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Ellis's return ends quarterback controversy, keeps alive post-season dreams

First Dan Ellis was knocked out of the Florida State game, both literally and figuratively. Then he watched backup David Rivers lead Virginia to its biggest win of the season against Georgia Tech, creating a full-scale quarterback controversy. So, in his first game back under center, how would Ellis respond after such a tumultuous two-week period?

By throwing for 363 yards and a school record six touchdowns, of course.

"I really honestly didn't think we were gonna throw the ball a whole lot," Ellis said. "I thought we were gonna try and give Thomas the ball a ton and maybe throw the ball here and there. When we did throw the ball we just made big plays."

The big plays came early and often through the air for Virginia. Ellis completed 16 of his 19 throws on the day, and averaged 22.6 yards per completion. Not too shabby for someone who almost lost his job after last week's dramatic come-from-behind triumph over the Yellow Jackets.

"I didn't want to go against my rule ... that the starter gets his job back," Cav Coach George Welsh said. "I seriously considered going against it because of Rivers' performance" against Georgia Tech.

But Ellis came out and immediately got a hot hand, completing all six passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter. Ellis stayed perfect until the close of the Cavs' first drive of the second quarter, when he threw his first incompletion on a pass intended for Kevin Coffey.

Ellis's early success made it tough for Welsh to justify pulling the Exton, Pa., native for Rivers, no matter how much he wanted to.

"I wanted to [put Rivers in], but things were going so well," Welsh said. "Not that he didn't deserve to play, and I feel for him, but when things are going pretty well, you don't want to switch quarterbacks. If we were able to shut them down on defense, at least by the third quarter, then I would've changed then."

Considering that Buffalo came into the game with the worst rushing defense in Division I-A, many expected Thomas Jones to dominate from the opening kick. But the Bulls followed the same strategy of previous Cavalier foes, stacking the box to contain Jones. This time, however, the passing attack showed enough consistency to help open up the running game.

"They had their safeties down in the box and we couldn't block them," Ellis said. "We couldn't get our receivers in there to get on them so that's why Thomas was getting stopped for three or four yards, so we had to open it up and throw the ball down the field and make them hurt for bringing those guys down."

Buffalo's defense is a far cry from that of Florida State or Virginia Tech, or even that of any ACC team. But the success of the passing game and Virginia's 615 yards of total offense should give the Cavs a tremendous lift in confidence going into the regular season finale at Maryland, Saturday.

Although Virginia has rebounded nicely from the shocking loss to Duke, maintaining the program's seven-win streak remains a large goal. And this team doesn't want to be the one that blows it.

The streak "is very important because if you lose, you'll be the team that breaks the legacy," center John St. Clair said. "We don't want that to happen. We want to keep the legacy going; that many years with seven wins, it's very impressive."

And if the passing game runs as smoothly against the Terps as it did against Buffalo, thereby opening up the running lanes for Jones, another seven-win season will be virtually guaranteed.

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