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Marc Verica benched, Virginia stumbles in 44-10 loss to North Carolina

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 17, 2010; 12:19 AM

CHARLOTTESVILLE - The boos that had serenaded Virginia quarterback Marc Verica off the field Saturday night at Scott Stadium had died down long before he could reflect on what might have been the final start of his collegiate career.

But the questions about his decision-making - and more prominently, his job status - were as audible as ever in the immediate aftermath of the Cavaliers' 44-10 homecoming loss to North Carolina. Verica, a fifth-year senior, threw three interceptions and was pulled from the game just less than six minutes into the third quarter.

Verica said he was accustomed to dealing with the scrutiny and apparent frustration of a fan base that witnessed the Cavaliers (2-4, 0-3 ACC) fall to the Tar Heels (4-2, 2-1) at home for the first time since 1981. But the nervous chuckle that accompanied his response to a question about whether the Virginia starting quarterback job is now up for grabs betrayed the angst he felt toward what may lie ahead.

"I mean, getting pulled, you know, in the third quarter of a game where you've just thrown three interceptions, um, I wouldn't say that that's exactly a secure, stable job," Verica said. "You know, I'm prepared to deal with what I'm asked to do. I understand that Coach [Mike] London has a decision to make now, and you know, I'm prepared to go either way with it. I'll support him 100 percent with whatever he decides to do.

"If I remain the starter, then I'm going to keep preparing hard and work even harder. And if I'm not, then I'm going to be the best, uh, the best supporter on the sideline that I can be."

London declined to commit to Verica - who has thrown as many interceptions (six) as he has touchdowns this season - as the team's starting quarterback going forward without having had a chance to review film from Saturday night's contest.

"Marc's the quarterback right now," London said. "But every player is and will be evaluated based on their performance. That's the way it's supposed to be."

Verica's first interception came late in the first quarter as he was attempting to avoid a pass rush from North Carolina defensive tackle Quinton Coples. Verica lofted the ball in the direction of tailback Keith Payne, but the ball was picked off near midfield.

On the Cavaliers' next offensive series, Virginia drove 71 yards in 16 plays. On the 17th play of the drive, Verica attempted a pass to junior wideout Kris Burd that was intercepted and returned 70 yards to the Virginia 25 yard line.

"We were making bad decisions and bad plays," said Verica, who completed 15 of 25 passes for 139 yards. "That's what we did, and we lost because of it."

Following Verica's third interception - which was returned 22 yards for a touchdown by Kevin Reddick with just more than nine minutes remaining in the third quarter - redshirt freshman Ross Metheny and freshman Michael Rocco began throwing passes to each other behind Virginia's bench.

Metheny got the call, though he threw a goal-line interception on his first drive. Mostly, Metheny handed the ball off to Payne, who finished with 107 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Rocco entered the game to start the fourth quarter and threw an end zone interception, as well.

"When three different quarterbacks throw five interceptions, then you've certainly got to put that burden on my shoulders," offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. "I didn't do a good enough job getting them ready."

It didn't help that the Virginia defense allowed 479 yards, 339 of which were gained through the air. North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates completed an 81-yard touchdown pass to Dwight Jones on the game's first play from scrimmage.

Jones finished with seven receptions for 198 yards and two touchdowns.

In the past two games, it had been porous run defense that had doomed Virginia's defense.

"Every week it seems to be just one different phase, you know, that we have to keep working on," Cavaliers defensive coordinator Jim Reid said. "And tonight, they got us on play-action pass and they got us on the deep ball."

London opened his postgame news conference by apologizing to Virginia's fans and pledging that his team would improve. Whether attempts at taking those strides will be made in the coming weeks with a new quarterback remains to be seen.

"We got beat on the field in a manner that I thought that we wouldn't," London said. "And North Carolina brought it to us."

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