The ascension of redshirt sophomore Phillip Sims to the top of Virginia’s quarterback depth chart seemed inevitable this week, but every statement made by Virginia Coach Mike London was always followed by a qualifier. On Monday, for instance, he said Sims would take first-team reps Saturday at Duke if he recovered sufficiently from a knee injury he suffered against Louisiana Tech last weekend.
But that changed Wednesday during the ACC’s weekly teleconference after London had watched Sims complete his second practice in a row earlier in the morning.
“I can say that Phillip will more than likely be the starter for us,” said London, signaling an end to junior Michael Rocco’s 18-game stint as the program’s starting quarterback.
Sims “doesn’t seem to be hampered by anything, so that’s kind of the game plan now.”
Though Sims was given a chance to win the starting job in training camp, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor indicated initially the Alabama transfer was still learning the offense’s scheme and language. But London said Wednesday he made this change because of performance.
Sims may be more comfortable in the offense now that he has been practicing with Virginia for two months, but it’s his play on the field recently that led London to switch course. Rocco was the only starting quarterback in the ACC with more interceptions (8) than touchdown passes (6), and turnovers have been the biggest problem during the Cavaliers’ current three-game losing streak.
Sims had a shaky outing in his first meaningful action upon entering the Penn State game late in third quarter last month. He completed two of his three passes, but Virginia was unable to pick up a first down and he fumbled on his final play in the game. Since then, though, he has orchestrated a touchdown drive every time he has come on in relief of Rocco.
It culminated with last week’s 166-yard, two-touchdown performance against Louisiana Tech, when Sims almost led Virginia back from a 20-point deficit in the second half. Saturday, though, would be the Virginia Beach native’s first collegiate start after appearing in eight games off the bench last year for the Crimson Tide.
“He deserved an opportunity to start a game and get the reps in practice and to get the concentration on the finer details of things. We feel pretty good that he’s ready to handle those things now,” London said. “It appears players have confidence in him and his abilities. We’re excited about him having the opportunity to be the quarterback in this upcoming game.”
Duke is also dealing with some uncertainty under center after quarterback Sean Renfree didn’t finish last week’s win over Wake Forest after suffering an elbow injury late in the third quarter.
Blue Devils Coach David Cutcliffe offered no update on Renfree’s status Wednesday. If Renfree can’t play, Duke will turn to backup Anthony Boone, who led the Blue Devils on two two touchdown drives, rushed for the game-winning score and finished the day 8 of 11 for 54 yards.