Scrolling Headlines:

UMass women’s basketball suffers disappointing loss to St. Bonaventure at Mullins Center Thursday -

January 19, 2017

REPORT: Tom Masella out as defensive coordinator for UMass football -

January 19, 2017

Zach Lewis, bench carry UMass men’s basketball in win over St. Joe’s -

January 19, 2017

UMass women’s basketball handles Duquesne at home -

January 16, 2017

UMass men’s basketball’s late comeback falls short after blowing 15-point first-half lead -

January 15, 2017

UMass hockey outlasted at home against No. 6 UMass Lowell -

January 14, 2017

Hailey Leidel hits second buzzer beater of the season to give UMass women’s basketball win over Davidson -

January 13, 2017

UMass football hosts Maine at Fenway Park in 2017 -

January 12, 2017

UMass men’s basketball snaps losing streak and upsets Dayton Wednesday night at Mullins Center -

January 11, 2017

UMass women’s track and field takes second at Dartmouth Relays -

January 10, 2017

UMass hockey falls to No. 5 Boston University at Frozen Fenway -

January 8, 2017

UMass professor to make third appearance on ‘Jeopardy!’ -

January 8, 2017

UMass women’s basketball suffers brutal loss on road against Saint Joseph’s -

January 7, 2017

UMass men’s basketball drops thirds straight, falls to VCU 81-64 -

January 7, 2017

UMass men’s basketball drops tightly-contested conference matchup against George Mason Wednesday night -

January 4, 2017

Late-game defense preserves UMass women’s basketball’s win against rival Rhode Island -

January 4, 2017

AIC shuts out UMass hockey 3-0 at Mullins Center -

January 4, 2017

UMass professor to appear as contestant on ‘Jeopardy!’ Thursday night -

January 4, 2017

Penalties plague UMass hockey in Mariucci Classic championship game -

January 2, 2017

UMass men’s basketball falls in A-10 opener to St. Bonaventure and its veteran backcourt -

December 30, 2016

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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