After tip-toeing Monday afternoon around the topic of which quarterback — Michael Rocco or Phillip Sims — would start for him this weekend at Duke, Virginia coach Mike London indicated Monday night on his weekly radio show Sims will be the starter if he's healthy.
U.Va. delayed release of its weekly depth chart from its normal time of Monday afternoon to Monday evening so the coaching staff could evaluate an injury report.
When the depth chart was released, it listed Rocco or Sims as the first-team quarterback, but London revealed on the radio show Sims will get a shot at his first college start if a lower leg injury he suffered late in this past Saturday's 44-38 loss to Louisiana Tech doesn't hamper him.
"We still want to make sure that (Sims is) able to function and move around as well as he needs to," London said on the show. "We practice (Tuesday) morning. … It's listed (on the depth chart) as 'or' because, if he's 100 percent and ready to go, then he will get the snaps with the first team unit. If he's not because he can't perform because of the lower leg injury, then obviously Mike would be in that position to run the helm there."
Sims, a sophomore who graduated from Oscar Smith High in Chesapeake, has played in all five of U.Va.'s games this season, but he has yet to enter any game in the first half. He played against several backup defensive players in the Richmond and Georgia Tech games.
"It was never a competition between me and anybody else," said Sims last Wednesday regarding his approach to trying to earn the starting job. "It was me competing against myself as far as how much I could learn, when I could learn it and just be able to walk out on a football field and not look like a clown. … I think I'm well on my way to being able to do that."
Against Louisiana Tech, he played three drives beginning midway through the third quarter, leading U.Va. (2-3 overall, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) to two touchdowns and 211 yards on those drives. He completed 10 of 17 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns.
For the season, he's completed 28 of 46 passes (60.9 percent) for 340 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. He's also lost two fumbles.
Rocco, who has started 18 consecutive games for U.Va., has struggled to keep his passes in the proper hands. He completed 88 of 146 passes (60.3 percent) for 1,116 yards and six touchdowns, but he's also thrown an ACC-worst eight interceptions.
No other ACC starting quarterback this season has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. In the Louisiana Tech game, he completed 14 of 23 passes for 278 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Rocco's interceptions are the primary reason U.Va. is surpassed only by Arkansas in terms of turnover margin in the national statistics. U.Va., which is 27th in the nation in passing offense (298.4 yards per game), is averaging minus-two per game in the turnover margin category.
"Michael's been fantastic throughout this process," London said. "He understands that you have to be able to perform, and perform at a high level. It's just that Phillip has performed every time he's gone in, and has performed well. So, this opportunity presents and if the leg is OK — if he goes in and performs well, then he performs well. If not, then back to the same situation. At least it's been vetted, I think, the proper way in terms of how to do that."
Sims transferred in May to U.Va. from Alabama, where he was unable to beat out A.J. McCarron for the starting job. Sims completed 18 of 28 passes for 163 yards and two interceptions last season as a redshirt freshman backup at Alabama.
Sims, who was considered by most recruiting analysts to be among the nation's top three quarterbacks coming out of high school in 2010, was able to get immediate eligibility at U.Va. through a hardship waiver related to a family medical situation. He wanted to transfer to be closer to his father while his father prepped for June heart surgery in Charlottesville.
"Phillip is a great leader, a great vocal leader," running back Kevin Parks said. "You can just tell through his play that he's a leader.
"When he came in (against Louisiana Tech), it was like he had been in there before. He had great poise calling the plays in the huddle. A big thing was calling the right play. Like he told me, whenever his name is called, he's going to be ready. No matter how deep the game is, or late in the game, he's going to be ready."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun