career at UMass. Originally joining the Minutemen as a cornerback, Williams moved primarily to running back during the 2011 season. This year, he transitioned to wide receiver in the new spread offense.
• After making just two catches for five yards, the slot receiver posted 10 catches for 73 yards in the Michigan and Miami games.
• Williams had a break-out game against Ohio with 7 catches for 127 yards and a career-high three touchdowns - the most touchdowns by a wide receiver since Jeremy Horne did so against Bryant on Oct. 25, 2008.
• Williams missed the Western Michigan and Bowling Green games due to a coach’s decision.
Broadnax An All-Around Yardage Leader
• As UMass’ primary kick returner and a back-up tailback, Jordan Broadnax is the Minutemen’s leader in all-purpose yards through seven games this season.
• Broadnax was UMass’ top returning rusher returning from the 2011 season when he gained 117 yards on 35 carries through seven games played.
• In 2012, Broadnax is averaging 115.9 yards per game. The sophomore has a 22.9 yard average per kick return including a long of 61 yards at Miami.
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 was the Minutemen’s top receiver with 8 catches for 82 yards (10.2 avg.) prior to missing the Michigan, Miami, and Ohio games due to injury.
• Michel returned to the starting line-up at Western Michigan with 3 catches for 31 yards.
Offense Showing Improvement
• In the four games following the UConn loss, the Minutemen showed continued improvement on the offensive side of the ball.
• At Michigan, UMass’ three drives over 40 yards which resulted in two field goals made and one missed.
• At Miami, UMass put together six drives over 40 yards which culminated in two touchdowns, a field goal and one missed field goal. UMass also had a 61-yard drive to the Miami four-yard line which ended in an interception for a touchback. Four of the six drives went for 50+ yards for an average of just over 4 minutes each.
• Against Ohio, UMass against put together six drives of 40+ yards with all resulting in points - four of those drives were for 70+ yards.
• In the Indiana and UConn games, UMass had two total drives for 40+ yards highlighted by a 75-yard touchdown drive against the Hoosiers.
Beginning To Move The Chains
• In the Miami game, UMass picked up 26 first downs and had more first downs than its opponent for the first time this season. The Minutemen repeated that against Ohio with 28 first downs - four more than the Bobcats.
• After amassing just three first downs against UConn, the Minutemen had 14 against Indiana and 15 at Michigan.
• UMass was also strong on third down conversions against Miami going 11-for-19 as well as against Ohio where the Minutemen were 10-for-19.
• The extra possessions against the Red Hawks and Bobcats showed in the total number of plays and the extension of scoring drives. UMass had a season-high 90 plays (50 rush, 40 pass) for 471 yards at Miami. That was 20 more plays than the previous high set against Indiana and Michigan. Against Ohio, UMass had 84 total plays for a season-best 511 yards and a 6.1 yard average per play.
Big Plays Extending The Field
• Part of UMass’ ability to extend drives and pick up third down conversions has been an uptick in big plays. UMass has 19 offensive plays over 20 yards for the season with nine of them coming against Ohio.
• The Minutemen had 20 ‘first down’ plays going for 10 or more yards against the Red Hawks which is the most of the season. UMass had 19 such plays against Ohio.
• Of UMass’ 20 ‘first down’ plays at Miami, eight came courtesy of Michael Cox who had 10+ rushing yards on those ocassions.
Longer Drives Resulting In More Points
• UMass has put together 13 drives this season of 50+ yards including a season-high long drive of 84 yards capped 50-yard touchdown pass from Mike Wegzyn to Alan Williams against Ohio. All but 14 of UMass’ offensive points have come from those drives with seven touchdowns and four field goals. The two 50+ drives that didn’t yield points resulted in a missed field goal and an interception in the red zone. At Western Michigan, UMass scored a pair of touchdowns with drives under 35 yards set-up by an interception and a punt return.
• Time of possession has also moved more into UMass’ favor in three of the last five games with the Minutemen holding a +8:22 advantage over Michigan, a narrow 8 second deficit at Miami, and a 20 second advantage over Ohio. In the first two games of the season, UConn and Indiana held the ball for an average of 9 minutes longer than UMass.
15 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.
• Jaime Cassleberry played in his first collegiate game against Ohio, while Matt Sparks played at Michigan.
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, and Ed Saint-Vil 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 77 total tackles this season highlighted by 14 against Ohio for his third game in double-figures. After posting 12 tackles against Bowling Green, McIntyre now has 4 straight double-digit tackle games and 10-or-more in five of seven games this year.
• In 39 career games, he has 299 total tackles (124 solo), 20 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.
• Averaging 11.0 tackles per game, McIntyre ranks 2nd in the MAC while his 77 tackles are the third most in the league.
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 has made an impact as a starting tackle, while Stanley Andre moved from outside linebacker to defensive end.
• Hafis Williams leads all defensive linemen with 30 tackles this season, while Stanley Andre is second with 27.
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.
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 40 career games with 35 starts entering the Vanderbilt 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 204 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.
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 23 games overall. Tom ranks fourth on the team this season in total tackles with 33 including 20 solo.
• 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.
Messiah Makes Big Debut
• True freshman Kassan Messiah made a big splash with his collegiate debut at Miami (Ohio) with 10 tackles including a nine-yard sack in the second play of the game for his first collegiate tackle.
• Messiah followed up that performance with a 12 tackle effort the following week against Ohio.
• In just four games, Messiah moved up to 3rd on the team in total tackles with 44.
• With an 11.0 tackle per game average, Messiah is tied for 2nd overall in the MAC alongside UMass linebacker Perry McIntyre. He is the only freshmen listed in the league’s top 50 defensive players.
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 17 tackles and an interception on the season, while Colton earned his first career start at strong safety in front of his hometown fans against Indiana at Gillette turning in six tackles including four solo and one TFL.
• Both have played in every game this season with Colton earning starts against Indiana and Ohio.
Colton Plays Big Vs. Ohio
• Playing just 10 minutes away from his hometown of Norwood, Joe Colton had a career game against Ohio in Gillette Stadium. The freshman safety recorded 12 tackles including a team-high 7 solo stops in his second start of the season.
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 22 starts in 25 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.
• Tharpe has missed the last two games due to injury.
Getting A Push Up Front
• UMass had a season-high 8 tackles for loss at Miami including a season-best three sacks. Along with Kassan Messiah’s sack during Miami’s opening drive, Kevin Byrne had one solo sack, while Stanley Andre and Chaz Thompson teamed up for a sack as well.
• All told, UMass has seven sacks this year and 35 tackles for loss.
Defense Forcing Turnovers
• UMass has forced a turnover in six of seven games this season with 7 interceptions and one fumble recovery. The Minutemen had more take-aways than UConn and Indiana, however, gave the ball away more against Michigan, Miami, Ohio, Western Michigan, and Bowling Green.
• With seven interceptions this season, UMass is tied for 45th in the NCAA.
• At UConn, the Minutemen had two interceptions and one fumble recovery.
• Against Michigan, UMass had an interception returned for a 32-yard touchdown by Christian Birt but threw an interception and gave up a fumble recovery on a muffed punt reception.
• At Miami, UMass threw a season-high three interceptions after throwing just one in the previous three games. The defense did pick off a pass in the game to push the turnovers forced streak to four games.
• Ohio marked the first time in 2012 that UMass was unable to force a turnover in a game.
• Of the seven interceptions made this season, only Darren Thellen has multiple picks (Indiana, Western Michigan). The other five have come from Tom Brandt (UConn), Antoine Tharpe (UConn), Christian Birt (Michigan), Mike Lee (Miami), and Khary Bailey-Smith (Bowling Green).
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 took over 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.
• Miami saw the punt coverage team do its least amount of work for the season as UMass punted just once in the game.
• The Bowling Green game saw Johnson’s best performance of the year with 10 kicks for 478 yards (47.8 yard avg) highlighted by a season-long 66 yard drive.
• Through seven games, Johnson ranks 3rd in punting average (43.3 yards).
• Brendon Levengood has handled the kick-off duties for the second straight season. At Michigan he also handled 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.
• Blake Lucas handled field goals against Ohio going 2-for-2 with a long of 30 yards, while Levengood handled kick-offs and extra point attempts.
Rookie Duo Leaders On Coverage
• Freshmen John Robinson and Joe Colton are tied for the team lead in special teams’ tackles this season with five each. The pair has 10 of UMass’ 36 tackles on kick and punt coverage. Robinson has 3 tackles on kick-offs and 2 tackles on punt coverage, while Colton has 4 of his 5 stops on punt coverage.
• Tom Brandt is third on the team with four tackles - all coming on kick-off coverage.
Kick Return Among Best In MAC
• With a 22.2 yard average on kick returns, UMass ranks 5th among all MAC teams. UMass has 32 kickoff returns for 711 yards - all but one by Jordan Broadnax. The 711 yards is the most in the MAC, while Broadnax’s 61 yard return at Miami is the league’s 5th-longest return of the season.
Freshmen Making An Impact
• In 2012, UMass has played a total of 28 true or redshirt freshmen. Of those, 21 are true freshmen including starters Michael Boland (OL), Joe Colton (FS), and Tajae Sharpe (WR). All told, UMass has started eight 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.
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.
Scholarship Video Goes Viral
• While UMass head coach Charley Molnar is best known for his creativity in drawing up offensive schemes, it may have been his presentation of a pair of scholarships during preseason camp which is drawing the most national attention currently. In a video posted during the bye week, Molnar suprises Dan Maynes and Rob O’Connor with full scholarships during a team meeting. The catch to the video is that he has a pair of Amherst Police officers ‘serve’ the papers during a team meeting. Since being posted to the internet, the video has over 77,000 views and has been picked up by CNN, Good Morning America, USA Today, The Today Show, ESPN, CBS Sports Network, and more. Fans have tweeted and shared the video via Facebook calling it one of the feel good stories of the year.
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.
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.”
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.
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.