Cavaliers look to contain Ball, break historical trend
 
 
By Barney Breen-portnoy Cavalier Daily

Charlottesville, VA (U-WIRE) -- Two quarterbacks whose seasons are on opposite trajectories will face off tomorrow when No. 18 Virginia (7-2, 4-2 ACC) travels to Atlanta to face the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (6-3, 4-3). Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball has been stellar of late, leading the Ramblin' Wreck to two consecutive victories over N.C. State and Connecticut with two TD passes in both games while Virginia quarterback Marques Hagans has lacked consistency over the past four games.

Against UConn, Ball picked apart the Huskies' secondary, racking up 288 passing yards. However, Ball's main asset is his mobility. Ball has scrambled for 295 yards, making him the second leading rusher among ACC quarterbacks behind Virginia Tech's Bryan Randall. Virginia coach Al Groh understands the versatile offensive threat posed by Ball.
 

 

"Reggie's another one of those multi-dimensional quarterbacks," Groh said. "He's mobile, not just within the pocket, but he can also get up the field with the ball. He's really got a strong arm, and can put a lot of distance on the ball, which fits this receiver they have very well."

The Yellow Jacket receiver that Groh is referring to is freshman phenom Calvin Johnson. In his rookie campaign, Johnson has accumulated 624 receiving yards, second among receivers in the ACC. Six of Johnson's 36 receptions have been for touchdowns.

For Hagans, the 2004 season has been a tale of two halves. During the first five games, Hagans accumulated prodigious offensive statistics that placed him among the nation's elite quarterbacks. However, since the Florida State game on Oct. 18, his production has dropped off noticeably. Virginia's offense has lacked the consistency that it had in the first half of the season. Against Florida State the offense produced only a single field goal, and against Miami Hagans threw two interceptions and connected with receivers on only 10 of his 25 passes.

Groh said that the adversity Hagans has faced is common in the development of many quarterbacks.

"It is part of the process of playing this position," Groh said. "It's pretty smooth sailing to be the quarterback when you just went 25 for 30, for three or four touchdowns. The challenge is after you've gone 13 for 31 with three interceptions. [The critics] are trying to tell the quarterback what he should've done, [but] he knows better than anybody else."

To defeat Georgia Tech, the Cavaliers will have to turn around several historical trends. The home team has not lost in the Virginia-Georgia Tech series since 1994 when Virginia won in Atlanta 24-7. Also, since Groh arrived for the 2001 season, Virginia has not won a conference road game after Nov. 1.

These final two games of the season against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech are critical to Virginia's bowl hopes. The Cavaliers still have hopes of capturing a share of the ACC title.Virginia's bowl destination could be anywhere from the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, to the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, or anywhere in between depending on the outcome of these final two games and the fortunes of other conference foes.

Virginia wide receiver Michael McGrew said he still has confidence that the Cavaliers can accomplish a lot this season.

"We really want to do something big this year, and the ACC championship is still in our grasp," he said. "We can still get a piece of it, and we want it that bad, so we're going to do whatever we can to get it."

(C) 2004 Cavalier Daily via U-WIRE


 
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Virginia quarterback Marques Hagans still leads the ACC in completion percentage, but has not been able to equal the success of the first five games of the season. Against Miami last week, Hagans completed only 10 of 25 passes and threw two interceptions.