Breaking Down Virginia Football's Quarterback Race

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Breaking Down Virginia Football's Quarterback Race
(Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

If there is something Virginia football fans have become accustomed to it is quarterback controversy.

Since the graduation of Marques Hagans in 2005, the Cavaliers have gone through four straight off-seasons of indecision at to who will be the future signal-caller.

In 2006, three different quarterbacks started a game as Christian Olsen flamed out quickly and Kevin McCabe's costly interceptions led way to freshman Jameel Sewell taking his bumps early and often en route to a 5-7 season.

In 2007, Sewell's role was challenged early by true freshman Pete Lalich after an embarrassing loss to Wyoming to open the season. 

The two split duty for the first half of the season until Sewell took a strangle hold on the position by helping lead his team to the Gator Bowl.

Just when it appeared Virginia had found the answer, though, Sewell was suspended for his academic standing and the Cavaliers had a three horse race heading into 2008.

Pete Lalich was the incumbent but his own off-the-field problems forced him off the team and Marc Verica was able to takeover after beating fifth-year senior Scott Deke for the title.

However, it was former quarterback turned starting cornerback turned quarterback again Vic Hall who started the final game of the season for Virginia against their arch-rivals Virginia Tech.

All in all, eight different players have seen time at the quarterback position since the 2005 season.

This off-season, Virginia once again has a three-way race for the quarterback spot but it is far different from last season.

These candidates have all started a game, they all have experience and all have some definitive strengths.

However, each candidate have noticeable flaws, making this decision one of the toughest yet most important decisions head coach Al Groh has ever made at Virginia.

Add to the confusion that the Cavaliers are adding a completely new offensive scheme to the field with the addition of former Bowling Green head coach Gregg Brandon to offensive coordinator.

The spread formation is quite a departure from the pro-style offense Groh has run since he took over in 2001.

So who will be the leader in 2009? 

Let's break down the candidates.

 

Vic Hall

The Good

Vic Hall is a tremendous athlete.  He has enough speed and tenacity to go toe-to-toe with any team in the country. 

With just a week or so to prepare against one of the top defenses in the country, Hall lit up Virginia Tech in the first half like they were standing still.

Hall busted off two incredible runs scoring the only two touchdowns of the game for Virginia and had them in position to win against the Hokies for the first time since 2003.

Due to the limited amount of plays they had scripted for Hall the defense was able to adjust.  It became clear that Virginia was hesitant to let Hall throw so the Hokies stacked the box.

Still, looking at the spring game it is clear that Hall can throw.  Hall went 11-of-16 for 98 yards, including some deep passes that could help spread the field next season.

Hall may have spent the last three seasons at cornerback, but he was one of the best offensive quarterbacks in Virginia high school history.

Hall, the Gretna High product, amassed 13,770 yards, which is fifth all-time nationally.  He also threw for more yards than any quarterback in the Commonwealth of Virginia ever.

Hall is a winner and he has the most talent of any one on Virginia's team.

 

The Bad

Hall may have been a great high school quarterback, but he is still four seasons removed from playing significant time at the position.

The transition from high school to college is hard enough, but when you add three years of playing cornerback it is hard to imagine that Hall will ever be as good as he could have been.

Besides, as a senior, Hall only has one year to impress Virginia with his offensive talent before the grand experiment ends.

Even though he has the experience of a senior play-maker he has the decision-making ability of a freshman.  With the spread offense predicated on making quick decisions, Hall will definitely trust his feet first which will leave him open to the big hit.

Hall is also listed at 5'9'', something that kept Groh from letting him be a quarterback out of the gate.  Although the shotgun formation may help him, Hagans struggled at times to see the field and he was an inch or two taller.

Hall does have talent but when it comes to some other comparative categories, he comes up short.

 

The Ugly

Hall is a play-maker plain and simple. 

If he can throw the ball consistently, he is almost impossible for defenses to stop.

His inexperience under center may be a liability and it may cost him a chance to own the number one spot on the rotation but Al Groh would be a fool not to use him on offense.

Expect to see Hall touching the ball plenty of times this year, he is our best player and his play could help Virginia surprise people this season.

 

Jameel Sewell

The Good

It may not always be pretty, but Sewell gets the job done.

Sewell helped lead Virginia to some dramatic victories in 2007, helping reel off seven straight victories en route to a 9-4 record.

Sewell's sophomore year was one for the Virginia record books, finishing third in attempts, fourth in completions and tenth in yardage in a single season.

Sewell's best qualities are the intangibles.  He is a leader that people trust in and he plays his best under pressure.

The ice man may not give you 60 minutes of quality action, but he will step up in big moments.

Against Middle Tennessee State, Sewell shook off a late interception to march the team down the field 63 yards in 78 seconds to set up the game-winning field goal.

He threw the game-winning touchdown against Georgia Tech after blowing an early 21-7 lead.

He helped take the team 90 yards to score the game-winner on the road against Maryland.

See a pattern?

Sewell is the most experienced option at quarterback and with a year off he showed an incredible work ethic by staying committed to the program.

He got his grades up, he worked as an assistant at Charlottesville High School and now he is ready to return and become a leader again.

 

The Bad

If quarterbacks ever had split personalities, than Sewell would have to qualify.

There is definitely a good Sewell that makes clutch plays and can lead his team to victory.

However, there is definitely a bad Sewell. 

For every great throw he makes, there are at least three that either hit the receiver's feet or goes 5-10 yards over his head.

Sewell's arm is nowhere near that of Verica's, nor is his speed that of Hall's.

Sewell opened 2007 with 11-of-23 for 87 yards and two interceptions, numbers not that surprising when you look at his complete body of work.

With a year off, the jury has still got to be out on how much he has progressed (or regressed). 

 

The Ugly

Sewell is the middle man.

He's not the best passer or the best rusher, but he is the best combination of the two out of the three options.

He leads in experience and his teammates believe in him.

I truly think what happened last year has helped him mature and appreciate the game more. 

As a result, I think he is the man to beat and will be starting come the start of the season.

Sewell is a risk without question, and yet he is the safest option.

Groh is not one to roll the dice, so the decision seems likely.

 

Marc Verica

The Good

The 2008 Virginia football season seemed dead as a doornail when it was announced Pete Lalich was not only leaving the program but the school.

Verica had one rough start to his 2008 season against Connecticut, going 22-of-30 but only accounting for 158 yards and zero touchdowns.

Verica, however, was able to dramatically turn things around with a perfect record in October.

Verica's arm is something special, even resembling a young Matt Schaub at times.

Verica helped lead the team to victory against North Carolina and backed that performance up by throwing 270 yards and two touchdowns on the road against Georgia Tech.

Verica is the best player to spread the defense down field and a true pocket passer.

With little experience, Verica accomplished more than anyone could have expected of him. 

Imagine what could happen with another year to progress.

 

The Bad

Let's face it, Verica only has one real problem keeping him from being the unquestioned quarterback on this team.

However, it's a big problem.

Interceptions.

For all the passes Verica can make, his decision-making is not there yet.

The truth is that that Verica has made huge mistakes late in games.

First there was the fumble against Miami taking away a chance at a game-winning field goal.

His interception against Virginia Tech in the end-zone killed any chance of a big upset.

In 11 games, Verica had eight touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

Experience would help eliminate these mistakes, but Groh has proven that he has no patience for turnovers.

Besides, the spread offense is not the type of scheme to help Verica's chance.  His lack of mobility and bad decisions make him the odd man out in this race.

 

The Ugly

Groh builds his team around making good decisions and playing tough. 

While Verica could emerge into that player, Groh simply will not take that risk.

With twice as many interceptions than touchdowns, Verica would have to improve tremendously on his decision-making and his feet simply do not allow him to get out of bad situations.

Verica may see some time at quarterback, but I think he will see a lot more of the bench.

Maybe he could give Sewell his arm and Hall could give him his feet.

Then we would never need another quarterback controversy again because the ACC would be Virginia's for the taking.

However, until that elective surgery is put on the board all Virginia can do is sit and wait.

Hopefully, patience will be a virtue in 2009.

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