Saturday, September 04, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: All eyes will be on the Cavaliers' QB

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Marc Verica's performance -- for better or worse -- will be the most interesting aspect of today's Virginia-Richmond game.

That might sound a bit crazy, but it's true. Coaches can change cultures, recruit better players, train stronger athletes and craft smarter schemes, but in the end, they remain at the mercy of the guys who play the game.

So just how, exactly, will the UVa quarterback play?

It'll be fun to find out, because we just don't know. Mike London doesn't know. Even Verica himself, despite his hours upon hours of study and drilling and mental preparation this preseason, can't be sure.

What makes Verica so intriguing isn't just his Renaissance Man persona or his rags-to-riches-and-back-again college football journey.

It's the urgency of his situation, the lack of a net.

The now-ness.

Because let's face it: Once autumn hits, thinking about the future is lame. We've talked a lot about taking the long view since London took over, but today, they'll actually kick off and collide.

That means it's time for some myopia. "Let's see some incremental progress out there!" is not a sufficient battle cry when the band starts playing the national anthem and teeth start chomping mouthpieces.

And that's where Verica comes in. Would he like to be better at the end of this season than he is at the start? Of course. But he's also a fifth-year senior. Telling him about the beauties of incremental progress is like telling an octogenarian about the tax advantages of an IRA. In either case, who cares what happens in four years?

"Consistency and productivity," said Verica, when asked how he'll judge whether the offense is successful. He'll want to see "if we can consistently do things the right way and not hurt ourselves with bad football plays like penalties and mental errors.

"And then overall being productive, not just settling for mediocrity but actually getting the results, too."

At times, Verica has been productive. Any time you share a school record with Matt Schaub -- Verica logged six straight 200-yard passing outings in 2008, like the Houston Texans QB did at UVa in 2003 -- you've at least shown some productive leanings.

The consistency? That's been the problem. Not so much week-to-week, but choice-to-choice. In the past, Verica's thrown too many interceptions, made too many unwise decisions, done too much to help the other team.

"Marc has got to play his best football," London said. "He's got to distribute the ball, make the reads, make the throws. If a wide receiver can't catch it, make sure that no one else catches it by throwing it on the mark.

"Hopefully we can provide opportunities for him to be efficient, provide opportunities to protect him, provide opportunities to get him out of the pocket."

The added protection should help. As you probably know by now, Verica is musically inclined off the field. On the field, then, it's safe to assume he's a rhythm guy. Of the three quarterbacks who spent time in Gregg Brandon's offense last year, none really looked comfortable, but Verica seemed the most incongruent to the spread (and whatever that was they were running once they scrapped the spread).

His lone start last season against Miami was a cacophony of errors. To be fair, though, the team as a whole was a cacophony of errors for most of last year; he merely added another vuvuzela to the mix.

What they need him to be this year is the 2008 Verica with fewer mistakes. And nobody would like to see that more than he.

Starting today.

"We haven't won the first game of a season since I've been here -- since a lot of guys have been here -- so that's definitely a priority here," Verica said. "We're looking to go out there and get the results."

Results. Good to know somebody's after them, and now.

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