While watching Virginia unravel in the third quarter Saturday at Duke, I found myself wondering what it would take to insert former starter Michael Rocco at quarterback.
If you remember, when the Cavaliers played Penn State in Week 2, head coach Mike London said he pulled Rocco in the third quarter so Rocco could watch the game for a while.
Phillip Sims was in for two series against Penn State, the second of which ended when he lost a fumble, and Rocco returned to lead the Cavaliers on a game-winning, 12-play, 86-yard touchdown drive.
While I wasn’t totally convinced that Rocco wasn’t benched against Penn State for performance reasons, the fact is that he performed better after clearing his head on the sidelines.
Sims wasn’t perfect in his starting debut, yielding two interceptions to add to the eight yielded by Rocco in the previous five games. But, I got the answer to my question when I watched the replay Wednesday night on Comcast.
The commentators said, in a pregame meeting with UVa offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, that Lazor’s plan was for Sims to go the distance.
I took it to mean that the Cavaliers wanted to get a look at Sims for the full 60 minutes, regardless of how he was doing. They didn’t want to play musical quarterbacks.
And, they really hadn’t with Rocco, although Sims had played in each of the first five games. In three of those games, the outcome had been decided before he went in the games.
After leading the Cavaliers to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns in what would be UVa’s third straight loss, 44-38 to Louisiana Tech, Sims earned the chance to start at Duke.
However, let’s not forget that Rocco was 13-of-16 for 265 yards with five minutes left in the first half against La. Tech. Possibly, he could have caught fire in a relief role at Wallace Wade Stadium.
That’s not suggesting Virginia should have changed quarterbacks at Duke. I was just wondering what it would take.
“I don’t remember the conversation with [the announcing crew],” related Lazor, who said of the Wednesday night playback. “Obviously, I don’t listen to the TV copy.
“I guess my point was, when you’re the starting quarterback, usually you play the game [till the outcome is decided] and you go forward. [But] there have been times since we’ve been here, that we decided, pregame, that we were going to put the back-ups in.”
Lazor pointed to a game two years ago at Boston College, when fifth-year senior Marc Verica was the UVa starter and then-freshman Rocco was inserted for the third series of the game in order to get him some experience.
“It happened last year with [freshman] David Watford,,” Lazor said, “but a good portion of the time with Michael last year, we did not do that. We kept him in the game. Usually with your starting quarterback, you leave him in the game.
:”I think that’s probably what I was alluding to, that I didn’t have a plan to put Michael in at the time. To me, Mike’s the back-up. He’s the No. 2 right now and he’s got to be ready. There may come a week, like we’ve had in the past, when we decide that he is going to play for sure. I’m not making that statement at this moment.”
Performance will matter.
“Always,” Lazor said. “Just like the offensive coordinator’s position could be performance-related. Right? They could tell me tomorrow that I’m not doing a good job and I’m finished. That all of us, all of the time.”
You could ask ousted Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Al Groh about that.
“Someone told me a long time ago, ‘We rent these seats; we don’t own them,’ “ Lazor said. “To me, that’s no news. That’s how we live our lives in football.
“I heard a quote from Ryan Clark of the Steelers. Ryan was with us with the Redskins when he was a younger player. In essence, he said, ‘If you need a couple of losses to buckle down and get going, then this isn’t the right league for you. You ought to be doing it anyway.’ “
Lazor and Sims both accepted ample blame for the Cavaliers’ 42-17 loss at Duke.
“I was very disappointed in the game; I took it very hard,” Lazor said. “I didn’t think I did a good enough job.”
Of the accountability displayed by Sims, Lazor said, “It’s an interesting situation when you’ve got a guy who’s new to the team. Here’s a guy in Phillip, who not a long time ago was an outsider. It’s an interesting dynamic to see him added to the group.
“He’s embraced the culture and really become a part of what we’re doing. The guys see him work, so, when he said something on gameday, it meant something. Every quarterback we’ve got has to be a leader. Some do it in the huddle; some do it in the locker room or the weight room or practice
“For Phil’s first start, I know he showed some real good leadership on the sideline and I know he’s going to keep growing in that role.”