Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. $12 for 12 weeks.

Teel Time: Should U.Va. start Rocco or Sims against Louisiana Tech?

Michael Rocco has started 17 consecutive games at quarterback for Virginia, the Cavaliers’ longest streak at the position since Jameel Sewell's 22-game reign in 2004 and ’05. The issue is whether Rocco should see 18.

Virginia has lost two straight games, Rocco is struggling, and backup Phillip Sims is enticing. So what should coach Mike London and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor do Saturday when the Cavaliers (2-2) host defending Western Athletic Conference champion Louisiana Tech (3-0)?

From the outside, the timing seems right for a change. A non-conference home game against a suspect defense — the Bulldogs are allowing 36.7 points per game, 111th nationally — is about as comfortable a starting debut as a coach could offer a quarterback.

And there will be no other similar opportunities. Following Louisiana Tech, Virginia closes with seven ACC games, none layups given the apparent progress at Duke and Maryland.

Moreover, Rocco ranks last among the conference’s starting quarterbacks, a group that includes Maryland true freshman Perry Hills, in pass efficiency and is the only one with more interceptions (five) than touchdown passes (four).

Not coincidentally, the Cavaliers are reeling from back-to-back hammerings, 56-20 at Georgia Tech and 27-7 at Texas Christian.

Why, if not for Penn State’s four missed field goals — Virginia escaped that afternoon 17-16 — the Cavaliers would be 1-3 and in full-blown crisis.

Miscues by receivers and linemen have made Rocco’s life more difficult, but as he well knows, when the offense goes south — Virginia ranks 98th nationally and 11th among 12 ACC teams in scoring at 21.8 points per game — the quarterback shoulders the blame.

None of which means I’m pound-the-pulpit convinced Rocco should sit Saturday. Two reasons:

* For all his high school credentials and Alabama pedigree, Sims’ limited relief appearances have been less than inspiring.

* London, Lazor and the players are the best judges of whether Sims’ practice performance and playbook knowledge merit him starting.

True to coaching protocol, London revealed little at his Monday news conference.

“Nothing has changed as far as our approach going into this game,” he said when asked who would start. “Practice, the way we practice, how we handle the game plans, that will all be evaluated. So not only the quarterback position, but there's other positions that have to do well, play well and eliminate some of the mistakes and errors. So we are looking forward to this game, this opportunity, and we'll see.”

We’ll see. That’s how my dad often ducked me on matters of similarly great import, such as: Can I have the car Friday night? Do I really have to eat ALL the peas on my plate?

But this is what happens when you not only accept a renowned transfer from the defending national champion, but also help him gain an NCAA waiver for immediate eligibility. Not to suggest that London should have said “no thanks” to Sims’ inquiries.

Rocco’s above-average performance in helping the Cavaliers reach last season’s Chick-fil-A Bowl notwithstanding, Sims’ resume virtually demanded attention. He set a Virginia high school record for career passing yards and led Oscar Smith to a 2008 state championship.   

London and Lazor chose wisely in sticking with the incumbent to start the season. Rocco earned that. But only borderline perfection on an imperfect team was going to prevent the inevitable questions about Sims, who certainly didn’t leave Alabama, where he was AJ McCarron’s understudy, to assume the No. 2 role at Virginia.

The questions started when London benched Rocco for two second-half series against Penn State. When the Cavaliers went three-and-out and Sims lost a fumble, Rocco returned.

As Virginia learned in defeat last year against North Carolina State with Rocco and David Watford, shuffling quarterbacks during a game is risky if not untenable. So is routinely swapping starters.

If London and Lazor turn to Sims, they’d best stick by him.

I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

Here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns.

************************************************

An update from Wednesday's ACC coaches teleconference:

"Michael will have the opportunity to play and start this game," London said, "and hopefully there's an opportunity to get Phillip in the game. But I don't want players looking over their shoulder worrying about whether this guy's coming in. ... Both players right now are having a good week of practice."

 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
Comments
Loading