CHARLOTTESVILLE, NOV. 20 -- Matt Blundin strode up to Virginia football practice the other day wearing dark jeans and cowboy boots. If he were given a ten-gallon hat and a six-shooter, he could have been mistaken for a 6-foot-7 version of Clint Eastwood.
After Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Shawn Moore suffered a dislocated thumb against Maryland Saturday, Blundin transformed from the man with no name to the man of the hour. Just three days ago, he had planned to join the basketball team next Wednesday and juggle his December between the sports as he has done the last two years.
But Moore's injury placed those plans on hold for at least a week, while Blundin focuses on his first start of the season Saturday at Virginia Tech. "Matt has enough on his mind right now without having to worry about basketball," Virginia basketball coach Jeff Jones said. "There needs to be a compromise and we'll have to sit down and talk about it."
Moore, hurt in the waning moments of Virginia's 35-30 loss here, will wear a cast for at least three weeks, although team physician Frank McCue lists him as probable for the Cavaliers' Sugar Bowl game against the Southeastern Conference champion New Year's Day. "I know I can throw the ball as well as Shawn and I can do some things as well as Shawn," said Blundin, a redshirt junior who has thrown only eight passes this season, completing seven for 83 yards. "He can run a little better -- sometimes a lot better. I'm not Shawn or anything, but I'm not log-footed."
Football coach George Welsh insists that the insertion of Blundin as the starter will not cause him to scrap any of the option-oriented plays designed around the versatile Moore, although he indicated that the Virginia Tech defensive schemes would have caused him to downplay the option even if Moore were healthy.
"He's practiced the same plays for a year now -- why not let him run it?" Welsh said. "We feel like it's better not to run the option anyway. They give you too many problems."
The loss of Moore became the latest problem for Virginia (8-2, 5-2 in the ACC), which has relinquished 14-point halftime leads in two of its last three games, losing twice and falling from No. 1 less than three weeks ago to No. 17 in this week's Associated Press poll. Sugar Bowl Executive Director Mickey Holmes still plans to honor last week's verbal agreement with Virginia. Official bowl bids can be extended on Saturday.
"If we go 8-3, we don't deserve that bowl bid," offensive tackle Paul Collins said. "When you think of the Sugar Bowl you don't think of 8-3 teams. If we're 9-2 with a chance to be 10-2, then we'd be more deserving."
Blundin, a 1986 Parade high school all-American quarterback, spurned football scholarships from Notre Dame and Penn State to play basketball at Virginia. He joined the football team in the spring following an injury-plagued freshman basketball season, and has split time between the sports since. In his only start at quarterback -- last season against Clemson when Moore had a shoulder injury -- he completed 14 of 34 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns as Virginia lost, 34-20. His only other taste of quality playing time has come as a sixth man and spot starter on the University Hall floor.
"People at home will say, 'Don't you wish you could be playing at Notre Dame or Penn State right now?' " Blundin said. "But I'm not and I'm real happy. There are no regrets about that at all. Virginia's a great school and I've had a great situation here. I've been able to play two major sports and both programs have done really well.
"It helps to have someone like Shawn in front of me. If there was someone in front of me who was struggling but was playing because he was a senior, that would be frustrating. But that's not the situation."
Blundin became something of a basketball cult figure in February when he wore a flat-top haircut in Virginia's 72-69 victory here over Duke, the Cavaliers' first win over the Blue Devils in seven years. Blundin scored eight points, prompting then-coach Terry Holland and his staff to make good on a pregame promise to follow Blundin to the barber shop in exchange for a victory.
Blundin, whose hair since has grown out, said he won't visit the barber this week, joking that he could never get Welsh to make any pregame commitments to get his hair cut -- and perhaps wary of the distractions any allusions to basketball could bring. "This is a situation that no one anticipated," Blundin said. "I guess this is what playing two sports is all about."