Before Virginia sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco threw his fifth, sixth and seventh interceptions and suffered an injury to some extent to his ribs Saturday, true freshman quarterback David Watford’s entry into games was scripted. Before each contest, Coach Mike London and Offensive Coordinator determined which offensive series would be Watford’s to lead, and Watford played that series regardless of circumstance.
For Saturday’s game against Southern Mississippi, they chose the fourth series. And so, even after Southern Miss downed the ball on Virginia’s one-yard line, Watford took his turn to line up under center.
It seemed as though Watford was put into an unenviable position, considering he possesses such limited experience competing at the FBS level. During his teleconference Sunday night, London was asked whether there is any flexibility in the predetermined game plan laid out for Watford.
“There’s flexibility in that, but at the same time, if anything, maximum protection is provided in that situation,” London said. “If anything, the best direct runs are provided in that situation. And if anything, the best opportunities to make a connection on some of the throws.
“And I know there was penetration that caused David to get out of the pocket there a little bit and do the smart thing and throw the ball downfield, but in those situations like that, you feel pretty good about, ‘Hey, these are the plays that we’ve demonstrated before are plays that can get us yardage and get us out of there.’”
The Cavaliers went three-and-out, with Watford rushing once for a two-yard gain and throwing two incomplete passes.
Virginia found itself backed against its own end zone after officials – who, London noted, where from the Conference-USA – reviewed the previous Southern Miss punt and determined the ball was downed on the one-yard line. Southern Miss, by the way, is a Conference-USA school.
“The ruling was that the player that downed the ball on the one-yard line had possession of it before he went into the end zone,” London said. “My question was how can you have had possession of it when body momentum and everything at such a fast pace was – it looked like he got (the ball), but when he came down to solidify possession that he was in the end zone.”
London said he has submitted that play for review by the league office and is awaiting word on their evaluation.
Also, in regards to the quarterback situation, London re-stated Sunday that he made the decision to pull Rocco from Saturday’s game late in the third quarter because the coach thought the player no longer physically could perform at his best. On Saturday, Rocco said after the game that he felt fine and that at no point did his rib pain affect his throws.
“I felt that he just didn’t look right,” London said. “All kids, they want to play. They’ll say they’re ready to play. And, you know, you give them the benefit of the doubt, but you watch them closely. That last ball (Rocco threw) didn’t have any velocity on it. Just different things about it. And then you start focusing your attention on the kid’s well being and his health and safety.
“That’s one of the things that happens is kids want to be competitors. But at the same time, you’ve got to weigh the line between what’s best for the team, and at that point what was best for the team was to make the switch.”
London did not provide an update on Rocco’s health status.