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Merchant nudges into UB QB picture at Blue & White Scrimmage

Chris Merchant had a don’t-forget-about-me performance at the University at Buffalo’s Blue and White Scrimmage on Saturday.

Merchant, a sophomore from Canada widely viewed as No. 3 in the three-way race for the starting quarterback job, showed impressive deep throwing ability in the two-hour annual spring finale at UB Stadium.

In a scrimmage that saw eight touchdown passes, Merchant had the prettiest throw of the day, a 38-yarder to Malcolm Robinson in perfect stride to the end zone. Merchant also hit 32- and 29-yard sideline throws and had the best scramble of the day, turning what should have been a 10-yard sack into an 8-yard gain.

However: The scrimmage did nothing to unravel the starting QB competition. Both senior Grant Rohach and redshirt freshman Tyree Jackson also looked pretty good. UB will enter training camp in August with a three-way battle on its hands.

“For the most part I was very pleased,” UB coach Lance Leipold said of his QBs. “I think Chris Merchant got a lot of long drives and did some things. Grant Rohach, you can continue to see that he’s played FBS football, how he handles himself, how he manages the huddle. The athleticism and the raw ability of Tyree Jackson I think continues to show itself. He just has such a bright future.”

So the handicapping of the battle remains the same: Rohach, the senior transfer from Iowa State, still is the slight favorite to open the season as the starter. Jackson, the 6-foot-6, 240-pound prized recruit from Michigan, still looks like the best physical talent and a player Leipold is going to have to get into the starting lineup at some point this season.

Rohach took 37 snaps and was 13 of 17 for 118 yards and four TDs.

Merchant took 28 snaps and was 7 of 10 for 132 yards and one TD.

Jackson took 22 snaps and was 6 of 9 for 53 yards and two TDs.

Leipold stressed fans should not read anything into the snap counts or the fact Jackson started the scrimmage. He said the snap totals simply were due to the way the drives unfolded.

Merchant is a 6-2, 210-pounder from Calgary who spent his last two high school seasons in the Toronto area. That’s how UB found him. He showed a crowd of several hundred he has impressive athleticism. All three QBs are mobile, but Merchant is the most mobile of the three.

All three QBs showed accurate throwing ability on the move.

“We’re going to have to move the pocket a little bit against our defense and the pressure we had seen through the spring,” Leipold said. “And with the youth and inexperience we’re working through on the offensive line, we’ve got to have different launch points. We have to put the quarterback in different areas so teams just can’t tee off on us. I thought they did a good job putting the ball where it needed to be.”

Merchant directed only three drives, but they went 15 plays for 70 yards (and a stop on downs), four plays for 62 yards and a TD and eight plays for 62 yards and a TD.

“I thought the team played great,” Merchant said. “Everyone was flying around. The receivers made some unbelievable catches and the O-line was playing really well.”

Leipold had to like Merchant’s deep accuracy.

“Whenever you get to air the ball downfield, it’s definitely an opportunity, so you have to put it in a place where the receiver can catch it,” Merchant said.

Rohach, a 6-2, 217-pounder, is a graduate student with just one year of eligibility left. He hit some tight throws in the red zone, starting with a 5-yard TD to tight end Kevin Rogers on which he rolled right and threw across his body to the middle of the end zone.

Jackson produced the first TD of the day, a 16-yard pass to Jamarl Eiland on a roll to the right and an accurate hitch-pattern throw to the middle of the field. He also showed nice touch on a roll all the way to the left sideline and a lob pass to the back of the end zone for a 10-yard TD by tight end Tyler Mabry.