- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco is one of the less outspoken players on the roster, a leader who “wouldn’t say ‘boo,’” according to coach Mike London.
When it came to his role on the team, though, and sharing snaps in games with true freshman David Watford, the 19-year-old true sophomore said he finally spoke up.
“Coach (Mike) London and coach (Bill) Lazor both knew how I felt,” he said.
And now they know what Rocco is capable of when he’s running the show -- solo.
In a nationally-televised Thursday night game last week, Rocco threw for 226 yards, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion to lead the Cavaliers to a 28-21 surprise win at Miami -- the first time Virginia had won a game in Sun Life Stadium. It was Rocco’s third game throwing for more than 200 yards this season, and arguably his best performance since the season opener against William & Mary. Not coincidentally, there was also a dramatically decreased role for Watford, who played just one snap -- a quarterback draw in which he gained four yards.
“It was nice to know that I was going to be in there the whole game, and kind of keep my rhythm and keep the flow of the game, and that’s really all that was,” Rocco said. “Every game previous I hadn’t really been looking over my shoulder, it was just how the flow of the game gets disrupted or my rhythm gets disrupted. This game was nice to keep the flow.”
Virginia’s quarterbacks have been in the spotlight since this past spring, when the competition amongst four of them first began. Rocco earned the starting job in the summer and became the youngest quarterback in school history to win his first two career starts, according to records dating back to 1939. London, though, was determined to get Watford experience this season, and that opportunity grew in the first half of the season when Rocco injured his ribs. Eventually, both of them began to struggle, and in the home loss to NC State, Watford threw three interceptions. According to the Roanoke Times, it was the sixth time in seven games that Watford replaced Rocco heading into the fifth series. Following that performance, London decided to scale back Watford’s role.
“Hopefully now that Michael has the opportunity to be the quarterback, we'll get more consistent play, better play, more confidence in his play,” London said. “Whatever roles David has the rest of the season, he gets more confidence. Even when he's not playing, he's learning. He's taking reps in practice. He's seen the big picture.
Watford has played in all eight games this season, but he hasn’t started one. Rocco has started every game this season and enters Saturday’s game at Maryland having completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 1,412 yards, six touchdowns and eight interceptions. He didn’t throw one pick last week at Miami.
“It speaks to the maturity level of Michael,” London said. “You go back and you say you're hoping you made the right decisions for him and for David.
“I think his ability to pick up the pre-snap read, see things as they were occurring, was huge because a lot of times in football, you look at the game film and you try to see what hurt the other team. Lo and behold, you see a lot of copycat defenses, a lot of defenses that teams have used to be successful even though they disguise it in another way. I think his recognition of those things -- the game planning was impressive. To say he's mature as a sophomore -- he is mature and he's going to get more mature. It's a benefit to him and it's a benefit to us.”
1dDavid M. Hale
2dDavid M. Hale