Notre Dame has a quarterback controversy, the University of Colorado has quarterback confusion, and at the state university of Massachusetts, the Minutemen have a quarterback quandary.
UMass is in a situation where it must start an untested arm to begin the toughest season in school history. With Kellen Pagel on the shelf with post-concussion symptoms, head coach Charley Molnar has to pick between redshirt freshman Mike Wegzyn or true freshman A.J. Doyle. Neither has faced the likes of a UConn or Michigan, and neither has taken the field in front of thousands of opposing fans.
Molnar has reiterated time and time again that Wegzyn has an early lead in the competition, but Doyle isn’t too far behind. UMass fans should anticipate seeing Wegzyn under center in Storrs on August 30.
What happens from there is anybody’s guess.
The no-huddle spread offense gives little cover for a quarterback to hide. Decisions are to be made quickly, throws have to be accurate, run fakes must be well-sold and deliberate, and the offensive line must be appropriately set with a firm understanding of the next play. Within this scheme the quarterback is the great navigator, and if he is frazzled or confused, the whole vessel will capsize.
The nature of the beast is the cause of the quandary, and Molnar’s first major decision as a head coach may have a lingering affect.
If Wegzyn enters the UConn game and is unremarkable, does Molnar pull the trigger and put Doyle in for Indiana? If either falters against the Hoosiers, does the merry-go-round spin again? Does Molnar simply hand the ball to Wegzyn to boost his confidence enough to wade through the sea of rabid Wolverines that patiently wait for September 15?
Will it be quarterback by committee?
Somewhere on Molnar’s mile-long list of concerns for this season is quarterback development. Luckily, this is not Molnar’s first soiree. In 2003, while with Western Michigan, Molnar worked with two quarterbacks (Chad Munson and Jon Drach) who threw for more than 3,000 yards combined. The next year, he had two different quarterbacks (Blayne Baggett and Ryan Cubit) throw for nearly 2,900 yards combined. While the the Broncos were not particularly successful during those two years (6-17 combined), Molnar was able to work with and develop multiple quarterbacks when there wasn’t one clear-cut starter.
In Amherst, Molnar walked into a situation that had an added wrinkle: UMass had no experienced receivers to speak of after last season. Pagel and Wegzyn got in some work during the spring, but when Pagel was sidelined, Wegzyn took over and began working on his timing with the green group of wideouts.
Those who attended the Spring Game know that the first-team offense needs as many reps as it can get. On that day the timing was off, receivers were dropping passes, play fakes were under-sold, and Wegzyn looked a little confused during his first audition in front of Molnar and UMass fans. By all accounts, Wegzyn has spent more time with the play book and has a better understanding of the offense, but we won’t know how that will translate until August 30.
While the next few weeks should shed a little light on the quarterback situation, don’t be expecting too many answers. Wegzyn is going to take his rookie licks, and Doyle will be waiting on the sidelines to make his first appearance as the local kid with high expectations. Pagel will be working to get healthy and back into game shape, and somewhere in the background will be other backup quarterbacks who have yet to emerge.
The quarterback quandary at UMass is just beginning, and two of those involved have four years of eligibility left.