NASHVILLE — The University of Massachusetts allowed four touchdowns in a 5½-minute span of the third quarter and watched any chance of an upset vanish as Vanderbilt ran away with a 49-7 nonconference victory.
During the burst, Vanderbilt scored on a pass, an interception return, a run, and a punt return.
The Minutemen fell to 0-8 on the year, their first in FBS play. Vanderbilt evened its record at 4-4.
“It was very disappointing the way our team played in the second half,” UMass coach Charley Molnar said. “But I believe our team is headed in the right direction, no matter what the scoreboard says.”
A.J. Doyle helped the Minutemen avoid a shutout when he tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Deion Walker late in the game. The score was set up by a 53-yard fumble return by Khary Bailey-Smith.
UMass once again had trouble running the ball, gaining only 54 yards on 32 carries. Yet the Minutemen remained competitive until those destructive final minutes of the third quarter.
Redshirt freshman Mike Wegzyn, who played high school ball in Tennessee, threw for 162 yards to provide an offensive spark for UMass, but his ill-advised pass under pressure was returned for a touchdown, giving Vanderbilt a 35-0 lead.
It was UMass’s first game against a Southeastern Conference foe. The SEC has produced the last six national champions. The current BCS rankings have seven SEC teams in the top 20.
The Minutemen gave up 72 yards on Vanderbilt’s first possession but no points, as the Commodores committed six penalties for 50 yards during the 11-play drive. Trey Dudley-Giles made the big defensive play when he batted down a third-down pass on a corner blitz.
UMass went backward on its first possession. An illegal substitution penalty and three Michael Cox rushes netted minus-14 yards.
After the Minutemen punted Vanderbilt scored in two plays, with running back Wesley Tate going up the middle for a 25-yard touchdown. Tate replaced Vanderbilt’s all-time leading rusher, Zac Stacy, who left with an injured knee and didn’t return.
Jordan Broadnax fumbled the ensuing kickoff and only advanced the ball to the 11. Two more penalties and a Cox run continued the backward trend of the offense and UMass found itself on its own 3. Wegzyn took the shotgun snap in his end zone, waited a moment to let the defense penetrate, then tossed a short shovel pass to Marken Michel, who scampered for a first down and got the Minutemen out of the hole.
Another penalty, UMass’s sixth of the quarter, stalled the drive, but Colter Johnson boomed a 55-yard punt to put Vanderbilt at its own 24.
The Commodores moved right down the field and decided to go for it on fourth and 1 at the Minuteman 15. A quick pass was completed, but Darren Thellen made a beautiful open-field tackle for a 2-yard loss.
Cox turned a short pass from Wegzyn into a 41-yard gain when he pinballed off three defenders and nearly broke free for a long touchdown. Yet another UMass penalty threatened to kill the budding drive, but Wegzyn found Michel over the middle for a first down at the Vanderbilt 18.
On third and 1 from the 9, the Minutemen fooled the defense on a play-action pass, but Rob Blanchflower couldn’t make a diving catch in the back of the end zone. On fourth down Broadnax was stopped a couple of inches short of the first down on a run up the middle.
UMass forced a quick punt and took over on their own 32.
Cox finally found some room to run as he gained 21 yards on three carries. But Wegzyn had to hurry his fourth-down pass from the Vanderbilt 28 and it fell incomplete.
Quarterback Jordan Rodgers, younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, then threw a touchdown pass to tight end Kris Kentera to put Vanderbilt up, 14-0. Broadnax once again fumbled the kickoff and Vanderbilt needed just three plays to score again.
“It looked like we were going to go into the half down, 7-0,” Molnar said. “Then we’d see about making a comeback in the second half. But they got that touchdown at the end and then fumbled the kickoff and it made it very tough for us to come back.”