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Qb Shuffle Causes Troubles, Reversal

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

September 22, 2003 CHARLOTTESVILLE — Almost from the moment he was injured Aug. 30, Virginia quarterback Matt Schaub pointed toward the Cavaliers' Sept. 27 game with visiting Wake Forest as a best-case scenario for his return. While Schaub made plenty of progress in his rehabilitation of a separated right shoulder, his availability leading up to the game against the dangerous Demon Deacons did not have quite the urgency it once did. Marques Hagans, retrieved from the receiver pool after a 31-7 UVa loss at South Carolina, had a commanding performance against Western Michigan after moving to quarterback four days before the game. He tossed three touchdown passes and accounted for 230 yards in total offense as Virginia, a mere seven and a half-point favorite, corralled the Broncos 59-16. Hagans made a believer out of Western Michigan coach Gary Darnell, a one-time North Carolina colleague of Al Groh's who served as Groh's defensive coordinator at Wake Forest in 1986. “Where he was the difference-maker, and you can't prepare for it until you play them, is his scrambling ability in passing situations,” Darnell said. “It certainly took us out of things. Out of all respect to him, he was what we thought he'd be. We had seen him enough. … Any time you get an athletic quarterback like that, it changes the game. He actually threw the ball with a lot more arm strength than I thought. We wanted him to throw it. We certainly didn't want him to run it. They did exactly what they had hoped to get done with him.” Don't look for Hagans to take Schaub's job, as he did prior to the second game of the 2002 season. Nevertheless, it was clear at Western Michigan that Hagans is closer to the quarterback who nearly led Virginia to victory in the 2002 opener against Colorado State than he was the QB who completed just one of seven passes at Florida State last fall. There were those who argued that Hagans, then a redshirt freshman, was in a no-win situation at Florida State. On the other hand, allowing Schaub to come off the bench in a nothing-to-lose situation may have saved his season and his career. Schaub became close to a 70-percent passer, and he demonstrated similar accuracy by completing five of six attempts (with one drop) on the first drive this year against Duke. Clearly, though, there were plays Hagans made against Western Michigan that Schaub couldn't have made. On several occasions, Hagans ducked under would-be sackers and either ran or passed for 20 yards or more. As poorly as Virginia played against South Carolina, it is not unreasonable to wonder if the Cavaliers might have beaten the Gamecocks if they had gone with Hagans as their starting quarterback. Keep in mind, South Carolina was clinging to a 10-7 lead before a Virginia turnover at its 11-yard line late in the third quarter. Groh later explained why Hagans was unavailable, saying he had an injury that limited him to 45 minutes of practice time in the week leading up to the South Carolina game. The coach didn't answer this question: Why hadn't the offensive staff recommended some occasional work at quarterback all along, so that Hagans would be available in case of an emergency? On the day he returned to quarterback, Sept. 8, Hagans said he had not practiced his passing since before the Continental Tire Bowl in late December. Even then, Hagans was lined up as a running back when he completed a touchdown pass to tailback Wali Lundy. Hagans also returned a punt for a score in that game and scored a TD in UVa's first game this year, when he took a lateral from Anthony Martinez and raced 14 yards against Duke. Hagans Faces Interesting Decision It was exactly that kind of big-play ability that convinced Groh to make Hagans a full-time receiver rather than sit him behind Schaub for another year. After watching Martinez struggle at South Carolina, where he was 10-of-20 for 54 yards, Groh decided the following Monday that Hagans would start against Western Michigan. Clearly, Hagans must have been sensational that Monday in practice. “It shows you just how important coaching really is,” Groh said, sarcastically, after the Western Michigan game. “He had spent two years in the system and, as I've said repeatedly, the system hasn't changed significantly. But, right away, I thought Marques had a more complete grasp of the offense than he ever did last year, which is when we were trying to coach the heck out of him.” Much has been made of former UVa offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and his ingenious play-calling, but sources with a knowledge of the situation said Musgrave and Hagans weren't always on the same wavelength. Hagans was more improvisational than Musgrave liked, and Musgrave was more structured than Hagans preferred. At 5-10 and 207 pounds, Hagans isn't likely to play quarterback in the NFL, which is a common reference used by Groh as a selling point for his program. But Groh thinks Hagans can become another Antwaan Randle El, the former Indiana quarterback who has had an impact for the Pittsburgh Steelers as a receiver. Even Indiana entertained thoughts of moving Randle El to wide receiver for his senior year. He caught four passes in the opening game of the 2001 season but ultimately returned to quarterback, where he was better than anybody else the Hoosiers had. Virginia may face a similar dilemma with Hagans, who has two more years of eligibility after this one. UVa has three prep All-American quarterbacks waiting in the wings — Martinez, true freshman Kevin McCabe and Chris Olsen, a transfer from Notre Dame — but Hagans has done more as a collegian, even as a quarterback, than any of the others. As a wideout, Hagans was getting most of his playing time as a slot receiver in three-wide sets. The Cavaliers will lose one of their starters, senior Ryan Sawyer, but Michael McGrew should return for a fifth year in 2004 after catching a total of 58 passes in the 2001 and 2002 seasons. McGrew was projected to be UVa's top wideout this year until he suffered a broken leg early in the preseason. Meanwhile, UVa took redshirts off freshman wide receivers Deyon Williams and Fontel Mines in the Western Michigan game. Williams' first reception went for a 35-yard touchdown on a post pattern, and he has a combination of size (6-3, 185) and speed that UVa hasn't recruited at that position since Germane Crowell. Hagans' ultimate destination will continue to make a delicious topic of speculation, but Groh still has eight or nine games this year to worry about. He was just happy he had Hagans available for Wake Forest.