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UVa QB Rocco hanging on to starting job

9/27/2012

Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco is unfazed.

While many outside the program have questioned Rocco’s job security since the day Alabama transfer Phillip Sims set foot on campus, those within the football building have indicated repeatedly that Rocco is still their man.

Unless, of course, Rocco starts to go backwards instead of forwards. Unless Sims proves to be too good to take off the field. Unless coach Mike London changes his mind.

“I just focus on my job,” Rocco said. “I stay out of the media, stay in my faith and my family and my friends. My teammates encourage me through this thing. I believe in our team. I believe in our offense and I believe in myself to get this thing going. I think we’re going to hit our stride here shortly. We’re just a couple plays away from being a really explosive offense. Until then, I have to continue to work and make myself the best player I can be.”

Virginia’s offense is looking to improve as it prepares for the final nonconference game of the season on Saturday against Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs’ friendly defense could provide just the right opportunity. It all starts with Rocco, though. He has already thrown more interceptions (five) than touchdown passes (four) this season. In back-to-back road losses against Georgia Tech and TCU, Rocco has thrown just one touchdown pass and had four picks.

So it should come as no surprise that Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes wants to force Virginia to throw the ball.

“They just have not gotten on track yet,” said Dykes. “… They are going to try to come at us I am sure and run over us. They are big and physical up front, and we are going to need to be able to hold up in the run game. If we can, I think like anything else, they will throw the ball. That is probably the part of their offense that is not playing as well as they would like for it to. We need to force them to throw. That means we are stopping the run.”

London said this week that there was “no change in strategy” with his quarterbacks. He said he expects both to perform and put the team in position to win.

Sims replaced Rocco in the fourth quarter against Georgia Tech and threw two touchdowns, including one on the final play of the game. He also threw a touchdown pass against TCU late in the game, but is behind Rocco in his knowledge of the playbook.

Through four games, Rocco has completed 74 of 123 passes (60.2 percent) for 838 yards. Sims is 18-for-29 passing (62.1 percent) for 174 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

“The great thing about those guys is they are competitors and they understand what is best for the team, ultimately,” London said. “There are no issues with us right now with quarterbacks. We know we have to play better, and we know the surrounding cast has to play better, as well.”

Rocco said he and London have talked candidly about the competition.

“There’s very good communication,” he said. “I’m not worried. He’s just told me to continue to do my job and make everything simple and I’m going to do that.”