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Virginia quarterbacks learning how to share

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

Cavaliers find success using both Rocco, Sims

Quarterback rotation.

Last year, the words were anathema to the Virginia Cavaliers, who won four straight games after coach Mike London ditched the controversial practice. But this season, "quarterback rotation" has a much more palatable ring.

Reviving the tactic -- in part out of desperation after six straight losses -- has helped Virginia snap out of its malaise. With Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims sharing quarterback duties, the Cavaliers have won back-to-back games and put London's program back on track.

Up next
North Carolina at Virginia
When » Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
Where » Scott Stadium,
Charlottesville, Va.
TV » ESPN

With wins in two high-visibility games, Virginia (4-6, 2-4) would qualify for a bowl game for the second straight year. Step one comes Thursday night on national television against North Carolina (6-4, 3-3). Step two comes Nov. 24 at Virginia Tech (4-6, 2-4) in what could be an intriguing postseason elimination game for both.

Several variables have sparked Virginia's revival in London's third season. After ranking last in the nation in turnover margin, the Cavaliers have forced six turnovers and committed two over the last two weeks. With Rocco and Sims alternating, neither has committed a turnover.

"I think you always look for some sort of spark," London said. "It can become a snowball effect. People are ruled by the psychology of results."

The last result, a 41-40 victory over Miami, was inspiring as Rocco delivered in the clutch, directing an 87-yard drive over the final 2:38. The junior accounted for all the yards in the march and threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jake McGee with six seconds left.

Rocco completed a program-record 18 straight passes in the game and finished 29 of 37 for 300 yards and four touchdowns, capturing ACC back of the week honors.

If there was any doubt concerning London's determination to stick with his rotation, it was removed in the first half when Sims entered after Rocco had produced touchdowns on the Cavaliers' first two series. Sims, who completed 11 of 14 passes for 88 yards, promptly guided another touchdown drive.

Asked to explain his rationale for who plays when, London was at a loss.

"It's random," London said. "There's no, 'You go one series; you go two series.' It's based on where we are, what kind of drive we made in the previous series, things like that."

Sims is the superior runner, Rocco the more accurate passer. North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said it doesn't complicate his game planning. Virginia looks the same on offense with either on the field.

"They don't change the system or change the scheme," Fedora said. "I think they have a lot of confidence in both of them, and I think both have gotten better as the year has gone on, so they're playing both of them."

For whatever reason, both quarterbacks have thrived under the current setup. Neither was successful when the job was exclusively his. Unless one bottoms out, expect London to stick with the scheme, even if he's at a loss to explain how it works.

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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