There’s one word I’ve been waiting to hear in connection with Virginia’s quarterback change.
After losing five of its last six games against FBS competition, what this UVa program needs more than anything is a spark.
I can’t say that junior Michael Rocco deserved to lose his job, but I think he has been treated fairly. Some people were calling for Phillip Sims, a celebrated transfer from Alabama, to start in the opening game.
Sims played in each of the first five games for the Cavaliers (2-3) but never before the third quarter. After making a move to Sims in the third quarter of a Week 2 affair with Penn State, the Cavaliers put Rocco back in the game and he led them to a 17-16 victory.
Rocco was never more entrenched than he was during the first half of last Saturday’s game against unbeaten Lousiana Tech, when he completed 13 of his first 16 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns.
Who would have believed, one week later, that he’d be carrying a clipboard? (Do they still carry clipboards)?
The Cavaliers led 24-10 and were on the move before two plays totally changed the complexion of the game. After stopping the Bulldogs for losses or no gain on three straight plays starting at the UVa 3, the Cavaliers needed no time to move the ball to their 48.
After a 7-yard pass from Rocco to Darius Jennings, Virginia was looking at a second-and-3 from the Louisiana Tech 48, but that was short-lived. As the referee’s whistle sounded, offensive guard Sean Cascarano was called for as personal foul.
Virginia was sent all the way back to its 40, where, on first-and-18, Rocco spotted sophomore Dominique Terrell on a crossing pattern over the middle. The ball was high, but Terrell got both hands on it.
It should have been caught, but if all Terrell had done was bobble it and let it fall to the ground, UVa still would have been in business. Instead, the ball slipped out of Terrell’s hands and into the waiting arms of Lousiana Tech’s Quinn Giles, who returned it 30 yards to the Virginia 25.
IT WASN’T THE first pass Terrell had been unable to handle this season and it wasn’t the only pass that went through a UVa wide receiver’s hands Saturday.
Later in the third quarter, Sims attempted to hit E.J. Scott in the corner of the end zone, but a perfectly thrown ball went through his hands. That series ended when the Cavaliers, down 41-24 at the time, saw Drew Jarrett miss a 39-yard field goal, his first miss of the season.
It’s a tribute to Rocco and Sims that both are completing more than 60 percent of their passes (and to Rocco for passing for 1,116 yards in five games) because there have been a lot of dropped balls. But, if it were just about dropped balls, Rocco might still be the man.
He was intercepted three times against Louisiana Tech, which returned one of the “picks” for a touchdown. At the end of that play, Cascarano was called for his second personal of the game.
(Virginia’s 16 penalties, one shy of the school record, did not count a personal foul on offensive tackle Oday Aboushi. Aboushi and a Lousiana Tech defensive lineman both were called for offsetting personal fouls after one-game exchange).
There was talk of a UVa wide receiver “cutting off” his route on one of the Lousiana Tech interceptions and Rocco admitted that he had not seen the linebacker. But, when you’ve been intercepted 20 times over two seasons, it’s hard to get the benefit of the doubt.
It’s a little reminiscent of former UVa quarterback Marc Verica, a fifth-year senior when Rocco was a freshman in 2010. Verica passed for 2,799 yards, the third-highest mark in school history, but was intercepted 14 times (compared to 14 touchdown passes).
That came two years after Verica passed for 2,037 yards as a redshirt sophomore but was intercepted 16 times. Verica was the feel-good story of the year after leading the Cavaliers to four straight victories at mid-season but he was intercepted three times in back-to-back losses to Wake Forest and Clemson.
In the final game of the season, with the Cavaliers enjoying their best chance to beat Virginia Tech in years, Verica gave up a late interception in a 17-14 UVa loss. He ranks as the No. 6 passer in school history but is still associated with his interceptions.
VIRGINIA HAD FEW OPTIONS in 2010, when Verica’s back-ups were Rocco and redshirt freshman Ross Metheny. They never played when the game was on the line.
This year, there is an option in Sims, who not only was one of the most celebrated recruits in the country coming out of Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, but already has thrown five touchdown passes in a back-up role.
If Sims is to be successful, he’s going to need more help from his receivers than Rocco was getting and his offensive lineman can’t be holding or committing personal fouls on every other possession.
Sims may provide a spark but, if the Cavaliers are to upset favored Duke, it will require a supporting cast.