ANN ARBOR, Mich. — For most games played inside the cavernous Michigan Stadium, a pocket of opposing color sits above the south end zone, the section breaking up the sea of maize that spans every other section of the biggest stadium in college football.
On Saturday, that break didn’t exist, the small contingent of maroon barely making a dent on the landscape.
It was all Michigan in the stands, and it was all Michigan on the field.
The University of Massachusetts dropped its third game in a row to start the 2012 season, losing, 63-13, to the Wolverines in a game that was never close. The Minutemen, who are competing in their first season in the Football Bowl Subdivision, were a 46-point underdog. They looked the part, giving up the 17th-ranked Wolverines’ first touchdown after five plays — three of which went for 10 yards or more.
“[Michigan] is one of the most talented teams in the country, and we are probably one of the least, “said first-year UMass coach Charley Molnar. “We are at opposite ends of the spectrum. That’s a difficult task for anybody, especially for a team that has a new coach and a new way of doing business. All of those things just add up. It’s not easy.”
Down by 14 in the second quarter, UMass moved to the Wolverines’ 3-yard line after a nice sideline catch from freshman wide receiver Tajae Sharpe. The drive stalled there, though, with a holding penalty on junior lineman Anthony Dima. The Minutemen were forced to settle for a field goal.
They got to within 11 again in the second quarter when Michigan star quarterback Denard Robinson threw a pass directly to junior defensive back Christian Birt, who ran the interception back untouched 32 yards for UMass’s only touchdown.
By halftime, the Minutemen were down, 42-13, and were outgained, 428-142, in total yards. Michigan sent in waves of backups as early as the third quarter.
Even Michigan’s offensive linemen were scoring touchdowns. Junior tackle Taylor Lewan scooped up — or more accurately, fell on — a Robinson fumble in the end zone late in the second quarter, putting Michigan up by 29.
“It was a sloppy day today for us in a lot of areas — offense, defense, special teams,” Molnar said. “We have a long way to go as a football team. Just about anything that could go wrong did go wrong, at least the way I viewed it.”
But as odd as it might sound, the Minutemen played their best game of the season. In their first two games, they scored a total of 6 points against Connecticut and Indiana, and had just 81 total rushing yards.
They had 44 rushing yards in the first quarter alone against Michigan — finishing with 112 — and had 13 points before halftime. The bulk of that carries went to fifth-year senior Michael Cox, who spent four years at Michigan before using the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule to finish his career at UMass. He ran for 76 yards on 18 attempts in his former stadium, the most productive day of his collegiate career.
After playing three opponents from BCS conferences, the Minutemen return to a more favorable Mid-American Conference schedule, against teams that won’t be 46-point favorites.
Not that it matters to Molnar.
“It doesn’t matter who we play,” he said. “We have to be better.”