In his first start since Sept. 29, Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco took control of the offense last Saturday despite a two-quarterback system, and threw four touchdowns, no interceptions, 18 straight completions and for 300 yards in a wild, down-to-the-wire 41-40 win over Miami.
Didn’t matter. Virginia will still use two quarterbacks on Thursday night against North Carolina.
“As we go into this game, both quarterbacks will play,” said Virginia coach Mike London, “because that seems to be a formula that's been successful for us right now.”
In Chapel Hill last week, Georgia Tech backup quarterback Vad Lee came off the bench and led the Yellow Jackets on three consecutive touchdown drives. Lee finished the shootout with 169 yards passing and a touchdown, and rushed for 112 yards and two more scores in the 68-50 win.
Didn’t matter. Georgia Tech will still use two quarterbacks on Saturday against Duke.
“Unless something crazy happens in practice,” said Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, “we will probably continue to do it how we’ve been doing it.”
Georgia Tech and Virginia fans everywhere: Huh?
Both programs enter Week 12 confident from back-to-back wins under the direction of two quarterbacks, but last week, Rocco and Lee separated themselves from their competition -- at least in the eyes of many watching. London has been criticized for his rotation of quarterbacks, and Georgia Tech fans have been eager to see what Lee can do since the day he walked on campus. Both coaches have their reasons for keeping it status quo -- namely two straight wins. Virginia backup Phillip Sims played well against Miami without any turnovers. Georgia Tech starter Tevin Washington actually graded 20 points higher than Lee in the coaching staff’s film evaluation.
The most important aspect of both scenarios is the willingness of all four quarterbacks to continue to play nicely with each other. They’ve all been selfless with their playing time and roles, and will have to continue to be in the final two weeks of the season as the game plan remains the same.
“I refuse to second guess where we are now because I think what we're doing now with [Rocco], it’s the best thing for this team,” London said.
Over the six-game losing streak, Virginia’s quarterbacks combined to throw five touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Rocco was benched in favor of Sims midway through the losing streak and Sims started against Duke. It didn’t go so well, as UVa lost 42-17. The following week against Maryland wasn’t much better.
With the Cavaliers trailing 27-13 in the fourth quarter, Rocco relieved Sims and promptly directed a 10-play, 81-yard drive. His 24-yard touchdown pass to Jake McGee pulled Virginia within 27-20 with 4:10 left. That would be the final score.
“My ultimate job is to help the team win the game, whether it’s a two-quarterback system, one, or I’m playing or not,” Rocco said. “I just compete, help make the team better, help make the other quarterbacks better, and help make myself better. If I do that, I feel like we can put ourselves in position to win.”
Johnson said he is not ready to name a starter for this week, but it will be Senior Day in Atlanta, and Washington is a senior captain.
“Vad has a long time to play football here and if he plays as well as he played on Saturday, [he] will play a majority of the snaps,” Johnson said. “… We didn’t take [Tevin] out because he wasn’t playing well, we just took him out because the plan was to give those guys a couple series. Then, once the thing got going, Vad did nothing to have me take him out of the game. Once he’s scoring on every possession, it’s hard to take him out. When we got to a point in the second half when we’re so deep in to it, to me it is then Vad’s game.”
Lee, a redshirt freshman, has played in eight games this year. In the run-based offense, he has thrown three touchdowns and one interception and has run for eight touchdowns. He is fourth on the team in rushing with 434 yards. Washington is second on the team with 536 rushing yards and has 17 rushing touchdowns -- No. 2 nationally among quarterbacks and one shy of tying the school’s single-season record, held by Joshua Nesbitt.
Lee said the uncertainty of how much playing time he’ll get isn’t a factor in his preparation during the week.
“It doesn’t affect it at all,” Lee said. “I go with the ones and the twos at practice. I get a lot of reps in, getting ready, getting mentally prepared. I’m comfortable with both groups and the receivers and everything. It’s no pressure at all.
“You just have to take it one day at a time. It’s a learning experience, a growing experience. You just sit back and understand things from a different perspective; relax, let things come to you and try to stay as humble as possible.”
Rocco said he’s a confident person by nature and tries not to be overconfident, cocky or arrogant. Truth is, though, he thinks he can get the job done -- and he believed it on Saturday against the Canes.
With six seconds remaining, Rocco completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to McGee in the back of the end zone for the go-ahead score. On that final drive, he directed the Cavaliers 87 yards in 2:32, and converted two fourth downs along the way. He either passed or ran for all 87 yards during the drive.
“Especially at the end of the game, I really felt we were going to win, we were going to take it down the field and win the game,” Rocco said. “I felt like I was the guy to do it. I felt like our offense believed in me, we believed in ourselves to get it done and we did. It was a really cool experience and a much-needed win.”
They key is for both programs -- and all of their quarterbacks -- to keep it up.