UMass quarterback competition re-opens in practice

By Nick Canelas

Two weeks ago, the possibility of Mike Wegzyn not starting for the Massachusetts football team as soon as Week 3 seemed unthinkable.

Wegzyn was UMass coach Charley Molnar’s clear No. 1 after making significant strides in spring practice and training camp and the progress appeared noticeable to all involved with the offense.
How quickly things change.

Two games into the 2013 season and the Minutemen’s quarterback competition between Wegzyn and second-stringer A.J. Doyle appears to be wide open for the first time since the end of last season.

Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

Molnar has said before that he plans to play Doyle in every game despite not being named starter. But Saturday’s move to bring him in to start the second half of UMass’ 24-14 loss to Maine was much different, and Molnar made that perfectly clear in practice.

Doyle worked with the starters in practice on Monday for the first time this season, and may be in line for his first start of 2013 on Saturday when the Minutemen take on Kansas State.

However, Molnar wouldn’t give either player the advantage in terms of practice performance.

“(Wegzyn) has had so many reps over the course of spring and summer, (Doyle) got a few more (Monday),” Molnar said. “We’ll watch the film and then balance them out over the course of each drill.”

Molnar said in Saturday’s postgame press conference that his decision won’t come down to who performs better in 7-on-7 drills in practice, but “who’s more comfortable with the game plan (and) who’s more consistent.”

Wegzyn certainly hasn’t lived up to the billing so far this season. The sophomore has completed just 45.8 percent of his passes and has thrown two interceptions to one touchdown in his two starts.

In two quarters of play on Saturday, he completed just 13 of his 25 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown. His longest completion came on a screen pass that Stacey Bedell took 47 yards down the field.

Wegzyn has appeared rattled under pressure and seems to have trouble making decisions when his first read isn’t open. As a result, he either sits in the pocket for too long or tries to force throws that aren’t there.

Wegzyn was forced to face the music earlier than expected on Saturday, but Molnar admires the professionalism with which he handles such disappointing circumstances.

“(Wegzyn) handles stuff pretty well,” Molnar said in his postgame press conference after Saturday’s game. “He’s a resilient young man. He’s extremely competitive. Any time you change the quarterback it feels like you’re putting the blame on him, but that’s not what I wanted to do, but we definitely needed a spark. …

“I just felt that with us not showing enough offensively — the gap between the two is so thin right now — A.J. deserved the chance to go in there. The team just needed a boost and I was trying to find one.”

Wegzyn said after practice on Monday he’s not sure whether or not he’ll be starting Saturday, but he embraces the competition between him and Doyle, whom he considers a close friend.

“That’s what you expect being in a college program, there’s gonna be competition no matter what position, what place you’re playing at there’s gonna be competition for every spot,” Wegzyn said. “Quarterbacks just the one where there can only be one guy out there at a time.”

While Wegzyn has certainly struggled this season, Doyle hasn’t been much better in his place.

He’s completed just 12 of his 24 pass attempts this season for 101 yards and a touchdown. He also had trouble against the Black Bears’ defense, especially with the deep ball. Doyle overthrew multiple targets in single coverage throughout the half of play and failed to notice open targets of countless occasions, including a wide-open Bedell for a screen that would’ve likely been a UMass first down.

“I could have done a lot better,” Doyle said after the game. “I didn’t complete all my passes, I didn’t make all the right protection checks and obviously I only put up seven points on the board when I was out there. There is a lot I can improve upon.”

Molnar sees little difference between the two quarterbacks and expects it to be a decision that may take some time this week.

“I’ve been around both guys a long time now,” Molnar said. “They’re both very equal at the end of the day from a productivity standpoint. Neither one is significantly better than the other. Very few scrimmages that we’ve had where one has been significantly better than the other.

“At the end of the day it’s going to be more of a gut-feeling and we’ll see where we go.”

Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.