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Virginia's offense sputters, while defense shines in spring game

By Zach Berman
Sunday, April 11, 2010; D03

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- There is no opponent in a spring football game, so Virginia Coach Mike London remains undefeated. And until that first loss arrives, the optimism that has defined London's first few months as the Cavaliers' coach will remain.

But as much as London has tried to change the culture around Virginia's program -- and he's altered everything from the defensive alignment to the uniform design -- he cannot immediately overhaul a roster that endured two consecutive losing seasons.

"In December, there were fragile egos, a dark cloud hanging over the guys, woe-is-me type of thing," London said. "And then change occurs. Sometimes when that happens, they get a new lease on life. You introduce them to new people in their life who say, 'You can do this.' "

Many of the issues that plagued the Cavaliers during the final two years of former Coach Al Groh's tenure were apparent in Saturday's spring game.

The defense appeared sharp, although it faced an offense that continues to struggle to move the ball -- the same problem Groh experienced before his dismissal.

Central to an offensive revival -- or at least a semblance of offensive efficiency -- is the search for a quarterback. The three quarterbacks on the field Saturday combined to complete only 17 of 37 passes. Senior Marc Verica, the front-runner for the starting job and the only player on the roster who has attempted a pass in a game, threw two interceptions.

Verica has been haunted by interceptions during the past two seasons. He said interceptions have not been an issue during previous practices, and that he has not thrown a single interception during team drills.

"Although it wasn't that great today," Verica said. "I'm not worried about it."

The two other quarterbacks -- redshirt freshman Ross Metheny and early-enrolled freshman Michael Strauss -- combined for 9 of 14 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns. They will join three incoming freshmen in the quarterback competition during preseason practice.

The good thing about an uninspiring offense in a spring game is that the opposing defense shares the same locker room. London raved about his defense on Saturday, which has shifted from a 3-4 alignment under Groh to a 4-3 alignment under London. It was led in part by Cam Johnson, a Gonzaga alum who has switched from linebacker to defensive end and returned an interception 51 yards.

Beyond anything that occurred on the field, the first spring game represented a milestone in London's tenure. His changes have been wide-ranging, and his imprint stretches beyond what occurred at Scott Stadium on Saturday.

London said he inherited a roster with several players on academic warnings, and he's hopeful two-thirds of those players will return to good standing by the end of the semester. His team hosted a bone marrow drive on Thursday -- London donated his bone marrow in 2003 to help save his daughter's life -- and London pointed to the players' participation as a sign of how he expects the football program to be in engaged in the community.

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