Last week, Virginia coach Mike London cut out all of the growing anti-Marc Verica sentiment before it had a chance to grow by declaring Verica his starting quarterback for the foreseeable future.
It was preemptive strike designed to protect Verica from mounting criticism after his three-interception effort in a 34-point home loss to North Carolina. Verica again will be the starter Saturday, when Virginia hosts No. 22 Miami (5-2 overall, 3-1 ACC), which is tied for second in the nation with 25 sacks.
London doesn't have any other truly viable options, and he knows it.
"He gives us the best opportunity to win any games right now until he proves otherwise," said London last week leading up to U.Va.'s 48-21 win against Eastern Michigan. "We will continue to keep trying to find moments to put (freshman) Michael (Rocco) and (redshirt freshman) Ross Metheny in the game to find out how much they can close the gap or how much they'll widen the gap between each other."
Considering U.Va. (3-4, 0-3) is still trying to figure out which of its young backups is the No. 2 guy, it stands to reason neither is currently well-equipped to get the job done as a starter. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said Rocco has performed better for the last week or two in practice than Metheny, but it's an ongoing evaluation.
"We absolutely are trying to encourage and create competition amongst the guys," said Lazor, who will lead an offense that will try to help U.Va. snap a nine-game losing streak against ACC opponents, and a 10-game skid against opponents from conferences that have automatic qualifiers for Bowl Championship Series bids. "If you noticed, in this last game, Michael was the first to go in. In other games, Ross had gone in first. I think that helps for them to just know – I mean, they may not enjoy it – but that's how we're approaching it. Hey, it's competition. We want somebody to raise up and take over."
So, Verica remains the starting choice almost by default.
He'll face a Miami defense Saturday he saw last season in his only start of the year. In a 52-17 loss, he completed 11 of 29 passes for 75 yards and an interception.
"Last year was kind of a difficult situation," said Verica, who has completed 58 percent of his passes this season for 1,489 yards, eight touchdowns and six interceptions. "I had to try and respond. If you're the backup quarterback, that's what you've got to do…This year, fortunately, I have some games under my belt. Hopefully, that rhythm and the game experience I have this year will benefit me."
In '08, Verica tossed eight touchdowns and 16 interceptions as U.Va.'s starter. In the last 70 years, U.Va. has had 20 quarterbacks that have spent at least two seasons as a starter.
The only other U.Va. quarterbacks in the last 70 years to have more than 22 interceptions combined in their first two seasons as the regular starter were Gene Arnette (25 in 1967 and '68), Scott Gardner (28 in '73 and '74), Todd Kirtley (25 in '79 and '80) and Wayne Schuchts (27 in '82 and '83). With potentially at least five more games in his career as U.Va.'s starter, Verica could surpass all four of those minimum two-year regular starting quarterbacks in the interceptions category.
Though Verica's red zone interceptions against Southern California, Florida State and UNC may be hard to overlook, London chose to concentrate this week on his opinion of what it will take to upset Miami. He believes U.Va. needs pick up first downs, which will require the Cavaliers to be more productive earlier in drives against better competition.
Against Eastern Michigan, U.Va. averaged five yards per play on first down and 5.8 yards per play on second down. Just a week earlier, in U.Va.'s worst loss of the season against UNC, the Cavaliers averaged just 3.7 yards per play on both first and second downs.
"We obviously have to be productive on first down," said Verica, who paces a passing offense that is 35th in the nation (255.1 yards per game – much of which has been gained when U.Va. has had to throw to try to get back into games). "If it's a run, it's got to be a positive run play. A positive run play for us is in the area of four yards or more. If we throw the ball on first down, we need completions. If you can run for positive yards on first down, or get completions on first down, it'll make your life easier on second and third down, for sure."
Marc Verica remains Virginia's only viable QB option
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