After inserting backup quarterback Phillip Sims into the lineup early in the fourth quarter Saturday against the Nittany Lions, Virginia Coach Mike London emphasized once again Monday that Rocco is his starter going forward and that the two remain “on the same page. But that doesn’t mean Sims will simply languish on the bench.
In fact, despite statistics that suggest Rocco performs better when he’s not looking over his shoulder, London remains committed to getting Sims playing time.
“We’re in a situation where we would like to be able to fill up some reps in a game, heaven forbid that something happens to Michael and our next guy in the game has not had snaps in the game,” London said. Sims “got snaps in the game at Richmond because we were ahead, and then an opportunity presented itself for two series [against Penn State].
“But as I say, we’ll continue to keep playing Mike as the starter, and if there’s opportunities to put Phillip in for his development, we’ll do that, but not at the sake of trying to win the game for us or trying to do too much for us. We feel very comfortable with what Mike is doing.”
Rocco reacted about as well as could be expected to his temporary benching Saturday, leading Virginia on a game-winning touchdown drive in which he completed all six of his passes. It seems after splitting reps for the majority of his time as Virginia’s starting quarterback, Rocco has grown more comfortable coming in-and-out of games.
But as many are aware of after last season, history suggests Rocco would be more effective if he simply took all of Virginia’s snaps. In 15 contests as the starter, Rocco has been the only quarterback to play five times and his numbers are significantly better in those games.
Virginia had a 4-1 record to close last season with Rocco as the sole option behind center. The lone loss came to Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, a game in which Rocco passed for a career-high 312 yards. Here are his statistics from those five contests last year:
— 97 of 157 (61.7 percent) for 1,274 yards (254.8/game), 9 TDs and 2 INTs
Now, compare that with the 10 games in which a quarterback other than Rocco has thrown a pass. Keep in mind, the Cavaliers had a 6-4 record during that time, including two wins so far this season.
— 171 of 279 (61.3 percent) for 1,966 yards (196.6/game), 7 TDs, 9 INTs
It’s important to note that offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said before this season began that Virginia’s improved offense with Rocco serving as the lone quarterback was the result of several factors, not just Rocco’s comfort level. But even Lazor seemed to suggest after Saturday’s game that perhaps the coaching staff could do better with how it handles Rocco.
“He’s never just had smooth sailing. Sometimes it’s his doing and he’d tell you. And sometimes it’s nothing to do with him,” Lazor said. “We’ve seen it time and time again, that he’ll take adversity, whether it’s from another team, his teammates, his coaches, from whatever situation and he’ll fight through it.”