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A Walk Down Memory Lane - UVA's Quarterback Troubles

UVA's struggles over the past decade come down to uncertainty at the quarterback position


I've been following UVA football since my first football game of my first-year of college in 2008, when Mark Sanchez torched us 52-7 in Scott Stadium, setting the stage for a surefire Hall-of-Fame NFL career. The national media followed that game closely, wondering how Sanchez would measure up to their 3 prior QBs, Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, and John David Booty; a new man under center is a big deal for a top-flight college football program.  Obviously, in the years since, Virginia hasn't been able to come close to qualifying for that category. And it's no coincidence that in those six years, the Hoos have yet to go consecutive seasons without a QB change or QB controversy.

The point of this recap isn't to depress us.  It's a reminder that it's REALLY hard to put together a successful college football program without some stability and production from the QB position.  We've had some good, hard-working student-athletes back there...but the program has been through a tough stretch, and they haven't been able to lift it back up. Yet.  Here's a look back at who's played behind center for the Hoos:

2008: Marc Verica / eventually Vic Hall (with Jameel Sewell and then Peter Lalich ineligible)

The highly touted Lalich started the first two games of the 2008 season against USC and Richmond.  However, he did so in the midst of legal trouble.  After being arrested for underage purchase of alcohol the summer before the season, Lalich admitted that he had violated the terms of his probation; he was suspended for the third game of the year, and eventually dismissed.

The 2007 starter, Jameel Sewell, would have been the presumptive option to take his place, but he had been declared academically ineligible for the year.

So Marc Verica took over and, after struggling in his first 2 starts against UConn and Duke, looked to turn the season around.  The Hoos went on a 4-game winning streak including big-time wins against ranked UNC (prompting a field rush) and at Georgia Tech.  However, UVA would collapse down the stretch to finish 5-7.  While showing some signs of magic, Verica completed 64% of his passes on the year, gaining 5.8 YPC.

Against Virginia Tech, UVA surprised by playing Vic Hall at quarterback for stretches; it was effective too, as he rushed for 109 yards and 2 TDs.  It's unclear why Hall didn't have a shot earlier in the year - his heroics almost led the Hoos to a win in Blacksburg, but a late Verica interception in the end zone, with the Hoos in range for a tying field goal, sealed the loss.

2009: Jameel Sewell (with a bit of Marc Verica and Vic Hall)

The new season meant that Jameel Sewell was eligible to play for the Hoos once again.

In UVA's first game against William and Mary, 3 quarterbacks threw at least 5 passes: Sewell, Verica, and Hall. That game did not go well.  After the loss, Al Groh decided to move away from the unsuccessful rotation and stick with Sewell, who started the remainder of the season, save one game due to injury, which Verica stepped in for.  Virginia finished 3-9, leading to Al Groh's dismissal.

Vic Hall was rarely seen until the season-ending loss against Tech, when he carried the ball 7 times but did not impact the game as he had the previous year.  Sewell finished the year completing 54% of his passed for 6.3 YPC, along with 7 TDs and 7 INTs.

2010: Mostly Marc Verica

Marc Verica was the primary starter in UVA's 4-8 campaign, with Mike Rocco and Ross Metheny seeing mop-up duty when games got out of hand. Verica had a solid senior season, with a 59% completion percentage and over 7 yards per catch, but he still struggled with turnovers, throwing 14 picks.

The season highlight was the Hoos' wild win over a ranked Miami team, but the team's only other wins were over two FCS teams and Eastern Michigan.

2011: Mike Rocco / David Watford

Virginia qualified for its only bowl in the past 6 seasons, going 8-5 with a loss to Auburn in the Chick Fil A Bowl.  Mike Rocco was the primary starter, but David Watford joined him at times as part of another rotation.

The rotation began in earnest when Mike Rocco threw 3 interceptions against Southern Miss; David Watford entered and almost led the Hoos on a game-winning drive.  In the following game, Rocco threw 30 passes and Watford 20 in a near-loss to Idaho. An ugly loss to NC State, where Watford completed 4 of 16 passes and Rocco 7 of 19, ended the experiment...but also turned the season around for the Hoos.

Mike Rocco emerged as the sole QB with his performance at Miami; the Hoos would go on to beat Maryland, Duke (!), and a wild one against Florida State before falling at VT and against Auburn; he finished the season as UVA's most effective QB in years (perhaps since Marcus Hagans?), completing 61% of his passes for 2,671 yards and 13 TDs to 12 INTs.

2012: Mike Rocco / Phillip Sims

In the offseason, Coach London acquired transfer Phillip Sims from Alabama, who was granted a hardship waiver to play right away.  This led to yet another QB dilemma for London.  Mike Rocco was named the opening day starter, as the coaching staff pledged to avoid another QB rotation.

Rocco looked strong in opening wins against Richmond and Penn State. However, after bad losses to Georgia Tech and TCU, in which Sims saw late action, the transfer saw more substantial time against Louisiana Tech. Reminiscent of Watford's emergence the year prior, Sims did a great job in relief; after Rocco threw 3 early INTs, Sims came in and notched 2 TDS.

Sims started the next 4 games, then Rocco returned for the final 3, including a dramatic 41-40 win over Miami. After vowing to avoid a rotation, Mike London ended up going with a rotation.  Looking back, Rocco was the more effective QB; he had a short leash with the heralded Sims behind him, and London was probably too quick to make the change.

Sims eventually transferred once again before the 2013 season.

2013: David Watford (/some Greyson Lambert late in the year)

David Watford was Virginia's 2013 quarterback, with Lambert taking over for a few drives during the last 4 games.

Despite being given more patience than Mike Rocco the past 2 years, Watford just wasn't ready to compete at an upper FBS level.  He threw a brutal 8 TDs to 15 INTs, completing 57% of his passes for 5.2 yards each.  That's just too many risks for very little reward.

In fairness, Lambert looked far from ready in his late season appearances.  The 2013 QB situation was more settled than any in years, but it was still far from successful.

2014: Greyson Lambert