- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Jameel Sewell has noticed one significant change since he took over as Virginia’s starting quarterback last month.

Sure, he’s excited about playing after redshirting last year and starting this season as a third-stringer. And no doubt his maturation process has accelerated considerably because he is taking snaps rather than wearing a headset on Saturdays.

The biggest difference, though, is evident every day as he grapples with a situation virtually no one — himself probably included — would have predicted when the Cavaliers assembled for camp in August.

“I have to pay a lot more attention and take it a lot more serious than in the past,” Sewell said. “It’s been much more attention in meetings and on the field, watching defensive backs and the stuff they do in coverage and reads.”

It’s an education-on-the-fly for Sewell, whose Cavaliers (2-4, 1-1 ACC) welcome Maryland (3-2, 0-1) to Scott Stadium on Saturday. And as anyone would expect for a raw prospect, it has been tumultuous.

There have been ups — like a blowout victory over Duke two weeks ago — but not nearly as many as the athletic Sewell would have liked. He struggled in the first half of Saturday’s 31-21 loss at East Carolina — even describing his play as “kind of poor” — before throwing for 84 yards and a touchdown in the final two quarters.

“If I do that from the opening kickoff, I think we could have won that game,” said Sewell, who has thrown for only 394 yards and completed 54.8 percent of his passes. “At certain times if I didn’t get confused on third downs and definitely if I threw the ball like I did in the second half, we could have had a ‘W’ instead of an ‘L.’”

Nevertheless, he has shown progress after Virginia coach Al Groh engaged in a quarterback carousel early in the season. Fifth-year senior Christian Olsen started the first two games, and junior Kevin McCabe played in the first half in a loss to Western Michigan before Groh turned back to Olsen.

Sewell was inserted in the second half of the Western Michigan game and appears unlikely to relinquish the job even though the Cavaliers rank in the bottom quarter of 119 Division I-A teams in passing offense (97th), scoring offense (98th), rushing offense (113th) and total offense (115th).

“Obviously, he was literally starting at ground zero seven halves of football ago,” Groh said. “He’d never played before. He was really starting from scratch, and in some ways, it’s not like he saw it coming. From that standpoint, there certainly has been progress. It’s relative to where he started and relative to where he has to get.”

Sewell has plenty of inexperienced company. Virginia starts only three seniors, and only seven of the players atop the depth chart started more than three games a year ago. And while Groh is reluctant to say the Cavaliers are playing for next year, Sewell’s presence under center probably will have a greater payoff in the future than the rest of this season.

“We’ve made a commitment to this particular situation,” Groh said. “Over the long term he has a very high upside. You can’t be a surprise and change coach. You can’t always be going to the bullpen.”

Sewell will become the first Virginia freshman to make four straight starts since Bryan Shumock started the first five games of 1977. That was a different time for the Cavaliers, an era when bowl berths were little more than a dream and winning seasons a cause for celebration.

The last two decades — which have featured 15 bowl berths — have changed those attitudes. Losses to Western Michigan and East Carolina were a shock to a program that has not lost twice in a season to schools outside the current BCS structure since 1986.

“When you’re accustomed to winning, it’s a tough feeling. … I’m motivated to continue to play hard. It’ll come together for us. We’re confident of that,” junior defensive end Chris Long said.

Notes — Saturday’s game will be available to all Maryland students, faculty and staff with a campus IP address, the school announced. The game will also be available on ESPN360, a high-speed broadband service.

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