NEW ORLEANS, DEC. 30 -- Virginia quarterback Shawn Moore upgraded his injured right thumb to 90 percent following the Cavaliers' workout at the Superdome today, and Coach George Welsh named him the starter for the team's Sugar Bowl game Tuesday night against Tennessee.

"We feel like he has progressed enough and his hand is not a real problem physically," Welsh said. "I think he is ready and I think he can help us win."

"Today was really the first practice I went through without feeling any pain at all," said Moore, who finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting after leading the nation in passing efficiency.

"The biggest problem I had been having was taking the snap because there was a shock to the thumb every time the ball would pop up into my hand. But since going through practice today without any pain, I don't think there will be any Tuesday night. I'll be ready to play," he said.

Moore dislocated the thumb late in the fourth quarter of Virginia's 35-30 loss to Maryland six weeks ago when his hand was lodged in Virginia's artificial turf surface during a tackle by linebacker Louis Johnson. He will not throw in Monday's practice and will wear a protective pad during the game.

"I'm not going to be reluctant to slide or pitch the ball when I should," Moore said. "I'll be playing like I was in September and October."

Team physician Frank McCue, who operated on Moore immediately following the Maryland game, said the rehabilitation would take between four and six weeks. But Moore remained in pain when the cast was removed two weeks ago, and did not participate in any workouts in Charlottesville leading up to the team's four-day Christmas break.

The tenderness persisted during Virginia's first practice here on Wednesday, and backup Matt Blundin -- who started in Virginia's season finale against Virginia Tech Nov. 24 -- practiced with the first unit.

Moore said his thumb was at 60 percent capacity on Wednesday, and Welsh said it would have to improve to 80 or 85 percent for Moore to start.

Welsh postponed the final decision from Saturday -- a choice Moore said Welsh left up to him.

After Moore suffered a shoulder injury against William and Mary last season, Welsh delayed his decision to start Blundin against Clemson until shortly before game time.

"It's been frustrating more than anything because I've never suffered a major injury or have had to have surgery," Moore said.

"The strength in the thumb and wrist isn't all there yet, and that's going to be something I'll have to deal with after this is all said and done, but I feel capable and ready to play."

Moore's return comes as a boost to a passing attack depleted by the loss of wide receiver Derek Dooley to a hamstring injury Wednesday and the results of a CAT scan last week that revealed that tight end Bruce McGonnigal, who bruised his spleen in a freak fall in October, had not recovered sufficiently to play against Tennessee.

"We've kind of rallied around Shawn these last couple days," offensive tackle Ray Roberts said. "Just by being able to practice, he's boosted our morale. We have confidence in Matt, but you can't lose someone like Shawn and not feel it."