Wednesday, September 26, 2012

quarterback to the future

Would I be much of a writer if I thoroughly ignored the one all-consuming topic surrounding UVA football?  I would not.  I don't have to like it, though.  I seem to remember a short but blissful age when there was no quarterback controversy and we could all just argue over whether Morgan Moses should be a tackle or a guard.  Those were simpler times.  Although truthfully, they were little more than the eye of a hurricane, since of the last ten to twelve seasons of UVA football, perhaps two, maybe three, have been drama-free in that department.

But here we are four games in with a full-blown controversy on our hands.  Battle lines are drawn and it seems everyone must take sides.  Mike Rocco or Phillip Sims?  If you must label me, I'm a Rocco guy.  This is for several reasons as outlined below.  It's also because I've always been slow to cast aside the present for the future.  Take that little nugget of info for what it's worth, but I figure you can't properly judge my arguments without knowing that.  It's helped me to be spectacularly right, and it's led me astray.

Anyway.  I'll tell you right up front something that will disappoint you if you're desperately hoping to see Phillip Sims play every snap from here on out: this is a much bigger issue in the eyes of the fans than for the coaches.  Mike Rocco is starting against Louisiana Tech.  It was never going to be any different, and that was evident in the fourth quarter at TCU.  How so?  If the coaches thought Sims was ready for the top dog treatment, they wouldn't have plodded through the final drive as if winning by three scores instead of losing.  Sims got the ball with about 9:30 to go (actually he got it sooner, but his first "drive" was a total mess) and used over five minutes to score.  Could he have done it in three?  I don't know, but apparently the coaches didn't think so.  (And it bugged me that they evidently gave up on the game with so much time left.)

On the flip side, of course, they clearly didn't think Rocco could win it either, or he'd have stayed in.  So while the fans are blowing the issue up much more than the coaches are, it's not a complete nothing, either.  I've long had a high opinion of Rocco's short-throw accuracy, but it's down from last year.  Is it the result of (figuratively) looking over his shoulder?  Possibly.  Is it because he's getting less time to throw than he had last year with a better line?  Maybe.  But the offense is moving in fits and starts, and would move better if Rocco were playing better.  Hence the controversy.

Now, that said, the better choice right now is obviously Rocco.  It can't be any other.  Several reasons for this:

-- Rocco knows the playbook.  A hackneyed phrase from those of us who've been beating this particular drum, but true.  Sims told Michael Phillips he has "85-90% of the playbook" down, but I'm skeptical of the number.  His failure to throw to the correct receiver was transparent to the announcers on Saturday on at least one play, with Brian Griese pointing out he threw to a clearing route (that wasn't open) instead of the primary receiver, who was wide open and would have earned a first down.

Knowledge of the playbook, by the way, is generally underrated.  Remember: a playbook isn't just a collection of plays like in Tecmo Super Bowl.  The usual response to "Rocco knows the playbook" is "what's the difference if Sims only knows half of it but Rocco can only execute half of it?"  (The implication being, the deep plays aren't open to him.)  For one, chucking it deep Sexy Rexy style is probably three percent of the playbook.  Rocco can make the twenty, thirty yard throws, and hit Darius Jennings right on the helmet on a hitch-and-go fly pattern, and the helmet only because Jennings failed to use his hands in the recommended manner.  But the larger point is this: a playbook is a system, with plays designed to feed off of each other.  Hucking it deep to the covered receiver running a clearing route is a great way to show a lack of understanding of that concept.  An unready quarterback without proper knowledge of the system is a great way to stunt the development of the rest of the offense.  I'm almost positive I made that exact same argument when calling for Marc Verica to keep starting two years ago and for Rocco to sit.

-- The coaches are starting Rocco, therefore I think we should probably start Rocco.  There's a certain egomaniacal hubris in thinking you know who should start based on what you see on one day of the week....better than the guys who see the principals seven days of the week.  Even more so when you're judging based on performances in garbage time, against second-string defenses and/or prevent defenses.

-- But the main point is this: There is still a LOT left to lose this season!  It's an age-old UVA fan thing: give up early and "develop for the future."  Besides the fact that there's nothing automatic about development, anybody willing to throw in the towel for this season (and those people exist, whether or not they'll admit it) has a twisted view on life if they think the future will be improved by a losing season.  If you think Sims will do a better job than Rocco this year - well, fine.  I disagree, but fine.  If you think it's OK if we don't go to a bowl game as long as Sims "develops," I question your grasp on cause and effect.

I think on Saturday we got our best look yet at where Sims stands in his development.  That ball comes out of his hands gorgeously, doesn't it?  Wherever it's going, it looks stunning in the process of getting there.  If it's a complete pass, it's a lot of fun to watch.  The problem is that five-for-twelve, when stretched over 60 minutes of football, isn't a winning formula, and neither is hoping the other team's DBs drop the easiest interception of their life.  If Sims had been on his game, it's very possible I'd find myself drawn mesmerized toward the light.

Well, we shall see, this weekend.  Six turnovers against Illinois notwithstanding (five were fumbles, which the defense has considerably less actual impact on than interceptions) Louisiana Tech has one of the worst defenses we'll see this season.  If you're already convinced we need Sims right now, then this game won't do anything to change your mind regardless of what Rocco does, but nevertheless it's a great chance for Rocco to put a little bit of a firmer grip on the job.  Win and he starts against Duke the following week.  Lose and I don't know what happens - it all depends.  It might change Mike London's mind.  It might even be enough to change mine.


Now for the usual and highly belated look at this week's high school results.

Good Counsel 45, Gonzaga 24: Kirk Garner had an 81-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the win.  OLGC is 4-1.

A.L. Brown 39, Central Cabarrus 7: I link this just to point out that Keeon Johnson missed his second week of play with turf toe.

Ocean Lakes 50, First Colonial 14: Corwin Cutler threw three touchdowns, but this week's game is overshadowed by next week's: Cutler and unbeaten Ocean Lakes vs. Bucky Hodges and unbeaten Salem.  Ocean Lakes is 5-0.

Bayside 53, Kempsville 6: Smoke Mizzell ran for four touchdowns and returned a punt for one more.  Bayside is 3-2.

Hermitage 20, Varina 17: Tim Harris caught three passes in this week's only loss for any of our recruits.  Varina is 2-1.

Salisbury 10, Hotchkiss 6 (Sadiq Olanrewaju) - Salisbury is 1-0
Damascus 35, Einstein 0 (Zach Bradshaw) - Damascus is 4-0
Potomac 32, Freedom 0 (Donta Wilkins) - Potomac is 2-2
BC High 31, Dartmouth 0 (Jack McDonald) - BC High is 2-0
Monsignor Donovan 24, Barnegat Twp. 21 (Brad Henson) - Donovan is 1-1
South Iredell 51, Bunker Hill 7 (LaChaston Smith) - South Iredell is 5-1
Houston Westside 48, Fort Bend Kempner 21 (Hipolito Corporan) - Westside is 2-2
Oscar Smith 49, Nansemond River 0 (Zack Jones) - Oscar Smith is 3-1
St. Christopher's 40, Norfolk Academy 14 (Jack English) - St. Chris is 2-1
Fork Union 21, Christchurch 7 (Malcolm Cook) - FUMA is 4-1

A couple bonus links along these lines; first, a Washington Post interview with Zach Bradshaw on his switch from Penn State to UVA.  Good news on the injury front as LaChaston Smith is out of his walking boot, though he won't play this weekend.  Lots of strengthening and rehab to do.  And one link that has nothing to do with recruiting at all: an article from Scout's Seattle Mariners affiliate(yeah, they do pro teams too) about the UVA pipeline to the Pacific Northwest.  The best part:
(Mariners scout Mike) Moriarty continued, "That whole staff there -- from O'Connor to (Kevin) McMullan to (Karl) Kuhn, everyone -- they do things the right way. They practice the right way and they play the right way. They teach kids the fundamentals and they develop players with good instincts - and that's a credit to them. And all of these guys here (that the M's have picked in the last several seasons), they have it."

Dear superstar baseball recruits who want a college education and a good path to the pros: hint hint.

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