UMass football coach Walt Bell: ‘I hope desperately we have a student tailgate next week’

  • UMass football players, from left Jonny Hassard, Dalton Tomlinson, Max Longman and Josh Wallace lock arms during the national anthem Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. FOR THE GAZETTE/J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/14/2021 8:32:09 PM

The largest crowd to witness a UMass football game at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in nearly two years could have — and should have, according to UMass coach Walt Bell — been bigger.

The university canceled the student tailgate in Lot 11 on Thursday, requiring anyone in the parking lots around McGuirk to purchase a parking pass for $10 in advance (or $40 cash the day of the game).

The announced attendance of 12,118 was the most since the Minutemen hosted UConn on Oct. 26, 2019. In the moments where UMass pulled within a possession of Boston College on Saturday or built momentum, the crowd roared in response. They stood when the Minutemen reached the red zone and applauded them after the clock hit triple zeroes despite the 45-28 loss.

“The sad part is it (the atmosphere) should have been better. I think our decision to eliminate the student tailgate had a lot to do — I think that thing would have been even louder, I think it would have been even better,” Bell said. “I think that was a little bit of a self-inflicted wound and a knee-jerk reaction. Again, I’m not a public health official. People a lot smarter than me get to make those decisions. I just know they don’t get made in very many other places. I hope desperately that we have a student tailgate this week.”

Bell pointed out that though the university prohibited gathering outside McGuirk, a large group of students threw a party at the Amherst Townehouses.

“Obviously over there at the Townehomes on the internet there was about 10,000 people on a patch of grass. I’d prefer those kids be here where we can keep a mindful and watchful eye over them as opposed to letting them go do it somewhere else,” he said. “That would take us bearing a little responsibility and being adults. Again, I’m not a public health official. I’m not as worried about optics, I guess, as some others are.”

The players noticed the swell in volume and voice in response to big plays.

“The environment was definitely crazy,” freshman linebacker Gerrell Johnson said. “It played a part in the game giving us momentum.”

Bell is hoping the Minutemen can draw a similar or superior level of support for Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. kickoff against Eastern Michigan.

“That’s how our place should be all the time. As our program continues to develop and we start to win football games here, hopefully that thing continues to grow and grow and grow,” Bell said. “We do everything we can as a university to make sure to foster that environment knowing that as a football program we’ll do anything and everything to help students be here, get loud and hopefully over time, as we develop, give those guys a product they’ll want to be a part of and want to watch.”

INJURY REPORT — Nine UMass starters did not practice Tuesday: quarterback Tyler Lytle, defensive lineman Taishan Holmes, defensive back Bryson Richardson, defensive lineman Xavier Gonsalves, wide receiver Jamir Roberts, running back Kay’Ron Adams, offensive lineman Brian Parish, defensive lineman Josh Atwood and linebacker Zack Magdis. There was an additional player not on the two-deep depth chart that Bell couldn’t rattle off.

“We’re beat up. That’s what you get when you play two ACC opponents in the first two games,” he said. “How many of those guys make it back in time for game day is yet to be seen. It’s still early in the week. That’s why you recruit. Next guy up.”

Lytle and Richardson also missed the game against the Eagles. Freshman Brady Olson made his first career start in relief of Lytle.

“We’re not sure yet (about the starting quarterback),” Bell said. “It depends on how quickly Tyler can get healthy. If Tyler’s healthy he’ll have a chance to play. If he’s not, then Brady will be the guy.”

OFFENSIVE TRANSFORMATION — UMass went from gaining 99 yards of total offense in 25 plays in the first half to 236 yards on 34 plays in the second half.

Bell attributed it to his focusing more on letting the players play and calling an open game than worrying about who can or can’t do what.

“Bunch of young guys just playing the game as opposed to worrying who’s in, what can they do, what can’t they do and just kind of turn ‘em loose and let those guys play a little bit and I thought they responded well,” he said. 

IN THE TRENCHES — The Minutemen allowed more than 200 yards rushing for the third consecutive game dating back to last season. The Eagles ran for 250 yards led by 164 from Patrick Garwo. He earned the ACC Running Back of the Week Award for his performance.

“Too many explosives in the run game. Some of that being they’re good up front in Pitt and Boston College had a lot to do with that, but we did too from a communication standpoint, from an alignment standpoint, from a win our gap fit standpoint,” Bell said. “That defensive group is just as young or younger than our offense. We’ve got to continue to develop every day and get better and hopefully this will be our best game in terms of communication and execution.”

GLAD TO HAVE YOU BACK — Freshman linebacker Gerrell Johnson was ejected for targeting a minute into the second half against Pitt last week. The Minutemen’s run defense got ugly afterward.

He refocused his approach leading into the game against BC, finishing with a game-high 13 tackles against the Eagles and solidified the mid level of UMass’ defense.

“Just play safe, go about it in a safe way, do everything right. I just wanted to do everything right,” Johnson said. “I didn’t want to not be able to play the next game.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.


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