UMass football notebook: Running back J.T. Blyden stands out during first season

Last modified: Saturday, September 27, 2014
AMHERST — On paper, J.T. Blyden’s stats didn’t jump off the page. The UMass tailback’s nine carries for 43 yards and one catch for 7 yards in Saturday’s loss to Boston College, weren’t especially eye-catching for a No. 2 running back.

But the true freshman’s play, maturity and attention to detail impressed his teammates and coaches, making him a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating game for the Minutemen.

“You never know for a true freshman in his first game. He showed he has talent. We saw that on the field and I alluded to it a bit,” said UMass coach Mark Whipple, who’d praised Blyden throughout camp. “There is still a big step, certainly in the protection game. He did some good things and he missed some things, but he is not the first one to do so against Coach (Don) Brown’s defense. His eyes weren’t too big and we are excited about that. I think he is going to be a good player for us down the road.”

Blyden wasn’t on the two-deep depth chart going into the BC game, but when starter Jamal Wilson struggled to get momentum, Whipple tabbed Blyden instead of listed backup Lorenzo Woodley.

Blyden was a three-star recruit from West Grove, Pennsylvania, with several FBS offers, but he arrived on campus hungry to prove himself. He thought the BC game was a good start.

“Anything from high school doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “I thought it was good that I could come out and prove I could do something out here with these guys.”

Blyden, who is now listed second behind Wilson on the depth chart, said he’s comfortable with the speed of the game at this level, but is focusing on getting better at preparing.

“It’s completely different preparation between meetings and watching film and the way you practice is completely different. We watched film in high school, but we didn’t know what we were completely looking for,” Blyden said. “Here the coaches break everything down. You should be able to watch film on your own and be prepared for the next opponent. I’m getting there.”

UMass running backs coach Marcel Shipp said Blyden has impressed the coaches, seemingly on a daily basis.

“He always does a little better than we think he can do. We love those kinds of surprises,” Shipp said. “He’s coming along and getting better every week. The sky is the limit for this kid. He has a lot of room to improve, but for him to be at this stage early in his career, he’s ahead of the game.”

SIFRIN PRACTICES — The Minutemen are close to having their full roster available as junior college transfer tight end Jean Sifrin practiced for the first time Tuesday. He still needs to go through the NCAA-required acclimatization period before being able to go through full-contract practices, so the 6-foot-7, 250-pound Miami, Florida, native won’t be eligible for Saturday’s game. He should be available for UMass’ Sept. 13 game at Vanderbilt.

DEPTH CHART NOTES — In addition to Blyden, three other Minutemen moved up on the depth chart. Senior nose tackle Daniel Maynes, who played well after not starting Saturday following a back injury, is now No. 1 on the depth chart, while Robert Kitching returns to the backup role.

Junior linebacker Trey Seals’ availability for Saturday won’t be determined until later in the week. Seals, who suffered an undisclosed leg injury against BC, wasn’t on the two-deep. True freshman Da’Sean Downey, the likely starter if Seals can’t go, is No. 1 backed by sophomore Peter Ngobidi.

Newly eligible Ryan Johnson is listed second on the depth chart at right tackle behind Elijah Wilkinson.

LONG TRIP — According to Colorado’s game notes, the 1,770-mile trip from Boulder to Foxborough is the longest the Buffaloes have ever taken in the continental United States. It’s longer than the previous record of 1,746 to Miami, Florida, measuring the way the crow flies. If the game had been in Amherst, it wouldn’t have broken the record. Amherst is just 1,701 miles from Boulder.

The Buffaloes are leaving a day early, Thursday instead of Friday, to help adjust to the two-hour time change.

BOTTOM 25 — UMass (No. 14) and Colorado (No. 21) were both featured on CBS Sports’ bottom 25 rankings. The Minutemen will play four more teams on those rankings before they year is out — Kent State (No. 22), Miami of Ohio (No. 19), Vanderbilt (No. 5), Bowling Green (No. 2). Older UMass fans will take solace in the fact that UConn is on the list at No. 4. Florida International is the worst team at No. 1.

FATHER AND SON II — This is the second straight week UMass, which features Whipple’s son Austin as the team’s third-string quarterback, is playing a team with the head coach’s son on the roster. BC coach Steve Addazio’s son Louie is a tight end for the Eagles, while Colorado coach Mike McIntyre’s son Jay is a wide receiver for the Buffaloes.

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