But coming off an offensive outburst that produced 545 yards when Virginia opened the season with a 43-19 victory over the Spiders, Rocco and the Cavaliers are more focused on the defensive strategy his uncle deployed last week. Richmond loaded the box with eight and nine players near the line of scrimmage and played its cornerbacks deep in one-on-one coverage outside.
It limited Virginia running backs Perry Jones and Kevin Parks to 3.7 yards per carry Saturday, but also opened the door for Rocco to pass for 311 yards, one shy of his career high. He’s expecting more of the same as the season progresses.
“We’ve got such a great running game and a great offensive line, I’m sure people are going to do their best to stop the run and dare me to be successful through the air,” Rocco said this week. “I put it on my shoulders to be prepared every week.”
For one game, at least, that meant Rocco took what the defense gave him, primarily throwing check-down routes and allowing his receivers to make plays in space. Though he completed a 51-yard touchdown reception to sophomore Darius Jennings and another 44-yard pass to junior Tim Smith, both were medium-range throws that his wide receivers turned into big plays.
In the immediate aftermath of the win, Rocco said he would look to improve upon his decision-making in terms of when to let loose with a deep throw. Producing big plays through the air has been a point of emphasis for Virginia’s offensive coaches since last year’s bowl game.
Not that Rocco’s game manager style bothers Coach Mike London. In fact, he said this week that’s Rocco’s biggest asset.
“He manages the game and makes the throws and the checks and he calls plays at the line of scrimmage. He directs the pass protection,” London said. “It’s easy to see a player that can scramble and run and looks ‘wow’ and all that. But you want to know can he run? Can he control the offense? Can he make the throws and make the decisions? . . . That is the type of player Michael is.
“It’s a positive for us, as long as we continue to keep winning and moving the ball.”
That London added that distinction at the end would seem to give credence to many Virginia fans wondering if Rocco’s backup, Alabama transfer Phillip Sims, could eventually supplant Rocco this year. In his Virginia debut on Saturday, Sims completed 5 of 6 passes for 50 yards and led the Cavaliers on a late touchdown drive after the game was well in hand.
When asked whether Sims might see some more meaningful snaps going forward, London remained non-committal, other than to say Rocco and Sims are taking most of the reps these days in practice with sophomore David Watford scheduled to redshirt this season.
Penn State allowed Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton to complete 31 of his 41 throws for 324 yards and two touchdowns this past weekend in a 24-14 loss.
“We’ve thought about how to put this game plan together and where Phillip and Michael fit into this, we’ll continue to finalize that,” London said. “Phillip has taken a lot of reps in practice along with Michael . . . so as we continue the game plan going into tomorrow and Thursday, then we’ll talk about strategies as far as the who is concerned.”