UMass notebook: Record number of fans give Minutemen a boost

Thursday, September 04, 2014
FOXBOROUGH — As they approached Gillette Stadium from all directions, UMass fans encountered something they’d never seen at a UMass home game at before — traffic.

Good weather and a local opponent produced the draw UMass had hoped for as the 30,479 fans were the most ever to see a Minuteman home game.

The parking lots near the stadium were overflowing with different shades of maroon, a signature color of both programs. Flags with each team’s logo were interspersed above the tailgates.

A troop of 1,500 UMass incoming freshman fans all wearing maroon T-shirts were part of the team’s run-onto-the-field ceremony, while a similar number of BC students all in gold T’s filled a section beneath Gillette Stadium’s landmark lighthouse.

The crowd gives UMass a big boost toward avoiding attendance related probation. NCAA rules require a school to average 15,000 fans in at least one season in every two-year cycle, a quota reached by UMass last year for its first two years.

If the Minutemen average 11,903 over the five remaining home games, they’re clear through 2015.

BLYDEN BRIGHT SPOT — In UMass’ depth chart coming into the game, junior Jamal Wilson was listed as the No. 1 running back and sophomore Lorenzo Woodley was No. 2. But after Wilson (six carries, 24 yards) struggled early Whipple turned to true freshman J.T. Blyden, who led the Minutemen with nine carries, 43 yards. Woodley didn’t play until the final UMass drive when Whipple had removed many of his regulars in the 30-7 loss.

“J.T. Blyden showed he could play at this level,” Whipple said.

Junior quarterback Blake Frohnapfel was more effusive in his praise.

“A young guy like that. You hand him the ball and sit there and watch as he makes plays with his feet is something you really like to see,” Frohnapfel said. “He’s someone who is 18 years old and you can trust him a big game like that. We’ll be using him heavily in the future.”

Blyden was one of several Minutemen to make their collegiate debuts. Sha-Ki Holiness (defensive tackle), Alex Kenney (wide receiver), Josh Bruns (offensive line) and Jackson Porter (cornerback) all started, while Jalen Williams (receiver) Jesse Montiero (defensive back), Austin Whipple (QB), Lucas Amato (linebacker), Da’Sean Downey (linebacker) Daquan Mack (fullback), Nick Berus (long snapper), Brian McDonald (punter) and Jon Denton (tight end) all saw action for the first time.

LONG TIME SINCE LONG PLAY — UMass’ 77-yard TD pass from Frohnapfel to Tajae Sharpe was the first pass play of at least 70 yards since Oct. 25, 2008 when Liam Coen hit Matt Silver for an 80-yard TD pass.

CUT DOWN DAY — While the current Minutemen struggled on the field, the former ones struggled on NFL cut-down day Saturday. Michael Cox and Julian Talley were cut by the New York Giants. Rob Blanchflower, whose bid to make the Steelers was hampered by an early camp injury, was cut. Emil Igwenagu was cut for the second time this preseason as the Lions, who picked himm up after the Eagles let him go, also cut him.

Vlad Ducasse was the only Minuteman on the bubble to survive as he made the Vikings’ 53-man roster.

Igwenagu, Cox, Talley and Blanchflower were all signed Sunday to the practice squads by the teams that cut them.

NEXT UP — UMass will face an angry Colorado squad, Saturday at 3 p.m. at Gillette. After leading 10-7 at halftime, the Buffaloes were outscored 24-7 in the second half and fell to Colorado State, Friday night.

MISCELLANEOUS — UMass has yet to name permanent captains but Stanley Andre, Randall Jette, Sharpe and Frohnapfel represented the Minutemen at opening coin toss.... When the UMass starters came out in the fourth quarter, it was Austin Whipple not A.J. Doyle who took over at quarterback. ... UMass radio play-by-play voice Josh Maurer, who is also the Pawtucket Red Sox radio announcer, left the game immediately after the postgame show to call the end of the PawSox game.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage