MILWAUKEE — One of the best things Loyola senior quarterback DJ Melsheimer did in the 44-0 win over Marquette (Wisconsin) was hand off the ball.
It was late in the second quarter Saturday, and the Loyola football team was marching down the field and in position to score its fourth touchdown of the game.
Melsheimer had been flawless on the drive, completing all three of his passes for 50 yards. Now, it was second-and-5 and the Ramblers were on the 12-yard line.
The call from the sideline was a run play for senior John Saliba. Once the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Melsheimer was at the line, he said he noticed senior receiver Paddy Nicolau had only one defender near him. Loyola quarterbacks coach Tyler Vradenburg said Melsheimer had the option to check to a pass play.
“I’m sure it was enticing,” Vradenburg said.
But Melsheimer stuck with the original call and gave the ball to Saliba, who scored on a 12-yard run.
“I told him that was one of my favorite decisions of his that game,” Vradenburg said. “You have to be willing to do the smart thing.”
Melsheimer, who was making his third career start, said he didn’t really consider changing the play at the line, but he knew the choice was his at that point.
“Our offensive line was doing such a great job, and our running backs were doing well,” Melsheimer said. “It was about sticking to the rhythm of the game. We also want to be a balanced team, and I can’t just go out and throw it every time I think I can.”
Melsheimer — Loyola’s fourth starter in four seasons — finished 15-for-18 for 191 yards with three touchdowns and zero turnovers. On the first offensive series, he completed four passes to four different receivers, including an 11-yard scoring strike to senior receiver Owen Buscaglia, who caught all three touchdowns. Right before the half, Melsheimer made the right read on the safety and threw a deep ball to Buscaglia, who turned it into a 40-yard score.
“We have to figure out which coverages they are going to be in, so we can get on the same page,” Buscaglia said. “That is a strength of [DJ’s and mine].”
Vradenburg, who’s been with the Ramblers since the 2003 season, said Melsheimer has a strong right arm and good speed. But as much as anything else, Melsheimer’s game management makes Vradenburg happy to have the Lake Forest resident at quarterback.
“He understands what the defense is giving up, and that he has a hard-working offensive line and a lot of good players around him,” Vradenburg said. “We face some incredibly talented defenses, so he has to be willing to take what is there. I’ve had some real good luck with kids who’ve come through Loyola, and he’s another one of those players who gets it.”