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UMass drops first game in FBS, 37-0 to UConn

Associated Press Published: August 30, 2012
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EAST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Massachusetts' debut as a bowl subdivision program didn't go quite as coach Charley Molnar would have liked.

In fact, he called it the longest day of his life.

Connecticut scored touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams Thursday night and rolled to a 37-0 win over the Minutemen.

"At this point they are probably a little bigger, a little faster and a little stronger," said Molnar, who also was making his head coaching debut. "In regards to FBS, we are where we need to be. We're going to be successful in it; it just didn't show tonight."

Chandler Whitmer threw for 219 yards in his UConn debut and receiver Nick Williams had 143 yards in total offense for the Huskies.

But it was Connecticut's defense that dominated the game, holding UMass to just 59 yards of offense and limiting the Minutemen to three first downs. UMass did not have an offensive snap in UConn territory.

"It didn't go the way we planned, obviously," said UMass quarterback Mike Wegzyn, a redshirt freshman making his first start. "We have a lot of things to correct."

Wegzyn ran the Minutemen's new spread offense, but completed just nine of 22 passes for 56 yards. The team had only 3 yards rushing.

The Huskies rolled up 372 yards of offense and 124 return yards

"From a defensive standpoint, I think we hit the expectation from what we thought we could get," said UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni. "Special teams, to be perfectly honest with you, exceeded my expectations a little bit."

Lyle McCombs rushed for 82 yards and a first-quarter touchdown, one of two by the offense. UConn also scored on a 37-yard interception return by cornerback Dwayne Gratz and on a blocked punt.

Chad Christen added field goals of 36, 47 and 19 yards.

This was the 72nd meeting between the two programs but the first since 1999, when both teams were Division I-AA.

Whitmer, a sophomore transfer who threw for more than 3,000 yards in junior college last year, completed 15 of his 25 passes, but also threw two interceptions in his first game as a Division I starter.

He hit his first three passes, including a 16-yarder to Nick Williams that set up the Huskies' first score, a 1-yard plunge by McCombs that capped a 12-play, 75-yard drive.

Williams returned the next punt by the Minutemen 34 yards to the UMass 30. The 5-foot-10 speedster also had a 37-yard kickoff return and 24 yards rushing, drawing comparisons to the New England Patriots' Wes Welker.

"I do expect to be a factor in the passing game, in the rushing game and in the return game," Williams said.

UMass safety Darren Thellen stopped that UConn drive — and made a few highlight shows — by diving out of bounds and tipping a Whitmer pass back to linebacker Tom Brandt, who made his first career interception.

"I wanted to get the pick, but I knew I couldn't make it," Thellen said. "So I just jumped up and saw one of my teammates close. So, I just threw it to him."

UConn had three drives end with turnovers deep in UMass territory.

"With some better teams and some closer games, we're going to have to be able to finish when we get in the red zone," said Whitmer. "We did a pretty good job driving the ball, some nice plays to get us down there, some conversions on third down. But, we've got to finish."

Whitmer split time with Scott McCummings, who ran UConn's version of the "wildcat" offense. McCummings ran for 13 yards and a 1-yard fourth-quarter touchdown that put UConn up 34-0.

The defense got into the scoring column when Gratz stepped in front of UMass receiver Marken Michel and returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown with 1:49 left in the first half.

The special teams got their score with just over 4 minutes left in the third quarter. UConn's Taylor Mack blocked a punt after Colter Johnson dropped the snap, and the Huskies' Max DeLorenzo recovered in the end zone to give UConn a 27-0 lead.

McCombs, who rushed for 1,151 yards and seven touchdowns last year, had 18 carries, but was unable to break one for more than 12 yards.

UMass never got its offense started, averaging just over 1 yard per play, and failing to get a first down until just 34 seconds before halftime.

"I'm disappointed in tonight," Molnar said. "I'm shocked we didn't score."

The game was the first between Football Bowl Subdivision programs from New England since 2004, when UConn visited Boston College.

The two teams have no future games scheduled, though both programs say they would like to resume the series.