By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Mike London knows some critics contend he’s given Marc Verica more chances than the fifth-year senior deserves. London would be better off, they say, building for the future by benching Verica in favor of true freshman Michael Rocco or redshirt freshman Ross Metheny.
London and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor dismiss that argument. They want to win as many games as possible this season, and they believe Verica gives UVa the best chance to do so.
“The other two are not ready to play yet,” London said Monday afternoon during his weekly press conference at John Paul Jones Arena.
Almost from the day he replaced Al Groh as the Cavaliers’ coach last December, London backed Verica as the team’s No. 1 quarterback. Given that Verica was the only Cavalier who had taken a snap in a college game, that made sense.
Still, even when Verica struggled early this season, his coach supported him. Forgive London, then, if he feels vindicated by Verica’s recent play.
In the past two games — both Virginia wins — Verica has completed 37 of 58 passes for 379 yards and 3 touchdowns, with 1 interception.
“It’s amazing that in life, football, sports, there’s a lot of things that go full circle,” London said. “All people want a lot of times is for you to believe in them, give them a chance.”
Memories of Verica’s mistake-ridden performances late in the 2008 season returned Oct. 16. On that night, he threw 3 interceptions, one of which was returned for a TD, in a 44-10 loss to North Carolina at Scott Stadium. The victory was UNC’s first in Charlottesville since 1981.
Message boards erupted with calls for a new quarterback, but London stuck with No. 6, and Verica has rewarded his coach’s faith.
He completed 18 of 31 passes for 203 yards and 2 TDs, with no interceptions, in a 48-21 rout of Eastern Michigan. A week later came Virginia’s clash with the 22nd-ranked Miami Hurricanes, against whom Verica had completed only 11 of 29 yards for 75 yards in a 52-17 loss last season.
He redeemed himself Saturday. Verica was 19 for 27 passing for 176 yards and 1 TD in UVa’s 24-19 upset. He threw one interception but refused to let it faze him.
On the game’s final drive, Verica twice completed third-down passes for first downs, allowing the Wahoos to run out the clock.
“He’s been maligned here,” London said, “but he’s one of those guys that hopefully this was a signature game for.”
Verica threw his pick late in the third quarter with the ‘Hoos leading 17-0. On Virginia’s next possession, Lazor didn’t hesitate. He called a pass on first down, and Verica hit wideout Kris Burd for a 6-yard gain.
“I talked to Marc about the play that he threw the interception on, and he understood what had happened,” Lazor said. “In my mind, just like I want him to do, I click to the next series [and start thinking], ‘What’s the next-best play?’
“I think you have to do that. I don’t think you can get cautious as a quarterback, and I don’t think you can get cautious as a play-caller. You gotta go, and we gotta do what’s best for the team, and we trust the guy that’s out there, and that’s what we did.”
Verica said: “You just gotta put it behind you. I don’t know how close the game was at the time. We may have been up three touchdowns or so, but it would have been pretty bad for the team if I would have melted down just because I threw an interception. You gotta have a short memory, whether you threw a touchdown pass or an interception.”
The third-down completions — the first to wideout Matt Snyder, the second to Burd — sealed the Virginia victory. But Verica contributed in more subtle ways, too, according to Lazor.
“The little things like managing the clock, sometimes running the huddle, even a timeout he called in the third quarter when I made an error with something I called in,” Lazor said after the game. “Those are the little things that go unnoticed sometimes for the quarterbacks, but when you get to one of these games that is going to come down to the very end, those seconds count. And so I thought Marc did a great job with that.”
London said: “That’s what a fifth-year quarterback does. He’s going to have to do it again. He’s not off the hook. We got a lot of games to play … We’ll practice in a prudent and smart way to make sure [Rocco and Metheny] are ready, but he gave us the best chance to win this game, and he proved it.”
Virginia (1-3, 4-4) plays ACC foe Duke (0-4, 2-6) on Saturday afternoon in Durham, N.C. Verica will enter the game ranked fourth among ACC quarterbacks in passing yards per game (208.1).
For the season, Verica has completed 141 of 238 passes (59.2 percent) for 1,665 yards and 9 touchdowns, with 7 interceptions.
“It’s amazing when someone believes in you, that you go out and you want to perform,” London said. “You get that from a guy you keep giving confidence to [and telling], ‘I believe in you, you can do it.’ ”