Virginia sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco was in the stands at Scott Stadium the last time the Cavaliers defeated Virginia Tech. On Nov. 29, 2003, Rocco sat in the coaches’ wives section with his aunt (Michael’s uncle, Danny Rocco, was Virginia’s linebackers coach at the time) and watched quarterback Matt Schaub lead the Cavaliers to a 35-21 victory.
“I, like others, didn’t know how great [Schaub] would turn out to be in the future,” Rocco said in a teleconference Wednesday. “But I was a fan of his, and I was a fan of Virginia football.”
On Saturday, Rocco make his 12th straight start as Virginia’s quarterback when the Cavaliers host Virginia Tech with a berth in the ACC championship game on the line. The jury remains out on whether Rocco is Virginia’s long-term solution at quarterback, but what is clear is that the team has been on a heck of a roll since Coach Mike London scrapped the two-quarterback rotation with freshman quarterback David Watford in favor of handing the reins of the offense solely to Rocco.
The Cavaliers have won four straight games since London made that move following a 28-14 loss Oct. 22 to North Carolina State, and Rocco feels more confident now than at any other point this season.
While certain statistics have been only marginally affected by the strategic switch*, others have improved significantly. Rocco threw four touchdown passes and eight interceptions in the first seven games this year. In the past four contests, he has thrown seven touchdowns and one interception.
* In Virginia’s first seven games, Rocco completed 59.9 percent of his passes, Virginia converted on 40 percent of its third downs and the Cavaliers averaged 24.9 points per contest. In the past four games, Rocco has completed 61.2 percent of his passes, Virginia converted on 40.7 percent of its third downs and the Cavaliers averaged 26 points per contest.
Rocco largely chalks up the recent improvement in his play to the natural progression that any quarterback on any team at any level should make throughout the course of a season. He said he might have forced a few throws early on in the season and that he’s since tried to correct those types of mistakes.
While he acknowledges it’s been easier to remain self-assured the past month knowing that he’ll be afforded the opportunity in games to redeem himself for whatever mistakes he might make, he said he’s unsure whether the Cavaliers would have been able to make their four-game run and arrive at the verge of an ACC title game berth had the coaches not made the decision to go from a two-quarterback rotation to a one-man show.
“I really can’t tell you,” Rocco said. “I would hope that we would have had the same success, but I can’t tell you for sure. I’m glad it happened this way. I’m happy that we’ve got a four-game winning streak going on. We’re really just focused on this week and trying to get this ‘W.’ Our team is confident right now, and that’s one of the key aspects of going into a big game and having success.”
Earlier this week, fifth-year senior wide receiver Kris Burd voiced a similar sentiment when posed the same question.
“I feel like we, as a whole, as an offense and a defense, have been playing better football” since the switch to using one quarterback, Burd said. “I can’t really say that it would be different either way, but I’m glad that we made the decision that we made because the results are now and the results are us winning.”
Rocco isn’t the only Football Bowl Subdivision quarterback from Lynchburg, Va. that is turning out to have a quality season in his first year as a starter. Virginia Tech is led by redshirt sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas, who shares a home town with Rocco. The fact that he and Thomas are from the same area does not add anything extra to Saturday’s game, Rocco said. They saw each other in passing at church growing up, but Rocco said they were never really that close.
They played each other in rec league football once, Rocco said Wednesday. Rocco was a quarterback, but Thomas, at the time, was a tall, lanky running back. Rocco thinks Thomas’s team won that matchup, though he can’t remember for certain.
“You could tell he was a good athlete,” Rocco said. “But nobody could tell that we were both going to end up where we are now and have the kind of success that we’re having.”