Virginia Beat: QB Switch Fails to Matter

With the season teetering on the brink, Mike London bowed to the long and proud tradition chronicled in last week’s article, and made the midseason quarterback switch that fans had been clamoring for nearly all year.  Phillip Sims replaced Mike Rocco as the starting signal-caller against Duke.  It had been anticipated all week, as London alluded on his radio show to the impending change, and the switch was cause for a great deal of excitement.  Sims, after all, comes from the town that UVA considers its recruiting home base, and the big thunder-arm quarterbacks – which Sims undoubtedly is – are always fan favorites.

Unfortunately, it didn’t matter.  The Cavaliers didn’t just let their season fall off the cliff – they gave it a gleeful shove and followed it with a running leap off the precipice, screaming Geronimo as they went.  The Duke game exposed a multitude of serious flaws, and was concrete proof that it hardly matters who’s under center.

Sims’s play was little help, and no better than Rocco’s play this season.  His passer rating for the game was worse than Rocco’s in any of the first five games, except one.  He completed only 50% of his passes and threw two picks and not a single touchdown.  He made some outstanding throws that Rocco could never have made, but made some questionable decisions that Rocco also would never have made.  The prime example came in the third quarter: down 28-17, but driving, and facing a third and two inside the Duke 30, Sims was flushed from the pocket and rolled to his right with yards and yards of green grass in front of him.  Rather than pick up the first down with his legs, Sims elected to throw deep to the end zone.  The pass fell incomplete, and UVA missed a field goal attempt on the next play.  Duke took over and promptly marched down the field and extended the lead.

This was Sims’s day in general.  Rocco’s modus operandi, when in panic mode and needing to figure out fast what to do with the football, was to check down.  This sometimes worked and sometimes maddened a fanbase tired of three-yard passes on third and nine.  Sims’s default panic button move, on the other hand, was to fling it deep, which was partly responsible for his low completion percentage.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that if Sims, in his first collegiate start, can produce results similar to Rocco’s, then there should be a high ceiling to shoot for.  No, by results, I don’t mean “another loss”; Sims, at least, moved the ball as well as Rocco did against Louisiana Tech – before Rocco broke down and started finding receivers with the wrong jerseys.

Ultimately, however, the game revealed not so much that Sims = Rocco, but that the differences hardly matter.  UVA’s flaws have been cruelly unmasked in the past two weeks of play, and whatever opponents have figured out about them, they’ve failed to adjust.  The Hoos are weak in the trenches, and the secondary leaves a trail of blown assignments strewn in their wake, and no gunslinging quarterback can fix that.

Brendan’s bio: I’m just this guy … this ordinary Virginia graduate and fan who woke up one day realizing his opinions on everything UVA could no longer be contained in one space. Thus was born From Old Virginia, a labor of love where you can find obsessive opinionating on Virginia football, basketball, lacrosse, baseball, and whatever else when the mood strikes. And if that’s still not enough for you, go to the Twitster and follow @MaizeNBlueWahoo for the dumb stuff that pops into my head when I’m watching the Hoos.

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