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'Learning curve' differs for Verica, younger Virginia quarterbacks

With about two and a half minutes remaining in Virginia's 44-10 loss Saturday to North Carolina, true freshman quarterback Michael Rocco took the snap at the Tar Heels five yard line on fourth and four, scanned his options and then threw an interception.

"Here's what we tell a quarterback: Never take a negative play. Never create a negative play for yourself," Coach Mike London said Thursday. "Here's the difference between a young quarterback and maybe an experienced guy, is he's locked in on the opportunity to make a throw and he wants to make the throw and his vision on what's happening in front of him opens up. Would we have liked for him to tuck it and run? Absolutely."

During the first quarter of the same game, fifth-year senior quarterback Marc Verica dropped back to pass near midfield, evaded a pass rush and flung the ball toward the sideline in the direction of tailback Keith Payne. That pass also was intercepted.

"This issue with Marc sometimes is in trying to make a play and maybe moving out of the pocket, trying to make a throw that it's an ill-advised throw," London said. "If you feel pressure, it's okay to throw the ball out of bounds into the stands. Don't feel that you have to make a play. If you have to punt the ball on a third and long situation, I'd rather to do that then try to force a ball that, because you're moving, because you're on your back foot and you think you can make the throw."

London said he -- like all football coaches -- wants his quarterbacks to play within their abilities and within the team's offensive system. For different reasons, that was not the case for Virginia's quarterbacks during the loss to North Carolina. It didn't help that the Cavaliers were trailing and that they had lost the previous two games by double-digit margins.

On Saturday against an Eastern Michigan squad that has won one game since 2008 and owns one of the most porous defenses in the country, Virginia's quarterbacks will be afforded an opportunity to straighten out some of the issues that have caused them -- and the team -- problems in recent performances. I write "quarterbacks" plural, because if this game transpires as it should, all three will receive a chance to play.

Eastern Michigan (1-6) ranks No. 106 in the nation in total defense, allowing 442.9 yards per game. The Eagles are allowing 214.6 passing yards per game, and they have tallied nine sacks and forced nine turnovers in seven games. Unless Virginia's pass protection issues are much more severe than has been demonstrated in recent weeks, none of the Cavaliers quarterbacks should be under too much pressure Saturday.

That will afford Verica a chance to regain some confidence. It will give redshirt freshman quarterback Ross Metheny an opportunity to smooth out the quarterback-center exchange problems he had last week. And it will allow Rocco to work on lining up the offense properly in the correct formations.

Will Saturday's game completely solve all of Virginia's quarterback issues? Absolutely not. In fact, if all three signal callers perform well, it likely will rachet up the pressure on London to make a switch from Verica to one of the younger guys.

But Verica, Metheny and Rocco need Saturday's game -- each for different reasons -- to regain some momentum heading into the season's homestretch.

By Steve Yanda  | October 21, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Football  
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