University of Massachusetts football coach Charley Molnar was upbeat Monday night, optimistic about the direction of his football team following Saturday’s 45-0 loss to No. 23 ranked Wisconsin.
Despite what he deemed was an “unsuccessful” trip to Madison, Wis., Molnar noted that he and the players pulled positives out of the season debut.
“So many players have come up to me after the last 48 hours and said ‘Coach, we’re really close,’” Molnar said. “That’s the first I’ve ever had players come up to me and tell me that since I’ve been the head coach so I think that’s very encouraging.”
One of the notable positives to come from the loss was the emergence of some of the younger players of the roster. Among the standouts were sophomore center Matt Sparks and redshirt freshman running back Stacey Bedell, who made his first career start.
“Matt Sparks was up against, in my opinion, maybe the best nose guard in the country and he fought through the whole game,” Molnar said. “It wasn’t a bloodbath; he didn’t take over the game. We were prepared to help our center out any way possible and never had to use those strategies.”
Bedell amassed 70 yards on 19 carries in his first collegiate game.
“I got a lot of experience from playing Wisconsin,” Bedell said. “I got a year off not playing in games so it was definitely a good experience to get back out there with my team competing.”
Molnar said Bedell still had plenty of room to grow.
“He didn’t stick his foot in the ground and go from zero-to-60 in 1.2 seconds like he normally does,” Molnar said. “He was just a little hesitant and he didn’t believe what he saw. He needs to do that, he needs to see what he believes and go.”
Quarterback Mike Wegzyn noted the importance of younger players gaining experience in potentially hostile football environments.
“It’s real good to have the young guys get that extra experience in big games like that,” he said. “I know for young guys who got to play a lot last year, it helped a lot. Going all through camp and into the start of this season, I thought those guys are just more matured on the field.”
UMass’ challenge this week is preparing for former Colonial Athletic Association rival and FCS member Maine. The home opener is set for 2 p.m. at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. Eight FCS teams beat FBS teams in Week 1. Among them, Towson rolled past Connecticut.
Wegzyn said the team doesn’t feel any heightened pressure to perform.
“When you go into a game like this you have to be aware and treat it like any other game,” he said. “You can’t downplay any team just like you can’t play up any team in your mind.”
Molnar said there is pressure to perform each week.
“There’s pressure every game, believe me. Each week it’s either real or imagined, it doesn’t matter,” Molnar said. “We haven’t won a football game since Akron. We didn’t win a game at Gillette last year. Those things are really important to me.”
INJURY UPDATE — Molnar had limited information on injured tight end Rob Blanchflower, but said the senior will see a doctor on Tuesday. ... Wide receiver Shakur Nesmith, who started Saturday and record two catches for 14 yards, left the game and didn’t return. Nesmith had his arm in a sling and did not practice Monday. He’s scheduled to visit a doctor Tuesday as well.