The UVA Quarterback Shell Game

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The UVA Quarterback Shell Game
(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Any football novice can tell you that having a good quarterback under center can make a huge difference to a team.

So how does a quarterback become a good one?

For all the practices and drills you can imagine, nothing beats in-game experience.  In college football, the gridiron is where legends are made and consistency is the name of the game.

Indeed, stability at the quarterback position is important for so many reasons. 

After all, how can you lead a team when you are looking over your shoulder?

The Virginia football program is under the microscope this season and Al Groh's job is on the line and one of the biggest reasons for the Cavalier nation losing faith with their sweat-shirted guru is a lack of stability.

From 2002-2005, three players (Matt Schaub, Anthony Martinez and Marques Hagans) started at quarterback for the University of Virginia.

From 2006-2008, six players (Christian Olsen, Kevin McCabe, Jameel Sewell, Pete Lalich, Marc Verica and Vic Hall) started at quarterback.

Let's dig a little bit deeper, shall we.

Schaub set 22 UVA school records in his career, including 40 games in which he played as quarterback. 

Martinez was meant to be his heir apparent but a terrible start against South Carolina quickly ended those dreams and "A-Mart" switched to baseball.   Despite playing in a few games, he finished his career with only one start.

Instead it was the man who almost supplanted Schaub in 2002 who helped take over the reins for Virginia football.

Hagans was just as impressive, starting at least one game in each of his four seasons including every game his final two seasons. 

Although Hagans may be remembered for his speed and even his time as a wide receiver, many might surprised to learn that he is fifth all-time on the UVA passing list with nearly 4,500 yards for his career.

In total, in a 50 game period, 49 of them were started by Schaub or Hagans.

Now let's be fair, Matt Schaub was the 2002 ACC Offensive Player of the Year, it is easy to have stability under center when you have bona fide NFL talent.

What happens when you have three or even four options that cannot seem to break from the pack?

Then you have the situation in 2006.  The heir apparent to Hagans, Christian Olsen, had looked solid in a few relief efforts coming into his senior year.

However, Olsen was steamrolled in his national debut.  The Virginia offense sputtered to collect only 211 yards of offense, most off of Olsen's anemic 17-of-34 passing for 133 yards in a 38-13 loss to Pittsburgh.

The Cavalier's lone touchdown was off an interception.

Thanks went from bad to worse when the Virginia offense could not move the ball against the Wyoming Cowboys at home.

Patience was wearing thin and Kevin McCabe was given the team after Olsen went 12-of-21 for 89 yards.

McCabe threw a dart to wide receiver in Kevin Ogletree in overtime and appeared to have the job in hand before two interceptions in the first half against Western Michigan made Groh once again pull the plug.

From 2002-2005, three men started under center in 50 games.  It took four games in 2006 for three men to start at quarterback.

Things did not get any better in 2007.  Sewell won the job in 2006 based on his youth and potential, he knew he had to perform with his heir apparent "Pistol" Pete Lalich coming in.  

In the 2007 opener at Wyoming, Sewell went up in flames going 11-of-23 for just 89 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. 

Come to think of it, maybe Virginia should stop scheduling Wyoming, but I digress.

Groh once again pulled the trigger and in one game burned Lalich's red-shirt in controversial fashion.

The two vied for the position for most of September but Sewell eventually took over the undisputed top spot on the roster. 

It may not have been pretty, but Sewell found ways to win.  The sophomore helped lead several late drives helping Virginia win an NCAA record five games by two points or less. 

Perhaps even more telling was that two of the losses during that time span, N.C. State and the Gator Bowl loss to Texas Tech, occurred with Sewell injured on the sidelines unable to finish the game.

Could he have won those games if given the opportunity?  It certainly seemed likely against the Red Raiders but Virginia fans were willing to give Sewell the benefit of the doubt.

Finally, the quarterback controversy was over!

Oh wait, except that Sewell was placed on academic probation just a few weeks after the 2007-08 season ended.

Last year featured Pete Lalich getting busted for drugs, Marc Verica impressing and disappointing with so many interceptions and coach Groh's finally admitting mea culpa and letting Vic Hall play at quarterback where he belongs.

That's more drama than any sports fan can handle.

Unfortunately, this year's quarterback picture is still murky.

Groh once again has three options for quarterback.  Sewell has returned to Virginia and stayed in good academic standing and brings the most experience. 

Verica has the best arm but had 16 interceptions.

Hall has great intangibles but is 5'9'' on a good day and has not played quarterback in years.

The choice for Virginia's quarterback remains a mystery and Cavalier fans will be waiting to see who comes out the door to open the season against William and Mary.

Whoever it is though, Groh would be wise to exhibit patience.

It's hard when the fans are pushing you out the door but the long-term future of Virginia relies on them building that stability they had in the early Groh years.

It is certainly a good idea to give each opportunities throughout the season because each offers different skill sets but Groh must show faith and determination in his decisions.

Vic Hall would be a great prototype of "Tim Tebow-freshman year", coming in on certain plays with a limited playbook.  Similar to the role Tebow played behind Chris Leak when Florida won the BCS Championship.

However, you must have a pecking order.

To quickly pull someone after a mistake or two shows that you have no confidence in his ability and the team will soon follow the coach's lead. 

Making drastic changes week in and week out show fans that you don't really know what you're doing.

Groh does have one thing in his favor, all three quarterbacks have at least one start under their belt.  That is something none of his three options could say in 2006. 

Will that experience pay off into stability and confidence for the Cavaliers heading into the 2009 football season?

We can only hope.

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