Scrolling Headlines:

UMass men’s basketball falters in the second half, falling to George Washington 83-67 Thursday -

February 24, 2017

UPDATE: SGA announces second and third artist for ‘Mullins Live!’ -

February 23, 2017

Divest UMass and STPEC host panel on building ‘solidarity economies’ in the Trump era -

February 23, 2017

UMass women’s basketball losing streak extends to 10 games after loss to URI -

February 23, 2017

Sixth annual Advocacy Day set to take place March 1 -

February 23, 2017

Panel discusses racial, sexual and psychological violence in response to art exhibit -

February 23, 2017

Judy Dixon enters final season with UMass tennis with simple message: One match at a time -

February 23, 2017

UMass baseball enduring early-season limitation in playing in New England -

February 23, 2017

Minutewomen softball begins season with cross-country travel, string of tournaments -

February 23, 2017

UMass baseball looks to bounce back from disappointing 2016 season -

February 23, 2017

UMass women’s lacrosse senior Hannah Murphy is Angela McMahon’s latest legend in the making -

February 23, 2017

UMass women’s lacrosse senior defenders accept leadership roles in quest for ninth consecutive Atlantic 10 Championship -

February 23, 2017

Kelsey McGovern rejoins UMass women’s lacrosse as an assistant coach after starring for Minutewomen -

February 23, 2017

UMass men’s lacrosse looks to continue improving throughout 2017 season -

February 23, 2017

Spring Sports Special Issue 2017 -

February 23, 2017

UMass men’s lacrosse defense relying on senior leadership with new faces in starting lineup -

February 23, 2017

UMass softball fills holes left by seniors with freshmen for 2017 -

February 23, 2017

The Hart of the Lineup -

February 23, 2017

UMass men’s lacrosse defenseman Tyler Weeks makes his way back from ACL injury -

February 23, 2017

UMass softball prepares for a long, busy season in 2017 -

February 23, 2017

Canelas: A.J. Doyle was strong, but still has plenty to prove

A.J. Doyle’s first start at quarterback for the Massachusetts football team this season didn’t get off to the best of starts.

Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

His second pass of the game was intercepted by Kansas State’s Kip Daily and returned 38 yards for a touchdown to give the Wildcats a 6-0 lead. His stat line read 0-for-2 with an interception.

But Doyle regrouped.

He completed his next seven passes for 74 yards and led the Minutemen into the red zone in each of their next two possessions. The first quarter ended with UMass leading Kansas State on the road 7-6, and it may have been more had Blake Lucas’ 23-yard field goal attempt not been blocked earlier in the quarter.

That was the best Doyle had to offer all night as the Wildcats rallied for 30 unanswered points for a 37-7 win. But Doyle still completed 21 of his 31 pass attempts for 186 yards to go with 37 yards rushing. Were they outstanding numbers? No. But it was by far the best performance a UMass quarterback has had all season.

UMass coach Charley Molnar has said multiple times now that his offense needed a spark. Doyle was just that.

“I feel like we took a step forward at the quarterback position and, all in all, our team is going to be in a good place going forward,” Molnar said in his weekly Mid-American Conference Media Teleconference on Monday.

Even though Doyle threw another interception later in the game, he learned to move on from the first interception and put together a solid half of football, even though Molnar didn’t put Doyle completely at fault for the first pick, anyway.

“Not both of those were on A.J. though,” Molnar said. “Things happen on the field that were beyond his control. Obviously at the end of the day, the interceptions go against him, but there were other people involved in those.”

It was something new for the Minutemen. Neither of Mike Wegzyn’s two starts this season were anything to feel good about, especially in UMass’ loss to Football Championship Subdivision foe Maine at home in Week 2.

Wegzyn has completed less than half of his passes this season and most of the time the offense looked inept. Wegzyn would get rattled under pressure and seemed helpless when his first option wasn’t open, making it difficult to sustain drives under those circumstances.

Doyle, on the other hand, was poised. Found the open man. Could escape the pocket and run if he ran out of options. The type of qualities a young offense needs from its leader.

Based on the results, the starting job is now Doyle’s to lose for the remainder of the season. But I want to see more. Those two interceptions, most notably the one that was returned for a touchdown, still happened. And they can’t happen.

Consistency is a must, too. Doyle was stellar for the second half of the first quarter, but his numbers were mediocre the rest of the way. Seven points per game won’t be acceptable anymore, or else UMass will go winless.

The jury is still out on Doyle. One solid game shouldn’t be enough to convince people that he’s the team’s long-term solution. Right now, he’s still the product of some exceptionally poor play from the quarterback before him.

Don’t forget, he only completed 12 of his 24 pass attempts for 101 yards and just one score in three quarters of play in UMass’ first two games. He’s still near the bottom among quarterbacks in the MAC. His accuracy could still be better, too.

But there’s still hope. Doyle has already looked like a significant upgrade over Wegzyn in the last six quarters. Most importantly, he seems to have a good connection with the Minutemen’s receivers, particularly Tajae Sharpe.

Since Doyle started the second half against the Black Bears, Sharpe has made 13 catches for 116 yards and a touchdown – he had a career-high 98 receiving yards on nine catches on Saturday.

It’s still too early to deem Doyle the savior of the UMass offense. However, positive steps were made on Saturday.

If we see an even better Doyle by next week, or even three weeks from now (by the way, better means multiple touchdown passes and maybe a shot at some wins), then the Minutemen might have their answer.

If not, then it might be someone else’s turn.

Nick Canelas can be reached at ncanelas@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.

 

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