Virginia made headlines this past week, but not for anything it did on the field.
Surely, the Cavaliers 1-2 record-which includes blowout losses to No. 1 USC and Connecticut-does not warrant much national press. Unfortunately for Virginia, the current media attention regarding the program has to do with its recent dismissal of former starting quarterback Peter Lalich.
The university announced Sept. 18 that the sophomore quarterback would no longer be a member of the football team following his admitting in court that he had violated his own probation. Lalich did not travel with the Cavaliers for their game against the Huskies Sept. 13 because of his legal troubles. The hearing, originally slated for Sept. 26, was moved up, and Lalich was immediately kicked off the team following his confession that he drank alcohol while on probation for underage drinking.
His subsequent dismissal leaves the Cavaliers shorthanded at quarterback.
Sophomore Marc Verica made his collegiate debut in lieu of Lalich against Connecticut, completing 22-of-30 passes for 158 yards and an interception. Fifth-year senior Scott Deke relieved Verica in the fourth quarter and didn't fare much better, completing three passes for 30 yards and an interception.
Despite the fact that the Cavaliers will enter Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday without the man they thought would be leading them all season, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe expects a more athletic and mobile look at the quarterback position.
"They're experienced players, and we've seen them on tape," Cutcliffe said Wednesday on his daily radio show. "We're expecting to see some play-action pass, bootleg, maybe some zone-read and designed quarterback runs. We gotta be pretty much prepared for all of it."
To prepare for Verica and Deke, Duke's staff watched game tapes of last year's Virginia starting quarterback, Jameel Sewell, who lifted the Cavaliers to a 9-3 record. Sewell was declared academically ineligible last spring.
Aside from their troubles at quarterback, the Cavaliers also bring in a rushing attack that is ranked 117th nationally, averaging only 51.3 yards per contest. And following the team's 45-10 loss to the Huskies, Virginia's team psyche may be a little different from Duke's, a team off to its first 2-1 start in five years.
Still, the Blue Devils must contend with the Cavaliers' size advantage, especially on the offensive line.
"Virginia and Virginia Tech have been the two biggest teams I've ever faced since I've been in college," said Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, one of three ACC quarterbacks who has been the primary playcaller all season. "Every time I line up against these guys, I'm like, 'Where'd they get these guys? These guys are huge.' It's like if you're not a certain size or certain weight, you can't play here."
The average height and weight of Virginia's offensive line is 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds. The Blue Devils' starting defensive linemen weigh in, on average, at 50 pounds less than their Cavalier counterparts. By comparison, Duke's starting offensive line weighs an average of only 270 pounds.
Virginia's success on Saturday could depend on how their oversized line can protect their inexperienced quarterback. Verica is more mobile than Lalich-who was a pro-style drop-back passer-which will make things a bit easier.
Luckily for Duke, it was able to see Verica on film in his debut against Connecticut, and has been able to prepare as such.
"We definitely want to get after him," senior safety Adrian Aye-Darko said.
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