Inside The Game – Duke

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Marc Verica completed 19 of 42 passes against Duke.

Marc Verica ‘s first two starts as Virginia’s quarterback have been drastically different in some ways. At Connecticut, he had a high completion percentage, made shorter pass attempts, finished with one turnover, and got pulled. At Duke, he had a low completion percentage, attempted some deeper passes, tossed four interceptions, and played the whole game. Verica didn’t direct a touchdown drive in either game.

A step back? Al Groh said Tuesday that’s really not the way to look at it with developing players and quarterbacks in particular. He prefers to look at it as a process instead. Verica, meanwhile, displayed one key QB characteristic in his second weekly meeting with the media Tuesday – the ability to analyze his play and to let the past be a learning tool, not a crippling memory.

“Statistically, I guess you could say there was a regression there if you looked at my completion percentage and obviously the turnovers. But I think there were more positive plays than the UConn game. There were a higher number of bigger plays, not necessarily explosive plays [of] 20, 30, 40, 50 yards but there were a higher number of 10- to 15-, 17-yard plays in there,” Verica said. “So I don’t feel like I’ve regressed. I don’t think I’ve taken a step back. I played poorly and any time you turn the ball over like that, it’s going to get out of hand. But there were positive plays in there and that’s what I’m trying to focus on.”

Of course, the second half breakdowns are something he will have to deal with and improve on as his quarterback career continues. Verica, who finished 19-of-42 passing at Duke, threw all four of his interceptions in the second half. While they all were costly mistakes in a one-time close game, the second and third INTs essentially sealed the Cavaliers’ fate.

The third was returned by Jabari Marshall to boost the Duke lead to 24-3, but the second one snuffed out a potential get-off-the-canvas response drive by the Hoos. That’s why Interception No. 2 may have been the most crucial. After all the Cavaliers had driven 65 yards on 11 plays to that point and they were threatening to score a touchdown inside the Devils’ 20. Cap off that drive with a touchdown and the score is 17-10 in favor of the hosts. Maybe the game doesn’t spiral from there. Maybe the offense gains some much-needed confidence. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Instead, Duke linebacker Mike Tauiliili intercepted the ball to stop the drive and the game quickly got out of hand in the fourth quarter. On the play in question, UVa’s John Phillips shifted in motion, something that the Cavs do with some frequency, allowing the tight end to become a lead blocker or a releasing receiver. In this case, Phillips ends up as a receiving option. The play sets up with another Virginia receiver cutting through the middle of the defense first while Phillips sells a wider pattern and then cuts back across the middle behind him. It’s a clearing route design of sorts with the middle linebacker being a key read for the quarterback.

Tauiliili stayed in his coverage zone, but Verica threw the ball there anyway. End of drive.

“That coverage is a fairly common coverage and the linebacker was well positioned as to where he was supposed to be. It’s a coverage actually that Marc faces quite a bit in practice here and obviously if the linebacker is there, it would be our preference that the ball go some place else, which is where it’s intended to go,” Groh said during his Sunday teleconference. “Not minimizing what that kid did, he did exactly what he was supposed to do and that’s why the progression is designed so that if he’s there, then it goes some place else.”

Verica said Tuesday that he believes he started pressing the issue too quickly.

“As the game progressed and we weren’t scoring and then they started scoring and we were down I think 17-3, there was a little more pressure there to gain big chunks,” he said. “But we were still in the game at that point and I should have trusted the system more and continued to take what the defense gave me. I think I started forcing and it cost us as a result.”

Worth Quoting

“I’d like to do more keeping plays alive or picking up first downs with my legs. We did put in some running plays and you saw them there. Opportunities based on what the defense was doing where I could run it or hand it off. We saw a little bit of that. With our issues of not sustaining drives, it’s going to be important for me to keep plays alive and pick up first downs so I’m going to try to do more of that.” – Marc Verica

Third Downers

Virginia’s offensive struggles have been discussed quite a bit this season, something that has been noted constantly by writers and the like during the slow start. One area where the Cavaliers have had trouble is on third down where they are tied for 104th out of 119 FBS teams; UVa has converted 30.9% of its third downs (17 of 55) on the season.

Against the Blue Devils, the Hoos were slightly better than their season percentage, converting 5 of 15 chances (33.3%). In the first half, Virginia converted 0 of 8 third down tries.

“Third downs are obviously very important, but third downs don’t just involve the offense. When you take the field, you’re also thinking about the defense,” Verica said Tuesday. “Maybe the defense just had a 10-, 11-, 12-play drive so they’re tired. They’re on the bench and they need to recover. You can’t go three-and-out. You can’t put them back on the field again; that puts them in a bad position. You definitely need to convert third downs. It’s very important and not just to sustain drives and score points, but also just to make sure your defense can recover.”

What Happened To Rashawn?

But Jackson’s involvement in the offense was short-lived despite the success. Of his 8 carries, 7 came in the first half and 4 came on the second drive of the game. Jackson logged just 1 carry and 1 reception after intermission. Jackson said he was not dealing with an injury or cramps in the second half so that points to a shift in strategy by the offense. In fairness to the coaches, Jackson’s first 4 carries went for 34 yards while the next 4 only went for 9 yards so there was a declining trend that may have influenced the decision.

“I felt great in the second half. It was just a couple of adjustments the team made,” Jackson said. “I don’t know exactly why that came about, but I’m pretty sure it was with good reasoning.”

Injury Update

Starting left guard Zak Stair had an “injury that took him out of the game” early on and true freshman Austin Pasztor “played the majority of the game” there.

Sophomore Keith Payne hurt his left hand/wrist area late against Duke and he was scheduled to have x-rays on Monday. No further word has been announced at this time, but he was not included on Monday afternoon’s ACC injury report.

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