Though the final score was far from pretty, Charley Molnar believes that the experience UMass gained in a 63-13 loss to No. 18 Michigan will pay off eventually.
“When you play in front of that noise and that crowd, there’s naturally a certain pressure involved,” Molnar said of playing in a place like Michigan Stadium. “That’s gonna help us down the line when we play in big games in our conference. If it’s not this year, then it’s in the next two or three years.”
The Minutemen (0-3) open conference play this weekend (noon ET, ESPN3) when they travel to Oxford, Ohio, to face Miami (Ohio). The Redhawks are 1-2, with a win over Southern Illinois sandwiched between lopsided losses to Ohio State and Boise State.
Molnar said he believes his players are charged up for the start of Mid-American Conference competition.
“I think in some ways they’re more excited,” he said. “They know that this is where it’s at. … Winning your conference and performing well in your conference is always a measuring stick.
“They sense the opportunity in front of them.”
The Redhawks finished 4-8 (3-5 MAC) last season, scoring 21.3 points and giving up 22.9 points per game. Leaning on then-junior QB Zac Dysert, Miami passed for nearly 300 yards a game while running for just more than 70.
Dysert, a senior now, is again the focal point of the offense. Through three games, he’s tied for eighth in the country in completions (79) and is 13th in the country in attempts (116).
“Definitely he’s a BCS-level QB,” Molnar said of Dysert. “He’s got a strong arm, good pocket mobility, can tuck it and run.”
But unlike Indiana’s Tre Roberson and Michigan’s Denard Robinson, who might be stronger running the ball than throwing it, “This guy’s primary strength is passing,” Molnar said. “He’s got a lot of experience, he’s won a lot of football games. This guy is about as good of a QB as we’re gonna face all year.”
The Minutemen have given up more yards on the ground than through the air this season, but part of that is no doubt due to opponents choosing to pound the ball and run the clock to protect leads. Darren Thellen and the defense will have their work cut out for them against Dysert & Co.
As for the offense, Molnar said the return of offensive lineman Anthony Dima helped the unit considerably. Now, the coach just wants the offense to stop beating itself.
“The biggest challenge is just for us not to sustain self-inflicted wounds,” he said.
The Minutemen can’t afford penalties, because right now they're just not good enough to overcome them.
Molnar said he’s been happy with quarterback Mike Wegzyn’s progression, especially regarding ball security after a pick-six in the opener against UConn.
“Wegzyn makes pretty good decisions,” the coach said. “He’s not forcing the ball into spots it shouldn’t be.”
The offense is averaging a modest 6.3 points and 194.0 yards a game so far in the transition to the Division I-A level. Both of those numbers are last in the MAC, trailing Bowling Green by more than 10 points (16.7-6.3) and this weekend’s opponent Miami (Ohio) by almost 100 yards (291.7-194.0) a game.
But Molnar remains upbeat.
“I think our team is in a very good place,” he said. “Going into it right now I have no reason to believe our team’s not prepared. We’ve had good enthusiasm in practice. Our guys attack everything we throw at them.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.