Virginia football meets all sorts of goals in 48-7 win over VMI

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 26, 2010; 12:19 PM

CHARLOTTESVILLE - The topic had come up among Virginia's offensive coaches sporadically throughout the offseason, frequently during training camp and several times a week since the season began, but at no point was it more pertinent than in the past five days: Which inexperienced backup quarterback would replace fifth-year senior Marc Verica if circumstances necessitated such a move?

By halftime Saturday at Scott Stadium, the time for a decision was upon first-year Coach Mike London and his staff. Virginia (2-1) had proven during the first half that it was far superior to its opponent, division I-AA Virginia Military Institute, and the final outcome - which turned out to be a 48-7 Cavaliers victory - was no longer in doubt. In three quarters of play, Verica threw for 224 yards and three touchdowns.

Redshirt freshman Ross Metheny and true freshman Michael Rocco - who have been listed as interchangeable on the team's depth chart at backup quarterback since Week 1 - were London's choices, and given his repeatedly stated preference for redshirting as many true freshmen as possible, Metheny seemed to be the fitting option.

But after Virginia's first offensive series of the third quarter, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor pulled Metheny and Rocco aside along the sideline and delivered the verdict: Both quarterbacks would play in the second half.

"Certainly, Coach London's thoughts and his say is the right say, and he did the right thing today," Lazor said afterward. "Because as a team you've got to be prepared, if your starting quarterback gets hurt, to be able to put the next best guy who can play into the game."

The decision provided a clear short-term benefit - experience for two backups who previously had none at the collegiate level. The long-term ramifications remain to be seen.

For now, both of Virginia's reserve quarterbacks have gained a sample size - albeit small - of live game snaps from which they can be evaluated. London said part of his decision to play Metheny and Rocco stemmed from the fact that "there wasn't a clear-cut guy over the next guy."

"The next best thing was to put them in a venue, put them in a game and see how they managed the game," London continued. "See how - outside of practice - you put yourself in a game and make the calls and see if you're affected or distracted by anything. We wanted to do that. That was the plan."

Metheny entered the game first, taking over a Virginia offense that compiled 466 yards of offense on the day during the second series of the third quarter. He completed 4 of 5 passes for 53 yards and a touchdown. Metheny said feeling the threat of being hit for the first time in two years felt invigorating.

"It was good to get out there and still be productive and put points on the board," Metheny said.

Rocco's turn began on Virginia's first offensive series of the fourth quarter. His first drive ended in what he called a miscommunication with his wide receivers that led to an interception in which no Cavaliers target was in the vicinity of the ball.

On the next drive, Rocco responded with a 17-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Colter Phillips. He finished with 64 yards on 4-of-6 passing.

Rocco said he had been preparing to play this season since he arrived on campus this summer and that he had no issue with burning his redshirt. Had Rocco not played this season, he would have had four years of eligibility remaining at a program coming off a 3-9 season and in the midst of reconstruction.

"When they put me in, I had no reservations to say, 'No, I want to keep my redshirt,' " Rocco said. "I mean, it wasn't my decision regardless, but I felt they made the right decision, and I'm happy that I got to play and got some experience."

The two backup quarterbacks weren't the only Virginia players to see extended playing time against VMI. Junior wide receiver Jared Green caught four passes for a career-high 63 yards and a touchdown, while junior wideout Matt Snyder tallied three receptions for 45 yards.

With Virginia set to begin its ACC slate next week against Florida State, London took comfort in knowing that if an unenviable situation arose and the team needed to turn to Verica's successor, his options now include players who have taken live snaps in a college game. And that will have to do for now, since the identity of that successor remains a mystery.

"It may be that way for the rest of the season," London said. "One of them may emerge and become the solid number two, but right now the evaluation process is on for both of them."

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