- The Washington Times - Friday, September 30, 2005

There’s something different about Virginia quarterback Marques Hagans this season.

Maybe he feels more in control in his second year as a starter. Or it could be that a change in personnel has allowed him to become a more aggressive passer. Perhaps, as coach Al Groh believes, Hagans simply is more confident after earning a degree in anthropology and being voted one of the Cavaliers’ captains last spring.

Whatever the reason, Hagans’ evolution as a quarterback has accelerated since the end of last season. Once a scrambler who wasn’t much of a passing threat, Hagans has developed into a multidimensional weapon for the 19th-ranked Cavaliers (3-0, 1-0 ACC), who visit Maryland (2-2, 1-1) tomorrow at Byrd Stadium.

“A lot of it is comfort level,” Groh said. “Overall — I’m not just talking about Marques Hagans the football player, but Marques Hagans the person — [he] has got a self-assurance or a calmness that’s different this year.”

It was apparent in Virginia’s opener when Hagans threw for a career-best 252 yards against Western Michigan. Two weeks later, when he threw three first-half interceptions against Syracuse, he still ran for 110 yards and engineered a drive to set up a game-winning field goal. Then last week, he tossed a career-high four touchdown passes in the Cavaliers’ rout of Duke.

He already has six touchdown passes after throwing for nine in 12 starts last season and is effectively spreading the ball to different receivers. Ten Cavaliers receivers have at least two catches, but the only one with more than eight is Deyon Williams (16).

“I think I’m becoming more comfortable in the offense, knowing my progressions as opposed to just going out there and trying to make something happen,” Hagans said. “The game is starting to slow down a little bit, but it also comes with not trying to force the ball and going through the progression instead of sticking on just one or two receivers.”

A circuitous development allowed Hagans to learn different facets of the game. A product of Hampton, Va. — where he was a high school teammate of Maryland receiver Derrick Fenner — Hagans spent a year at Fork Union Military Academy before serving as Virginia’s punt returner and No. 3 quarterback as a freshman. He split time at quarterback, wideout and punt returner the following season, then took over for former Cavaliers quarterback Matt Schaub as a junior.

Hagans’ experience mirrored that of Schaub, a current backup with the Atlanta Falcons who gradually picked up the offense in 2001 before enjoying two fine seasons.

“Once both of them were in the system, we’ve been able to expand what we’ve asked them to do,” Groh said. “We had to give the reps to the very core patterns, the foundations of our system. If you can’t do those, there’s no sense in trying to be any more creative or exotic.”

Hagans has a better grasp on the offense this season, and that’s helped a team that lost running back Alvin Pearman to the NFL. Injuries have limited tailback Wali Lundy to 16 rushes, though he is likely to play against Maryland, so Virginia has relied on freshman Cedric Peerman and junior Michael Johnson to carry the running game.

While both have been decent, neither is averaging more than 60 yards a game. Without the go-to power rusher the Cavaliers have enjoyed in the past, Hagans’ ability to find receivers has opened up both rushing and passing opportunities.

“I think we have a wider range of weapons than we did last year,” Hagans said. “Everybody was so focused on [former Cavaliers tight end] Heath Miller last year, but I think now our receivers are emerging [and] our tight ends are emerging. Then we still have the running backs coming out of the backfield catching the ball as well.”

Of course, Hagans still can move around and create opportunities as he always has done. Last season, opponents could use an extra defender to shadow Hagans and hamper his ability to run. This season, Hagans can exploit that matchup to find an open receiver.

That could create headaches tomorrow for Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, who said Hagans reminds him a bit of former Georgia Tech star Joe Hamilton.

“He’s a tremendous athlete with tremendous evadability and scrambling,” Friedgen said. “That’s where a lot of his big plays come from.”

Notes — Friedgen didn’t name a starting running back yesterday. Instead, he said senior Mario Merrills and sophomores Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore will continue to play based on which personnel group is on the field. … Friedgen said kicker Obi Egekeze, who has yet to play this season with a right quadriceps injury, won’t be available for kickoffs tomorrow.

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