Quarterback Todd Kirtley, the player most responsible for the turn-about in Virginia's football fortunes this season, has not practiced this week and is questionable for today's regular-season finale against Maryland.
His loss would be a big setback for Virginia in the 1:30 p.m. game at Byrd Stadium between two 6-4 teams, with the winner clinging to an outside chance of receiving an invitation to the Hall of Fame Bowl.
"He just told me he thinks he'll be able to play," Virginia Coach Dick Bestwick said from the lobby of the team's Rockville motel shortly after arriving here. "But, in my mind, he's certainly questionable. We'll see how he warms up. He has to function so he can do everything. If he can't, then we'll go with (Gordie) Whitehead."
Kirtley was injured in the first half of last Saturday's 13-7 loss to North Carolina when he speared on a tackle and suffered a severe bruise near a kidney. In pain, he came back and almost pulled out the game after the Cavs' second- and third-string quarterbacks were ineffective.
Kirtley, a sophomore, starred at Robinson High School in Fairfax County and this would be his first college game in the Washington area.
Virginia, sure of its second winning football season in 27 years, has spent $1,000 to outfit Kirtley with an air-cushion vest and a nerve stimulator, which is a device used to block pain.
Both the Redskins and Bullets have used a similar device.
Third-string quarterback Ted Manly apparently also is out today, with a knee injury. That leaves three freshmen -- Whitehead, who did not distinguish himself last week and was replaced by Manly, Rick Riccardi and Bob Leone.
Last week, Virginia's three quarterbacks completed only four of 24 passes against UNC, with four interceptions. Bestwick said receivers were open on almost every pass.
Whitehead is four for 16 this season for 50 yards and one touchdown. He has also thrown three interceptions and committed a fumble last week that cost Virginia a scoring opportunity.
The Cavaliers have managed only seven points in three games against Maryland under Bestwick. That is why Kirtley's availability is so vital.
He has completed 87 of 175 passes for 1,153 yards and six touchdowns. His ability to run the veer offense and complement top runners Tommy Vigorito and Greg Taylor with his passing is cited by Marland Coach Jerry Claiborne as the one thing Virginia lacked last season.
"The key is whether or not we can generate any offense," said Bestwick. "I think we can play reasonably good defense against them, even though we have to stop Wysocki and Tice."
Charles Wysocki, the Terrapin tailback, is healthy again and rushed for 222 yards last week against Louisville. Mike Tice, the quarterback, has regained his confidence and his passing touch since regaining the starting job. rHe was a 38 percent passer when he was benched; in his last three games, he has completed 30 of 45 passes for 329 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions.
Maryland is as healthy as it has been in a long time, with its interior offensive line intact again with the return this week of center Kyle Lorton and guard Paul Glamp. Of the Terp's 12 seniors playing their final game today, seven are interior offensive linemen.
Today's winner apparently will be the fourth choice for a Hall of Fame Bowl appearance against South Carolina Dec. 29. This is the pecking order, according to resources: 1, Kentucky, if it beats Tennessee today; 2, Missouri, if it beats Kansas today and Kentucky loses; 3, Southern Methodist, if it beats Arkansas tonight and the other two lose; 4, the Maryland-Virginia winner, if the top three choices lose.