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Spinner, Schaub strut their stuff

Virginia coach George Welsh has received his fair share of criticism this season, but the man deserves more credit than he gets. Welsh has artfully avoided the choice of his backup quarterback through blowouts and injury, and the Cavaliers head into the midseason bye week with still no indication of who exactly is backing up Dan Ellis.

It looked like Welsh might have to tip his hand just before halftime of Saturday's 31-23 victory over Maryland. Maryland's Shawn Forte stepped in front of an Ellis pass and found himself with nothing but daylight between him and paydirt. Ellis, the only man with a chance to tackle Forte, gave chase, but he hadn't run 20 yards before going down clutching his leg. The diagnosis: a strained hamstring. Ellis left the game and went into the locker room, emerging later with crutches.

Two freshmen quarterbacks had seen playing time already this season. Matt Schaub had taken the field first in garbage time against Richmond. Bryson Spinner had seen more meaningful playing time, running the offense in goal-line situations.

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    "I knew whoever they put in there was going to get the job done," wide receiver Billy McMullen said. "They're not as relaxed as Ellis is out there, but they know the plays, they can step in there and do what they have to do."

    Spinner got first crack at the offense but didn't get to show off his game until after halftime. His first drive consisted of three clock-burning handoffs.

    Schaub got his chance in the fourth quarter, and appeared more poised in the pocket while receiving more favorable play calls.

    "Spinner was getting most of the work and had been in the game," Welsh said. "So we thought we'd go with him. At a certain point in time, I just felt like we'd put Schaub in the game because he is a little better passer."

    The line on the two freshmen went as follows: Spinner, 0-for-3 passing, one interception, three carries for 10 yards. Schaub, 2-for-2 passing, 14 yards, one carry for four yards.

    Spinner's interception came on a deep route on a pass intended for Demetrius Dotson. Dotson slowed his route, Spinner overthrew him while rolling out, and Maryland's Tony Okanlawon made the interception.

    "I'm disappointed with the interception," Spinner said. "I made a bad decision on that play. I should have dumped it off."

    Both quarterbacks showed their strengths during their audition. Spinner had success running the ball and showcased a strong arm, and Schaub impressed with his reads and poise in the pocket.

    Most importantly, the rookies stayed within the game plan and kept the Cavaliers in position to win the game.

    "I was real proud of the way Matt and Bryson both played," Ellis said. "Coach didn't really ask them to do a whole lot, but what they did they did pretty well."

    Both quarterbacks were victims of nerves in their first meaningful action. However, the experience against the Terrapins will help both in the future, should Ellis go down again.

    "I think it definitely helps to get some snaps," Schaub said. "Down the road, if anything happens I'll be more relaxed going into a game."

    Welsh agreed the exposure to an ACC opponent with the game in doubt will help his young quarterbacks mature.

    "I think they were a little nervous," Welsh said. "Now they both have a little game experience. If Ellis can't go two weeks from now, at least both of them have been in."

    Ellis said he plans to play at Florida State two weeks from now, but team doctor Frank McCue said the hamstring pull was "pretty bad."

    That said, Welsh still hasn't made a decision on which one - Schaub or Spinner - will be the backup. With the way things are going, he may never make one.


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