There’s been a change at the top of the UMass depth chart. Time will tell what difference it makes on the field.
A.J. Doyle will be the starter at quarterback for the Minutemen against Kansas State on Saturday (7 p.m. ET), replacing Mike Wegzyn. Doyle, a 6-foot-3, 226-pound Lakeville, Mass., native and former Catholic Memorial star, came into UMass’ 24-14 loss to Maine after halftime this past weekend and finished 7-for-17 passing for 67 yards and a touchdown.
The scoring strike came in the fourth quarter and pulled the Minutemen back to within 10 points after Maine had reeled off 24 unanswered. But it wasn’t enough to rally the team in its home opener at Gillette Stadium, as the Minutemen fell to their longtime FCS rival.
“We started off fast and went right down the field and scored in four plays,” UMass coach Charley Molnar said during his weekly MAC conference call. “We had a lot of confidence and what typically happens with teams who haven't won a lot of football games with a lot of young players is we just had small, individual breakdowns.
“It certainly hurt us offensively. It could have been anything from an errant throw to a misread by the quarterback to an offensive lineman oversetting on a defensive end. All those small accumulation of errors added up to a very poor offensive performance.
“Defensively, we played OK. At the end of the game, I think we were a little bit gassed and couldn't get the stop that we needed to get off the field and get the ball back to the offense to give us a chance.”
The Minutemen finished just 5-for-16 on third-down conversions, produced only 265 yards of total offense -- including just 64 rushing -- and turned the ball over twice. Certainly not the performance they were hoping for in the home opener, especially considering that the schedule doesn’t get any easier.
In Week 3, the Minutemen (0-2, 0-0 MAC) travel to Manhattan, Kan., to face Bill Snyder’s Wildcats (1-1, 0-0 Big 12). In Week 4, they host Vanderbilt (1-1, 0-1 SEC).
Then after a week off, conference play begins with a road trip to Bowling Green.
After watching tape of the Minutemen allowing Black Bears QB Marcus Wasilewski to outgain them by himself -- the senior going 20-for-28 passing for 267 yards and adding 10 carries for 76 yards and a touchdown -- the Wildcats may be licking their chops.
Through two games, the Minutemen have allowed 16 plays of more than 20 yards -- including six TDs from more than 30 yards out.
Molnar, ever optimistic despite the dreary results to date in UMass’ transition to the FBS level, said his message to his team this week remains a positive one.
“First off, it doesn't matter if we are playing Maine, Kansas State or anybody else; we go into each and every game with the objective to win,” he said. “Also, each and every player is trying to be a better player this week than they were a week ago. If we can get 11 players on offense and 11 players on defense to be better players, we will be better units and ultimately a better team.
“Our guys are in a good place and I think it would be real easy to get down, but our guys know their best football is ahead of them. Our trajectory is going up and they really believe that we are not too far off.”
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.