Each week we scout Michigan's opponent. We'll start with the basics, and then explore some relevant match-ups. For those that want to know more, we'll sprinkle in a mixture of history, reflection, and philosophy for a comprehensive look.
#17 Michigan (1-1) vs. Massachusetts (0-2)
| UMass Players to Watch:
QB Mike Wegzyn (Rd Fr. #11) Northville, MI native; 88.3 passing efficiency rating; 103.5 ypg.
RB Michael Cox (Sr. #5) Former Wolverine; rushed for 169 yards on 19 carries (8.9 ypc) at Michigan
WR Marken Michel (So. #4) team’s leading receiver with 8 catches for 82 yards
LB Perry McIntyre (Sr. #44) Leading returning tackler; a four-year starter; no tackles in the 2010 game.
Last meeting: U-M wins 42-37 in 2010
What a win means for Michigan: It means win #897, the most for any college football program.
What a win means for UMASS: The biggest win in program history and their first as an FBS school (formerly Division 1-A)
What UMASS Brags About:
- They won a national championship (Division 1-AA) in 1998
- Former UMASS players include former Detroit Lion Greg Landry, current New York Giants receiver and part-time ‘salsa dancer’ Victor Cruz, and “Dr. J” Julius Erving
UMass' Kellen Pagel figured to be the starter at quarterback, but has been out since the middle of August with post concussive symptoms. Ironically, Pagel had already played at Michigan Stadium in 2010 as a member of Bowling Green in 2010. The former Falcon played the final minutes after an injury to their starter.
A lot of things have changed since these two teams last met in 2010, and more of those changes happened at UMASS than at Michigan. For the Minutemen, it’s a new coach, a new conference, and a new division, as UMASS joins the Mid-American Conference (football only) and the FBS, formerly known as Division I-A football.
The Minutemen replace Temple in the Eastern Division (EMU plays in the West). They’re also playing their home games this season at Gillette Stadium and are building a new 50,000 seat facility.
Leading this team into the future is first year head coach Charlie Molnar. Most recently, Molnar was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame in 2010 and 2011. Molnar had been with Irish head coach Brian Kelly at Cincinnati and Central Michigan. Prior to that, Molnar worked at all three MAC schools in the state of Michigan, all as a quarterbacks coach.
The Last Time They Met
September, 2010: going through the motions a week after yet another emotional win over Notre Dame, the Wolverines fell behind early, led late, then hung on needing to secure an on-side kick to win 42-37.
Michigan trailed by 10 late in the first half. However, Denard Robinson (Sr. #16) threw a 66 yard touchdown pass to Darryl Stonum. Jordan Kovacs (Sr. #32) would force and recover a fumble, then Robinson would thrown another TD pass to Stonum all in the final 1:01 of the first half.
In the 2nd half, Michigan led by 18 in the fourth until UMASS scored two touchdowns, then attempted an on-side kick that went out of bounds, preventing the possibility of a more humiliating FCS defeat than losing to Appalachian State in 2007.
Their Season So Far
UMASS can’t become bowl eligible until 2013, but this is merely technical. It doesn’t look like they’ll be good enough to be eligible for a bowl game anytime soon. Yost had the “point-a-minute” teams over one 100 years ago. The Minutemen may soon be dubbed as a “point-a quarter.” Two games… six points... and that includes playing Indiana. Yikes!
In their FBS debut against Connecticut, they were shut out 37-0 and had 59 yards of offense. Maybe their nickname will be “yard-a-minute” instead. Former Wolverine Michael Cox (Sr. #5) leads the team in rushing with 32 yards on 20 carries.
The Minutemen surrendered 38 points in the first half to Indiana. They gave up only six points in the 2nd half as a result of a season ending leg injury by Hoosiers quarterback Tre Robinson and heavy rain. Tackling was a big problem against the Hoosiers.
"Our tackling was atrocious," Molnar said.
As a matter of perspective, the team’s leading returning and current tackler Perry McIntyre (Sr. #44) called IU, the Big Ten’s perennial basement program, “a great team.”
“Their ability to dominate us up front was really the biggest difference, defensively,” Molnar added.
The words “Indiana football” and “dominate” may have never been uttered by a college football coach until that moment.
Michigan Offense vs. UMASS Defense
Don’t expect Robinson to have career numbers. If Michigan can get a comfortable enough lead, he’ll be taken out and rested up for Notre Dame. Offensive coordinator Al Borges will make it a priority to get his running backs like Fitz Toussaint (Jr. #28), Thomas Rawls (So. #38), and Vincent Smith (Sr. #2) the majority of the reps.
In the passing game, we’ll see if Roy Roundtree (Sr. #21) can get back on track. He has three catches for 17 yards this season. Fans will certainly take notice if Devin Gardner (Jr. #12) appears to be improving.
It was a good week for freshman tight end Devin Funchess (#19). Four catches for over 106 yards is quite a debut. Funchess earned the Big Ten’s Freshman Player of the Week and was the first Wolverine tight end to have more than 100 yards in a game since Jerame Tuman in 1997 (Colorado). He certainly is on Molnar’s radar as well as Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly.
The Minutemen return eight starters, but UMASS is switching defenses from a 3-4 to a 4-3 this season. The D-Line is a bit heavier with a 270 lbs average which is much more than Air Force that averaged just above 240 lbs.
Darren Thellen (Sr. #27) has not only been to Michigan before, but played extensively in the 2010 game. He had a career high eight tackles at the time. This season he made one of those “plays of the year” that’s in fashion right now -- like one-handed catches, and ball carriers hurdling over diving defenders in space, the new fad is for a player to leap out of bounds and tip it to a teammate in bounds. It’s bound to be caught by an offensive guy some day, but for now Thellen’s tip in the UCONN game made the end-of-the-week highlights. Thellen also has a school record 172 return yards off five picks last season.
Look for Robinson to start, but hopefully he’ll be able to rest up. The Wolverines haven’t been very good the last few years in building big leads to rest their starters against less than formable competition. Expect Russell Bellomy (RS Fr. #8) to be the 2nd QB out and not Gardner. Look for the Wolverines 1st unit to be out there for at least a half and to win by 30-40 points.
Michigan Defense vs. UMASS Offense
UMASS lost all their playmakers from last year. Starting quarterback Mike Wegzyn (#11) is a redshirt freshman. Back-up QB A.J. Doyle (#15) is a true freshman. In addition to Cox, Chris Burns (Sr. #24) is a transfer from Pittsburgh. The only starter returning at receiver is tight end is junior Rob Blanchflower (#87). He’s 2nd on the team with five catches for 43 yards. Double that and he’s still short of Funchess.
The rushing game is averaging 40.5 yds per game and for every two yards they get past the line of scrimmage, they lose a yard. UMASS has 117 total plays and 21 of them have been for a loss.
The offensive line returns four starters from last season, but like the defense, they are learning a new system. The offense is going from pro-style to playing no–huddle spread and has a very even balance of run vs. pass. However, the transition is painful right now as they have six points and 323 yards of offense in two games.
When Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke was asked what the defense can learn from playing UMASS, Hoke was quick to mention, after being polite to the opponent, that you can learn a lot when 1’s take on 1’s in practice. The translation is that the game isn’t the only test and isn’t the only evaluation.
However, for Michigan fans that see them only on Saturdays and have done their homework on UMASS, it will take nearly a flawless game for them to be impressed. It’s probably not fair but likely accurate. If UMASS scores a single touchdown to match their season total, would it be disappointing? If Cox, the team’s rushing leader, runs for 64 yards and thus triples his season totals, is Michigan’s defense terrible?
It’s a no win for the defense Saturday, even if they play extremely well.
On the heels of the Notre Dame game, don’t expect the Wolverines to show new blitzes, if any at all. The play calling may be more vanilla than the Spring Game, but you can watch for good tackling, proper alignment, and hopefully few big plays from the UMASS offense.
Most likely Minutmen you’ll remember after the game is over: Michael Cox
“I think he will be the most ready for the level of competition that Michigan is going to give us. Since he has gone against that defense every day in practice as a scout-teamer and maybe a backup player, he knows what Michigan football is all about. I'm glad to have him. Physically he's a big league running back. He has size, he has power, he has speed. For whatever reason things didn't work out for him at Michigan, but all I know is this: he is the best running back I have on my football team right now and he's certainly going to be a key for us on Saturday afternoon.” - Molnar
ENJOY THE GAME!