CHARLOTTESVILLE — Virginia offensive coordinator Bill Lazor smiled when he said it, and given the outcome of the game — a 21-20 overtime victory — his sentiment didn’t sound like a problem.
But as the Cavaliers (3-2) enter their bye week, perhaps no two issues loom larger for Coach Mike London and Lazor than the unsettled status of the quarterback position and the effect it is having on the team’s offensive rhythm.
“I really feel like we have two quarterbacks who are developing and have a chance to be good players,” Lazor said. “And it’s hard. . . . Neither of the [quarterbacks] are perfect, but they’re both on track.”
Virginia’s opponent Saturday was Idaho — a low-rung Western Athletic Conference squad that was not proficient on either side of the ball — and the Cavaliers needed 27 first downs and 496 yards to score three touchdowns. Virginia switched between quarterbacks Michael Rocco and David Watford five times, three of which occurred during a second half in which the Cavaliers could not extend their lead beyond 14-6.
So when Idaho blocked a Virginia punt and returned it for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers’ lead was cut to two. And when the Vandals (1-4) completed a pass to score on the ensuing two-point conversion, Virginia’s lead evaporated altogether.
Many of Virginia’s objectives against a supposedly inferior opponent went unmet. The Cavaliers tallied three turnovers. Their offense stalled at inopportune times in the final three quarters. Their defense bent, but did not break. They missed two field goals.
“That was probably an ugly football game,” London said, “but in the end what matters is we found a way to win.”
What matters moving forward is what Virginia plans to do about an offense with ample weapons, one that is capable of being highly effective but cannot seem to find consistent rhythm.
Rocco, a sophomore, made his fifth consecutive start Saturday and completed 20 of 30 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown. He played the first three offensive series and guided Virginia to touchdowns on two of them.
Then — per usual — Watford entered the game for the Cavaliers’ fourth possession. The freshman threw an interception on his third pass attempt.
Virginia did not score in the final three quarters of regulation, leaving its defense with little margin for error. Idaho managed just 193 yards passing, 103 yards rushing and 12 first downs.
Meantime, the offense sputtered. Rocco played the first three series of the second half. Watford played the next four. Rocco went in for one series. Watford played the final two.
“We just wanted to see who could get into the groove of playing,” London said. “Make the calls and make the throws. It seemed like Michael maybe struggled a little bit with some balls, and so we put David in. . . . It was going back and forth a little bit to see who could get us into a groove, and then toward the latter part just decided that we were just going to go with David.”
Lazor acknowledged it was difficult to make play calls “when you’re working with two different personalities.” Rocco — who said the rib injury he suffered during last week’s 30-24 home loss to Southern Mississippi did not affect his throws Saturday — said it was “a little bit challenging” alternating between being in the game and standing on the sideline.
Watford said he has no idea what was going on in regards to when he would be asked to lead the offense. “I was just trying to stay ready,” he said.
After Idaho tied the score on the blocked punt, Rocco and Watford each led a series. When overtime came, Watford got the call, and on the sixth play of the extra period, he connected with freshman wideout Dominique Terrell on what became a 27-yard, game-deciding touchdown. Idaho answered with a touchdown on its overtime possession, but failed to score on the two-point conversion attempt.
Afterward, Watford — who completed 10 of 20 passes for 95 yards — was asked whether it’s difficult, as a quarterback, to spend a game in flux between playing and not.
“I’m used to it,” he said.