Last year at Alabama, he battled A.J. McCarron throughout training camp and into preseason, often alternating snaps, before losing out on the job as the Crimson Tide marched toward the BCS championship. So coming off his worst performance since moving into Virginia’s starting lineup, Sims was asked this week about the differences between dealing with the Cavaliers’ coaches and working under Coach Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama.
His answer was that he feels closer with the coaches in Charlottesville, that it’s more of a “family” feel. At Alabama, he noted, it’s more “business-like,” with the coaching staff remaining detached from the players to a certain extent. But it’s clear he understands the ramifications could be the same as they were a year ago if he continues to complete just 13 of his 28 passes, like he did last week against Maryland.
“If you don’t produce, there’s not too much hope for you. In the college football world, it’s what did you do for me now?”said Sims, who has completed 48.6 percent of his passes for 407 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in two starts.
“Nobody cares what you did last year or two weeks ago. It doesn’t really matter. If you’re not producing right now, you have no chance of being around. You’ve got to be a consistent performer, and it’s like that everywhere. I don’t know one coach that’s gonna lose his job because he keeps giving a player chances. It’s just not gonna happen.”
That’s not to say Sims’s starting job is in danger yet. Though junior Michael Rocco relieved Sims in Saturday’s loss to the Terrapins and promptly led Virginia on a touchdown drive, Coach Mike London has made it clear Sims will receive his third straight start when Virginia tries to end its five-game losing streak against Wake Forest on Saturday.
And while London wasn’t pleased with Sims’s inaccuracy Saturday, he understands the learning curve his new signal caller is still trying to overcome.
“Obviously the skill level is there . . . but that was his second game starting as a quarterback,” London said. “Sometimes we lose perspective on what it is.”
For Sims, the improvements will have to come in areas where he’s least comfortable. He says he knows 90 or 95 percent of offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s playbook at this point, but he has been too insistent on throwing the deep ball.
Sims said he was “highly upset” with his inaccuracy this past week and called it “inexplainable.” But he later told reporters his favorite routes to throw are 15 to 20 yards down the sideline, “where it’s less coverage . . . and you have a little bit more room for error.”
The only problem is that Virginia lacks a dependable wide receiver in the mold of Kris Burd who can consistently win battles with defensive backs down the field, and tight end Jake McGee has seen his effectiveness muted with defenses more focused on stopping him after his fast start to this season.
Instead, Sims must better take advantage of two running backs (Perry Jones and Kevin Parks) and a cadre of speedy wide receivers (Darius Jennings, E.J. Scott and Dominique Terrell) who are at their best getting the ball in open space and making plays with their legs.
“The check-down, I’m not against it. But if I got 20 yards, I’d rather take 20 over five,” said Sims, who hasn’t been asked to call many audibles thus far, either. “It’s something that even at Alabama, it was something that I was getting more used to. . . . It’s just something that it’s taken me a little bit longer to trust a little bit more than my arm.”
Regardless of what tweaks Sims makes to his game, he knows the key to his longevity will be more touchdown drives. The Cavaliers rank 90th in the country in terms of points per game (23.2) even though they’re averaging 20 more yards per game than last season.
They’ve also out-gained their opponents the past three weeks, and if the trend continues, Sims is acutely aware his days could be numbered.
“As a quarterback, scoring points is your job,” he said. “That’s how you stay around. You don’t produce, the offense don’t produce, somebody else goes in. End of story.”