-- Forty minutes after perhaps the most frustrating performance of his college career, Virginia quarterback Marques Hagans considered a pair of silver linings: Despite his erratic play, the Cavaliers had beaten Duke by three touchdowns, and he had two weeks to rest his injured hip before they played again.
"Oh, I'm definitely glad to have an off week," he said with a smile.
It could scarcely have come at a better time for the 13th-ranked Cavaliers (6-1, 3-1 ACC). Already eligible for a bowl bid, they are in position to challenge Florida State and Miami for the conference championship, but their success against a tough November schedule could depend heavily on whether Hagans can return to health and regain the form he showed in the first five games.
Last weekend at Duke, the redshirt junior struggled with his accuracy on throws longer than 10 yards, but Virginia was able to get away with it, pulling away for a 37-16 win by mauling the Blue Devils for 348 rushing yards. That kind of one-dimensional attack might not work as well against upcoming opponents Maryland, Miami, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.
The Cavaliers hope it won't come to that. They are confident Hagans will find a way to get back on track.
"We know he's going to be ready in November," said right guard Elton Brown, who himself played through the pain of a recent knee injury against Duke.
Hagans took a knee to the hip -- he's not saying which one -- in the third quarter of Virginia's 36-3 loss at Florida State on Oct. 23 and didn't practice much the following week. Initially optimistic about his quarterback's progress, Coach Al Groh grew more concerned as the Duke game drew closer.
"He had a significant, significant injury," Groh said.
The Cavaliers had hoped Hagans would be helped by 48 hours off between Thursday's practice and Saturday's game, but in pregame warm-ups it was clear he wasn't himself. "I just knew in my mind," he said, "that I wanted to play."
After three uncharacteristically wild throws on the game's first possession, Virginia changed horses in midstream, altering its offensive game plan to focus almost exclusively on running the ball, with the occasional short pass mixed in. Groh discussed with his assistant coaches the possibility of switching to sophomore backup Christian Olsen, but decided as long as the running game could keep the Cavaliers out of too many third-and-long situations, they could afford to stick with Hagans.
"He's the quarterback of the team. He's the leader of the team and they have a lot of confidence in him," Groh said. "We were going to have to play a certain way, regardless of who the quarterback was, and we just felt that he's our guy. They've got trust and confidence in him. . . . We stayed with him."
Hagans's final numbers -- 11 of 20 passes for 163 yards and one touchdown -- weren't bad, considering the circumstances, though much of the yardage came on runs after the catch. He conceded his performance wasn't up to par, though he insisted the injury "didn't really bother me."
"I don't think I was myself," he said, "but I don't make excuses. This was an off game."
Groh, normally a proponent of a no-excuses policy regarding injuries, seemed to make an exception in this case, conceding Hagans "was significantly hindered by his injury. . . . Those early balls were balls he could probably throw in March.
"That's just the way it is," Groh added. "Part of having a good team is being able to respond to that circumstance and play well when your team's banged up. Nobody's going to be in A-number-one, peak health when it comes to December the first."
The bottom line, Brown said, is Hagans did enough at Duke to help his team win the game.
"I mean, he made the passes when he had to make them, and we ran the ball when we had to," Brown said. "In November that's what it's about: running the ball. If you can run the ball and get your passes here and there, then you're okay."
Cavaliers Notes: With starting fullback Jason Snelling (ankle) sidelined, Virginia gave freshman tight end Tom Santi some fullback duties as well and inserted him into the starting lineup. He responded at Duke with great blocking and two catches for 62 yards, including a critical 46-yard catch late in the game. Last year's fullback, senior Kase Luzar, had a similar hybrid role, wearing the No. 86 jersey Santi now owns. "You know, I hadn't thought of that," Groh said, "but maybe there's a little magic left in that old top hat." . . .
Cornerback Chris Gorham, fullback Kevin Bradley and wide receiver Bud Davis (Eleanor Roosevelt) debuted Saturday, bringing to eight the number of true freshmen Virginia has used this season.