For highly touted Schaub, UVa., the season that wasn't

Injury in 1st week leaves QB wondering, `What if?'

November 11, 2003|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

Matt Schaub's Heisman campaign started with a tuxedo and a photo shoot and ended just 14 plays into the season.

It didn't officially end, of course. Schaub could still technically win the trophy. He is still considered one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and when Virginia goes up against Maryland on Thursday night on national television, plenty of people will be watching. But for all intents and purposes, his Heisman hopes were finished when he separated his shoulder in Virginia's season opener against Duke.

Suddenly, the carefully orchestrated Heisman campaign put together by Virginia's athletic department - which included videos, commercials, a Web site (schaub4heisman.com) and a picture of Schaub in a tux on the cover of the team media guide - was all for naught.

The reigning Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, Schaub might have made things interesting if he had stayed healthy. After missing three games with the injury, Schaub returned to go on a six-game tear, completing 69 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,925 yards.

Against N.C. State on Nov. 1, Schaub had perhaps the best game of his career, completing 41 of 55 passes for 394 yards and four touchdowns. Afterward, Virginia coach Al Groh suggested Schaub and Wolfpack quarterback Philip Rivers (who threw for 410 yards and four touchdowns) were "probably too good for college football." But Virginia lost, 51-37, dropping the Cavaliers' record to 5-4. It was another disappointing day in a season that began full of promise.

"We've had some disappointing close losses [this season]," Schaub said. "Maybe if a few things go differently, if we make a couple of plays here or there, the outcome might have been different. It's encouraging to know that you're right there. Hopefully, it means you can clean things up and win out the rest of the year."

A year ago, Maryland traveled to Virginia, knowing a win might give the Terps a piece of the ACC championship. Schaub, however, sent Maryland home empty-handed, completing 24 of 27 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns in the Cavaliers' 48-13 win.

Schaub said he thinks Maryland will have plenty of motivation to avoid a similar outcome.

"I think the revenge factor [will be there] and rightly so," Schaub said. "They'll be energized and ready to play. I know they've been talking about it. We'll have to withstand that early surge and stay in the game, because I know they're going to bring a lot of enthusiasm."

There's plenty of respect for Schaub in College Park. Maryland's blitz-happy defense will face one of its biggest challenges of the year trying to slow Schaub, who has a quick release and isn't easily rattled with a defender in his face.

"He's the kind of quarterback that has a pro mentality," said Terps safety Dennard Wilson. "He sees the whole field, and he's extremely accurate. He's always in control of that offense."

This season, that has meant reading blitzes and hitting running backs out of the backfield. Part of the reason Schaub is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes is he has been smart about getting the ball to Alvin Pearman (45 catches) and Wali Lundy (28 catches).

Take away those options, however, and Schaub can still burn you.

"He can throw the ball down the field," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen. "He'll move around [in the pocket] and take some shots. It's going to be a challenge for us."

NOTE: Maryland tailback Bruce Perry didn't practice yesterday and won't play in Thursday's game, Friedgen said. Perry has been unable to practice since spraining his ankle Nov. 1 against North Carolina.

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