By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The second interception that UVa quarterback Marc Verica threw Saturday afternoon was partly the result of an error by his intended receiver, who ran the wrong route.
But Verica’s third interception, like his first, was the result of a poor decision on his part. Duke capitalized with a touchdown drive that pushed its lead to 40-28 with 12:28 to play, and Verica’s game nearly ended there.
“I was thinking, ‘Maybe it’s time to put in another quarterback,’ ” Virgnia coach Mike London said on his Sunday night teleconference.
But London said he decided to give Verica “one last shot,” and the fifth-year senior responded by leading three touchdown drives in the final 9 minutes.
The game ended with Duke ahead 55-48, but Verica finished with 417 yards (and a career-high 4 touchdowns) passing. That broke the school record set by Matt Schaub, who threw for 393 yards in a loss at N.C. State in 2003.
“He was probably his best towards the latter part of the game,” London said of Verica, who completed 24 of 46 attempts. “I wish it would have been at the earlier part. But some of the throws that he made after that third interception were really exceptional throws.”
To which backup quarterback he would turned — true freshman Michael Rocco or redshirt freshman Ross Metheny — London did not say.
After the game, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was asked about Verica’s early struggles.
“You just gotta keep playing at quarterback,” Lazor said. “It’s a funny position sometimes mentally, because you just gotta be tough mentally as well as physically. You gotta be ready to just keep going. There are going to be bad plays in almost every game. I haven’t seen the perfect game yet. And when you have those bad plays, you just buckle up and go back in the next play and go.
“The thing that’s really important, I think, in our offense is that the quarterback can’t become cautious. He still has to take the shots when they’re there, and I thought Marc did a good job of rebounding from some mistakes. He’s a very resilient guy.”
Verica said: “You gotta have a short memory, whether you throw a touchdown pass or it’s an interception. You’ve got to move on. Coach Lazor has helped me a great deal with stuff like that. Whatever happened in the past is completely independent of what happens on the next play.”
With 4,275 yards passing, Verica now ranks eighth on UVa’s career list. He passed Don Majkowski and Dan Ellis on Saturday.
MISMATCHES: Verica’s favorite target Saturday was senior wideout Dontrelle Inman, who caught 10 passes for 239 yards — both career highs — and 1 TD. Junior wideout Kris Burd added 3 catches for 42 yards and a score.
“I felt good about our receivers going into today,” Lazor said. “I think they’re healthier than they’ve been in a while, just as far as the normal nicks and bruises that occur to every player as the season goes. Sometimes you go up and down with that.”
Going into the game, Lazor said, “I thought it was going to be a good match-up [against Duke’s defensive backs], and we got some out of it. We just didn’t get enough.”
Seven ACC teams had fewer yards receiving than Inman this week, said Jim Daves, UVa’s assistant athletics director for media relations.
GAME-CHANGERS: UVa’s defense broke down repeatedly Saturday. Three plays in particular, though, stuck out to London after he reviewed videotape of the game.
On the first, middle linebacker Steve Greer blitzed and had a clear shot at Duke quarterback Sean Renfree. But Renfree pumped, and Greer bought the fake.
“You teach the guys never to leave their feet, but for a moment, that’s what happened,” London said. “And [Renfree] got out of there and ran and scored [on a 37-yard run].”
There was also, of course, the 32-yard pass that Renfree completed to wideout Donovan Varner on fourth-and-20 from Duke’s 21 with 1:09 left and Virginia leading 48-47.
Varner ran past safety Rodney McLeod and into a gap in front of safeties Corey Mosley and Trey Womack, and Renfree delivered a perfect strike.
“If he underthrows it, the underneath man” — McLeod — “who’s playing man has a chance to bat it down,” London said. “If he overthrows it, the safety over the top has a chance to break on the ball. He threw it perfectly, and they caught it and converted. They executed, and we didn’t.”
The Cavaliers’ final breakdown came on the play that went for the winning touchdown, a 35-yard run by tailback Desmond Scott with 40 seconds left.
Before the play, defensive coordinator Jim Reid was trying to get substitutes on the field to match Duke’s personnel. The Blue Devils didn’t wait for him to do so.
“Instead of doing what they normally do, they just hurried up and called a play,” London said. “They probably caught us in a substitution deal and ran the play and capitalized on us not being in the proper position and ended up scoring a touchdown there.”
SELF-DESTRUCTING: Among ACC teams, only Miami (75.4 per game) has been penalized for more yards than UVa (70.1).
Some of the holding and personal-foul calls against his team have been questionable, in London’s opinion, but most of the penalties have been for clear infractions such as false starts or illegal formations.
“That’s just a matter of mental focus,” London said.
Against Duke, UVa was penalized 11 times for 103 yards. The coaching staff went over the calls with the team Sunday, London said.
“We look at [the video] and said, ‘Whether you think they’re penalties or not, that’s not the issue. The fact that the flags were thrown, that’s the issue. And it stopped some drives for us and extended drives for them. We can’t do that.’ ”
MISSING PIECE: London is hopeful that junior cornerback Chase Minnifield will play in Virginia’s home finale. UVa (1-4, 4-5) hosts ACC rival Maryland (3-2, 6-3) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Scott Stadium.
Minnifield, who had two of Virginia’s five interceptions Oct. 30 against the Miami Hurricanes, sprained an ankle in practice early last week. He tested it early against Duke but wasn’t able to continue.
The ‘Hoos already were missing senior cornerback Ras-I Dowling, who’s out with a leg injury.
“If one more injury happened back there in the secondary, I might have had to suit up or something like that,” said London, who played defensive back at the University of Richmond.
Minnifield is tied for second nationally with six interceptions and has the ball-hawking mentality that London wants to see in his secondary.
“We missed that with him being out of the game,” London said. “It hurts to have your interception out for a game that they threw the ball [so often].”
Duke’s quarterbacks completed 18 of 31 passes for 259 yards and 1 TD, with no interceptions. On the game’s most memorable pass, Renfree’s 32-yard completion to Varner, McLeod lined up as a cornerback because of UVa’s lack of options at that spot.
“When you go down another guy and you’re already kind of limited in your secondary, it hurts,” London said Sunday. “But we’re hoping to have Chase back this week. He was just out today doing some light jogging, and he looked OK.”