Virginia Coach Mike London said Monday that junior Michael Rocco is still his starting quarterback heading into Saturday’s home game against Louisiana Tech, but his grip on the job appears to be more tenuous than ever.
Though London stood behind Rocco and emphasized, “nothing has changed,” he indicated the Lynchburg native must perform better with Alabama transfer Phillip Sims waiting in the wings.
After finishing last year strong, Rocco has struggled to begin this season. He is the only ACC starting quarterback with more interceptions (5) than touchdown passes (4) and is coming off of a 126-yard performance at TCU in which he completed just 11 of his 28 passes and threw two interceptions.
“There are no issues with us right now with quarterbacks. We know we have to play better and we know the surrounding cast has to play better, as well,” London said. “Right now there is no change of strategy. Both of them, though, have to perform and allow us to be competitive and win some games.”
London is particularly disappointed with the number of turnovers Virginia has committed this year. He also expressed concern with Rocco’s inability to move the chains in Virginia’s 27-7 loss at TCU this past weekend. The Cavaliers converted just one third down with Rocco in the game Saturday.
London was quick to point out that the offense’s struggles this year aren’t entirely Rocco’s fault, but the Cavaliers are currently No. 117 in the country in turnover margin after committing ten through four games.
London has said all season he planned to use Sims at times this year, trying his best to play down any sort of quarterback controversy. But after two-straight losses, and the prolific offense of Louisiana Tech coming to Scott Stadium this weekend – the Bulldogs are one of three teams in the country to score more than 50 points in every game this season -- London is looking for ways to remedy Virginia’s offensive woes.
The dilemma with Sims is that he has also been inconsistent upon relieving Rocco in all four games so far this year, partly because he has yet to master Virginia’s playbook since arriving in Charlottesville in June, London said. Sims has completed 18 of 29 pass attempts (62.1 percent) and thrown three touchdown passes, but has gotten away with a couple near interceptions.
“Both of them have to make the type of throws and eliminate the type of errors of interceptions and reads,” London said.
The coach added that Rocco remains the starter because of his prior game experience and the ability he showed at times last season. Rocco finished the 2011 season with 1,485 yards, nine touchdowns and just four interceptions in Virginia’s last six games, leading the Cavaliers to their first bowl game since 2007.
But it became clear Monday that Rocco is far from entrenched in that starting role at this point.
“It’s the same way if a right guard is not blocking a guy he’s supposed to block … on a consistent basis, then there has to be consideration to move him or put someone else in there,” London said. “You know, as long as [Rocco] is consistent and gives us a chance to win, then he’ll play there.”