MADISON, Wis. — For the University of Massachusetts to take the next step and compete in the FBS, they are going to have to learn how to play with the big boys.
As evidenced Saturday, that is not going to be easy.
In their second season in college football’s top tier, the Minutemen, trying to improve on last year’s 1-11 mark, fell victim to 23d-ranked Wisconsin, 45-0, at Camp Randall Stadium. The Big Ten champion Badgers eventually wore down UMass, using scoring plays of 70, 65, 51, 57, and 23 yards to put the game away.
“We came out here to Madison to win the football game,” said UMass coach Charley Molnar, starting his second year at the helm. “We knew it was going to be tough and we knew we needed to play nearly perfect football for that to happen and obviously that wasn’t the case.”
The Minutemen struggled on both sides of the ball last season, indicated by averaging less than 13 points a game and allowing more than 40. Those same tendencies were in place Saturday as Wisconsin had little problem moving the ball or stopping UMass.
Yet there was still some encouragement on the UMass sideline when they were only down 10-0 midway through the second quarter. The Minutemen went on a 10-play, 49-yard drive that set up a 47-yard field goal opportunity for Blake Lucas. He made the kick, but it was waved off because UMass had called a timeout. He missed the second try.
“Our special teams coach and I were looking at the clock and we had to make a decision really fast. If we take a 5-yard penalty, now we are out of field goal range,” Molnar said. “He should have made it the second time just like he made it the first time.”
Wisconsin made the Minutemen pay two plays later, when tailback Melvin Gordon was not touched on a 70-yard scamper, giving the Badgers a 17-0 lead they took into halftime.
Wisconsin pulled away in the second half, highlighted by Badgers quarterback Joel Stave completing touchdown passes of 65 and 57 yards to star receiver Jared Abbrederis.
Molnar’s hopes of nearly flawless football were stymied by UMass committing seven penalties for 40 yards, including five false starts.
“It was disappointing that some of the upperclassmen made some of the mistakes,” Molnar said. “They didn’t play with the poise that you expect guys with 20-some-odd career starts. There were things you wouldn’t expect them to do.”
In his second year as the starting quarterback, Mike Wegzyn went 9 for 23 for 73 yards with an interception. Overall, UMass had 212 yards on offense.
Wegzyn did not think he and his teammates were overwhelmed by playing in front of a 76,306 Badger fans.
“I don’t think the atmosphere had much to do with it, we just didn’t execute,” he said.
Running back Stacey Bedell, who redshirted in 2012 after suffering a shoulder injury in the second game, gained 70 yards on 19 carries. Bedell was filling in for starter Jordan Broadnax, who is battling a knee injury. The Minutemen also played without starting tight end Rob Blanchflower, who has an undisclosed injury.
On defense, safety Devin Brown had an impressive effort with nine tackles and an interception. Still, the Minutemen allowed Wisconsin 598 yards — 393 on the ground — in the first meeting between the teams.
Molnar conceded his team — which had nine true freshmen see significant action — has a long way to go before being able to compete in the FBS.
“We’re a work in progress,” he said. “That is the reality of it.”