Cyr: Comis? Ford? Here’s how I would handle the UMass quarterback situation this weekend against Mississippi State

By Andrew Cyr

Jediah Zuraw-Friedland/Daily Collegian)
(Jediah Zuraw-Friedland/Daily Collegian)

Editor’s note: This story is pure speculation and based on hypothetical situations.

The New England Patriots and Bill Belichick aren’t the only team-coach tandem playing at Gillette Stadium this week that have question marks surrounding the team’s starting quarterback.

Massachusetts football coach Mark Whipple has a decision to make. After Andrew Ford relieved the injured Ross Comis last Saturday, earning UMass (1-2) its first win of the season, injury-related or not, Whipple would not comment on the Minutemen’s plans at quarterback moving forward.

Instead, Whipple did the media all a favor when he self-created the storyline of the week, saying in the postgame press conference after FIU, “it gives you guys (the media) something to write about.”

Without further ado, allow me to put on the headset and describe how I would handle the Comis-Ford dilemma if I were in Whipple’s shoes making the decision for this week and this week alone – taking into account both the present and future longevity for UMass in 2016.

So, taking the first snap under-center against Mississippi State on Saturday will be …

Andrew Ford.

That aside, Comis’ health is the single most important aspect of making this decision. Even if the Minutemen’s training staff clear him to play, I would still give him another week to heal. Comis’ health throughout the season as a whole far outweighs the cons of rushing him back to face the heavily-favored Bulldogs (24.5 point favorites). It might sound obvious, but UMass is better with both Comis and Ford healthy.

As of Tuesday, Whipple said Comis still wasn’t throwing any deep balls in practice, after he didn’t make any throwing attempts during warmups prior to the game against the Panthers.

However, Whipple did acknowledge that Comis was making progress at practice this week. While a lot can happen from Tuesday to Saturday, would Comis at sub-100 percent give UMass a better chance of winning than Ford fully healthy? Probably not.

Ford needs this test. Aside from the interception on his first drive, Ford played well against FIU, finishing 28-for-42 with 278 passing yards and three touchdowns passes – with a would-be fourth score dropped in the end zone late in the fourth quarter.

Comis was forced jumped head-first into the shark-infested deep end of the pool in weeks one and two, playing at Florida and against Boston College, while Ford had the luxury of dipping his toes in the shallow end.

Through three weeks of the season, the Gators defense currently ranks first in country in both total yards (389) and yards per game (129.67), on top of allowing an FBS-low of 14 points (4.7 points per game). Last year, the Eagles finished the season with the nation’s best defense.

“I’m not taking anything from FIU, but (Mississippi State) is a different animal,” Whipple said in his weekly coach’s conference call Monday. “We’re back to playing a Florida-like team.”

The Bulldogs (1-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) have allowed only 58 points to their opponents this season and have registered seven sacks on opposing quarterbacks. Comis took a beating – with a capital B – in weeks one and two where he was sacked a combined 12 times. Against a slower and less-deep FIU defense, Ford was sacked only twice.

Whipple needs to see how Ford handles the pressure of playing a Power Five defense. Ford proved he could play as a four-star recruit coming out of high school and again at Lackawanna Community College, and did so last Saturday with his performance against the Panthers, but he’s never faced a test like this – not a defense of this caliber.

FIU was good in terms of getting Ford’s feet wet, earning a victory in his collegiate debut, but Saturday’s game against Mississippi State will provide much more insight to the future of the quarterback position of the 2016 Minutemen.

In terms of a timeframe of making the decision, last week it was Thursday before a walkthrough when Ford found out he was starting.

When asked if quarterback is a position he would wait until game day to decide if a player was healthy enough to play – linebacker Shane Huber and cornerback Jackson Porter are both game-time decisions – Whipple responded with this:

“I think it just depends how much experience the guy has got. One’s got two games under their belt and one’s got one, so you might as well flip a coin,” Whipple said. “It’s not like we’ve got a six-year veteran. Both guys are really capable and good players, so it’s a good situation.”

We likely won’t know who is getting the starting nod until game day. Whipple’s a smart guy; he knows better than to reveal his game plan against the Bulldogs.

So until then, per Whipple, we write!

Andrew Cyr can be reached at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.