MADISON, Wis. — The halftime score of 17-0 was still manageable, even if UMass’ ability to stay with Big 10 power Wisconsin hung by the barest thread Saturday afternoon.
Then the 23rd-ranked Badgers blew up the football season opener with two quick scores early in the third quarter and cruised to a 45-0 shutout win over the Minutemen before 76,306 at Camp Randall Stadium.
UMass (0-1) was visibly better prepared than in its 2012 opener against Connecticut, the Minutemen’s first-ever game in Division I FBS, but the results were the same with no points on the board.
“Nothing can describe the feeling that I have inside or that our football team has right now,” said UMass coach Charley Molnar. “We came out here to win the football game. We knew it was gonna be tough and we knew we needed to play near-perfect football for that to happen.
“Is our football team better than it was a year ago at this time? Absolutely it is. Does the scoreboard show it? I can’t tell you, but Wisconsin’s an awfully good football team, and we’re not there yet.”
The Badgers showed themselves to be especially good on the ground, with three backs each topping the century mark. Melvin Gordon ran for 144 yards, James White was right behind with 143 and freshman Corey Clement added 101. Each of the three scored a touchdown. Quarterback Joel Stave threw two touchdown passes to Jared Abbrederis and ran for a score of his own. In all, Wisconsin had 393 rushing yards and 598 yards of total offense, compared to UMass’ 212.
“We executed some of the time, but we just let their big plays get ahead of us,” said Minuteman linebacker Stanley Andre. “We have good players on our defense, and I have confidence in them. We just have to be in the right place at the right time.”
Wisconsin (1-0) jumped to an early 7-0 lead just 2 1/2 minutes in with a 70-yard drive keyed by White’s 47-yard burst to the UMass 17. Stave ran it in from four yards out on a quarterback draw.
UMass’ Stacey Bedell (70 rushing yards) fumbled the ball away on the Minutemen’s first series, giving UW the ball at the UMass 35, but Devin Brown got it right back for the Minutemen with an interception of Stave at the 3-yard line and a 15-yard return. UMass then caught a break after another apparent turnover. Mike Wegzyn (9-of-23 passing, 73 yards) completed a pass to Derek Beck, who fumbled and the Badgers’ Dezmen Southward scooped up the loose ball for a 46-yard return and a touchdown. The play was reviewed, however, and video replay showed that Beck never had possession.
The Badgers still got points late in the first quarter on a 21-yard field goal by Kyle French to lead 10-0, and the Minutemen would have matched that field goal late in the second if not for an ill-timed timeout. UMass drove to the Wisconsin 29 and Blake Lucas nailed a career-long 47-yarder, but Molnar called timeout immediately before the kick, wiping out the three points. After the timeout, Lucas tried it again from 47, but this time yanked his kick to the left.
“The (play) clock was ticking down, and we had to make a decision really fast,” said Molnar. “If we take a five-yard penalty, we’re out of field-goal range. He should have made it the second time just like he made it the first time, really.”
Instead of closing to within 10-3, UMass found itself down 17-0 moments later after Gordon broke a 70-yard touchdown run with 3:33 remaining in the half.
At the break, the Minutemen had seven first downs and 112 total yards. In contrast, For the entire game in last year’s opener at UConn, UMass had three first downs, 62 yards of offense and never crossed midfield.
Wisconsin quickly pushed the game into blowout territory, after UMass punted to begin the second half. From the Badgers’ 35, Stave play-faked on first down and hit Abbrederis on a deep post pattern. The first-team All-Big 10 wideout tangled his feet with Minuteman defender Trey Dudley-Giles, but Dudley-Giles fell to the turf and Abbrederis kept his balance to complete the 65-yard scoring play just 1:22 into the second half.
Another UMass punt led to another quick strike from the Badgers. This time White got loose for a 51-yard TD run with 10:31 left in the third for a 31-0 bulge.
“We knew we’d have only one or two opportunities to stay in the game,” said Molnar. “The two quick scores, at that point, you could tell the game was out of reach.”
Later in the third, Wisconsin’s Sojourn Shelton made a leaping interception of Wegzyn at the Badgers’ 22. Stave and Abbrederis got together again shortly thereafter, this time on a 57-yard pass on which Abbrederis got inside position on Dudley-Giles, to make it 38-0.
Clement, a freshman, put up the final points early in the fourth quarter on a 23-yard scoring run.
A.J. Doyle came on at quarterback for the Minutemen after Wegzyn’s interception and went 5-of-7 passing for 39 yards in a quarter-plus of work. Beck had six catches for 37 yards, while Brown led the UMass defense with nine tackles and his interception.
“I think we’ve improved in a lot of spots, but today it was a lot of self-inflicted wounds,” said Wegzyn. “The atmosphere didn’t have much to do with it. I think we just didn’t execute, and that was the problem.”
UMass plays its home opener Saturday at 2 p.m. against old Yankee Conference and CAA rival Maine at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
SURVIVING CUT-DOWN DAY — NFL final cut-down day came and went and former UMass standouts Emil Igwenagu and Michael Cox are still employed with the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, respectively.
Igwenagu, who converted from fullback to tight end under new Eagles coach Chip Kelly, made the roster over Clay Harbor on the strength of his blocking ability. Igwenagu was on Philly’s active roster last year, but his status was tenuous as Kelly’s offense doesn’t employ a fullback. Cox, a seventh round pick showed enough running, receiving and blocking to earn one of the Giants’ 53 roster spots.
They join Vlad Ducasse (New York Jets), Victor Cruz (N.Y. Giants), James Ihedigbo (Baltimore), Jeromy Miles (Cincinnati) and Jeremy Cain (Jacksonville) among former Minutemen in the NFL.
Another former UMass receiver, Julian Talley, was among the last players cut by the Giants. He was signed to their practice squad.