The understanding between University of Massachusetts coach Charley Molnar and his two quarterbacks, A.J. Doyle and Mike Wegzyn, is clear.
Nothing is guaranteed.
Not from season to season. Not from week to week. Not from half to half.
So when Molnar decided at halftime of last week’s confidence-draining 24-14 loss to Maine to pull his starter, Wegzyn, and plug in Doyle, there may have been disappointment from Wegzyn, and there may have been eagerness from Doyle, but neither of them could say there was any surprise.
“Honestly, it’s been like this for over a year now where we both know it’s going to be a competition no matter what week it is,” Doyle said. “We both have a very good understanding of that.
“Every day is a chance to compete against each other. It’s just going to be like that no matter how long we’re here because we’re both the same eligibility class and I don’t see either one of us leaving.”
After the loss, Molnar said he would wait until the middle of the week to decide who would be under center for UMass going forward.
But after putting up all of 477 yards of total offense and just 14 points in the first two games of the season, Molnar knew he had to find a way to inject life into his stagnant offense.
“We’re so close on so many plays and they end up for little to no yardage because of just a small breakdown here or there,” Molnar said. “But when you’re not a very confident football team because of whatever reason, those little things become big things and we’ve gotten bogged down.”
The decision to stick with Doyle as the Minutemen travel to Kansas State this weekend was made with a confidence boost in mind.
Molnar waited until Wednesday’s practice to tell his the quarterbacks his decision, but with Doyle getting the first-string snaps in workouts, the writing was on the wall.
The reps gave Doyle a chance to get comfortable with his primary targets, including Tajae Sharpe, who set career highs with 11 catches for 85 yards and a touchdown against Maine, and running back Stacey Bedell, who along with rushing for 58 yards on 16 carries also caught two balls out of the backfield for 52 yards.
Even though Doyle’s mobility will be an asset against a Wildcats team that finished second in the Big 12 with 32 sacks last season, much of the decision came down to intangibles.
“He’s got a different voice, a different demeanor,” Molnar said. “Right now, as we’re looking for a solution, we felt that A.J. may be part of the solution. He has a different skill set than Mike. He has a different demeanor than Mike, and we thought that at this point that this might be a good thing to utilize those.”
After eating a 45-0 season-opening loss to Wisconsin, Molnar could see cracks in his team’s confidence, and it bled into the Maine game.
“Believe me, there’s a lot of teams in the Top 25 that wouldn’t want to play Wisconsin in the first game, because it can break a fragile confidence,” Molnar said.
Compared with Wegzyn’s highly intense personality, the easy temperament that Doyle carries could settle down a team that’s wound tightly.
“They’re two distinctly different personalities,” Molnar said. “Mike is a rah-rah guy. He’s loud. He’s really take-charge.
“A.J. is very even-keeled. His heart rate doesn’t go up. Just totally different, and I thought perhaps he had a little bit more of a calming influence on some of our younger players, because he is always so relaxed.
“I think he has a relaxed, let’s-go-for-it attitude and I think that’s going to be contagious.”
As a freshman, Doyle took a back seat to Wegzyn, who started 11 of the Minutemen’s 12 games. But in practice, they were constantly competing internally.
“It’s definitely good for both of us,” Doyle said. “I mean, sometimes it can be a little awkward, when we’re on the road together and we know the other one’s starting and the other one really wants to play, but that’s just the competitive nature in both of us.
“Obviously it’s good. I like it a lot to be competitive every week and that’s what you need at this position. You need someone to compete with. You need someone to make sure you’re always on top of your game, and I think me and him competing together allows that for both of us.”
After going 13 for 25 for 139 yards with a touchdown and an interception against Maine, Wegzyn knew things had to change.
“As an offense, we weren’t getting done what we needed to,” Wegzyn said. “That was apparent. So I can understand where he’s coming from.
“Obviously, that’s not what I wanted as a competitor. I want to be on the field for every second that I can and be in every game, but that’s the coaches’ decision and that’s how I have to follow it out and I will.”
But the change isn’t necessarily permanent.
“Both of them understood where they stand,” Molnar said. “Mike is a great competitor and he knows that he’ll have opportunities to get in the football game and have a chance to show what he can do.
“None of these decisions are ever final. It’s just a decision that we’re making for right now. Let’s go play the Kansas State game and we’ll talk about our quarterback of the future down the road.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.