Sunday, November 07, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Tough luck for Verica in spite of his career day

DURHAM, N.C. -- Marc Verica, this is your life. Or at least your life as the University of Virginia quarterback.

Set a school record for passing yards? Can't celebrate it. Fire a career-high four touchdown passes? Have to answer for three picks. Move your offense up and down the field at will? Sorry, pal, so did the other guys.

Somehow, your team still lost.

Verica wasn't perfect in Saturday's 55-48 loss to Duke, but he deserved better than this. Any time a quarterback leads six touchdown drives of more than 70 yards, any time somebody pitches it around the way he did, any time a guy throws for a whopping 417 yards -- unprecedented at UVa -- he deserves a few kudos.


"You cannot throw interceptions," UVa coach Mike London said. "It is great that he sets the school record for passing, but the scoreboard reads what it does."


London's right, of course. This is a bottom-line sport. Virginia is past the point of celebrating incremental progress and onto the next phase, where wins and losses are all that define the day.

But that doesn't make what happened any less of a bummer for Verica, the fifth-year senior who can't seem to enjoy any prolonged spells as the toast of Charlottesville.

Last week, Verica's two late third-down conversions clinched the Cavaliers' shocking victory over Miami. He needed only two pass attempts on Saturday to come crashing back to the land of the criticized.

His first throw was an incompletion. His second? Picked by Duke's Ross Cockrell and returned to the UVa 2, setting up an easy score and a quick 14-0 lead for the hosts.

"You have to play better and cannot make those mistakes," London said. "It is the possessions you take away from us when we are driving the ball. The one down on the 2-yard line -- that one hurt. ... You cannot go away, into someone else's house, and start a game like that."

Cockrell got another pick in the third quarter -- this one a juggling, diving grab on a deep pass. Then Walt Canty notched Duke's third interception on the second snap of the fourth quarter.

"They were all bad plays," Verica said, and they were. But since when was a quarterback not entitled to a few bad plays in a game? Almost everything else Verica did on Saturday was outstanding. The 19-yard scoring pass to Kris Burd, the dart to Dontrelle Inman in the end zone, the bullets to the tight end, the floaters in the flat.

It was a resilient performance, a product of all the mental training he's been doing with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.

"You've got to have a short memory, whether you throw a touchdown pass or it's intercepted, you've got to move on," Verica said. "Whatever happened in the past is completely independent of what happens on the next play."

And what the offense contributes is completely independent of what the defense does. Verica understands that all too well this morning, after he watched Duke break tackles, find gaping holes in the secondary and generally make mincemeat out of UVa's resistance.

Even after all that, the Cavs defense could have redeemed itself by stopping a fourth-and-20 pass with under 90 seconds to go.

Naturally, Duke picked up 32 yards, then scored the game-winner on the next play.

And Verica -- the new UVa passing yards record-holder, remember -- was left with a familiar sick feeling.

"I don't really play for numbers and stats," he said, when asked about the record. "I play to give my team a victory and to feel good after the games. I can't really find that much salvation in that right now. Maybe at some point down the line, I can take ownership of that."

Maybe. It's just a shame -- albeit somewhat fitting -- that it couldn't be today.

"It is great that he sets the school record for passing, but the scoreboard reads what it does."

UVa coach Mike London On QB Marc Verica

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