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UMass tight end Rob Blanchflower returns in loss to Vanderbilt

Massachusetts quarterback A.J. Doyle (15) dives to recover his own fumble behind the line of scrimmage in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. Vanderbilt  won 24-7. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Massachusetts quarterback A.J. Doyle (15) dives to recover his own fumble behind the line of scrimmage in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. Vanderbilt won 24-7. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

By JIM PIGNATIELLO @GazetteHS
Saturday, September 21, 2013
(Published in print: Monday, September 23, 2013)

FOXBOROUGH— It took one play for the University of Massachusetts offense to welcome Rob Blanchflower back to the lineup Saturday.

On the team’s first play from scrimmage, sophomore quarterback A.J. Doyle completed a 6-yard pass over the middle to his senior tight end, who missed the Minutemen’s first three games with an injury.

“I would like to think that if I had been out there practicing healthy for the last six weeks I would have been bigger, faster and stronger,” said Blanchflower, who was considered a game-time decision for the fourth straight week after suffering an undisclosed injury in the preseason. “I felt I could compete with Vanderbilt and it was good being out there running around.”

Blanchflower remained a focal point of the offense throughout Saturday’s 24-7 loss to Vanderbilt, finishing with seven receptions for 42 yards.

“It was great having him back,” Doyle said. “He has a presence that will be felt in every game, whether he is catching the ball or if the defense just has to double-cover him because he is that kind of player and he has that kind of talent.”

UMass coach Charley Molnar was happy to get his standout tight end the game experience heading into the team’s bye week. UMass (0-4) next plays Oct. 5 at Bowling Green, the team’s Mid-American Conference opener.

“He played less than the perfect game,” Molnar said. “When he was out there, he gave a sense of energy and confidence to our offense. It felt really good to have Blanch out there. He plays fiercely and they knew he was in the game by the way he performed.

“He felt good during pregame warm-ups and we got the green light.”

SWITCH TO 4-3 — After playing a 3-4 defense in its first three games of the season, UMass went to the 4-3 against Vanderbilt on Saturday.

The change “was a number of decisions; a lot of it was based on our personnel,” Molnar said. “As guys get banged up over the course of the last couple of weeks, that was one major decision. Number two is the fact that some of the things we wanted to do with our defense, some of the guys just weren’t as effective with it as we believed they would be. Number three, it was the style of play that Vanderbilt uses. It was really a perfect storm.”

Justin Anderson and Kevin Byrne started at defensive end, while Galen Clemons and Daniel Mayne were the tackles.

Shane Huber and Ed Saint-Vil started at outside linebacker with Stanley Andre in the middle.

Anderson was happy with the switch.

“The defensive ends enjoy that formation more because we can be on the edge,” saidAnderson, who finished with a career-high seven tackles, including half a tackle for a loss. “The defensive tackles like it more because they can go straight ahead and just play football. It was great being back on the edge, so I enjoyed it.”

Devin Brown led the team with 10 tackles, while Byrne had nine and Tom Brandt had eight.

INJURIES ­— Running backs Stacey Bedell and Lorenzo Woodley left the game with ankle injuries. They were officially ruled probable to return, butdid not. Defensive back Joe Colton injured his knee and was immediately ruled as out for the game.

ATTENDANCE — UMass needs to average 15,000 fans per game to avoid NCAA probation. After 16,419 showed up Saturday, the Minutemen have a combined attendance of 32.043 (16,022 average) in their first two home games. UMass needs to average 14,489 in its final four home games.

MISC. — Randall Jette’s first half interception marked the UMass defense’s seventh straight game with a pick. The unit has forced a turnover in 11 straight games. ... Brown and Byrne’s tackle totals were career-highs. ... Wide receiver Tajae Sharpe caught seven passes for 45 yards and a touchdown. His 241 yards receiving over four games surpassed last year’s season-long total of 206 yards.

Jim Pignatiello can be reached at jpignatiello@gazettenet.com.

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