By HANK KURZ Jr.
Virginia quarterback Phillips Sims says he’s not Superman.
The Alabama transfer is likely to start Saturday when the Cavaliers (2-3) play at Duke. Coach Mike London said it’s contingent on a leg injury suffered last week being healed: Sims said his leg is fine.
“I’m just being asked to go out and do the things I’m capable of doing. No extra,” he said on a conference call Wednesday. “Nobody’s asking me to go out and be Superman, be Michael Vick or Peyton Manning. I’m just being asked to be Phillips Sims and go out there and do the things I’ve been taught to do within this offense and just try to help my team win.”
Sims’ ascension seemed likely after Virginia lost its third straight game, falling 44-38 to Louisiana Tech Saturday. Michael Rocco, who has started the past 18 games, threw three costly interceptions before Sims came on late in the third quarter.
Sims led two scoring drives and seemed poised to complete the rally.
A penalty scuttled any chance of that, but his two touchdown passes gave him five on the seasons with no interceptions. Rocco has been picked off eight times with just six touchdown throws.
“He deserved an opportunity to start a game, to get the reps in practice, to get the concentration on the finer details of things,” London said. “I think we feel pretty good that he’s ready to handle those things now on the offense, how to run it, to match some of the physical tools and skills that he has.”
Rocco won a quarterback battle in the preseason when Sims, who only arrived in May, was still learning the playbook. He said he knows 90 percent-95 percent of the offense now and is confident running it.
“I think I’ve come a long way since the first week of training camp, but I do have improvements that I still need to make and I do have things that I still need to learn within the offense,” Sims said.
London has had high praise for both quarterbacks throughout the battle, and praised Sims for the way he conducted himself after arriving at Virginia. Once one of the mostly high sought recruits in the country, Sims threw for nearly 11,000 yards and 119 TDs at Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake. He played as a backup with the Crimson Tide last season.
“He didn’t come here saying, ‘I’m from Alabama, I’m this, I’m that,”’ London said. “He came in and adapted to the team culture here. Guys have accepted him. He’s ingratiated himself to his teammates.
“He just came in and worked, tried to learn the way we do things here.”
Sims said Rocco has taken the change well. “He’s being a great teammate” and there is no friction.
“Everybody makes this out to be some two-guys-that-don’t-really-like-each-other situation, but that’s definitely not the case,” the redshirt sophomore said. “Me and Rocco, we talk on a daily basis. He supports me, I supported him, and I still support him. We’re teammates. We’re going to help each other until the end of this.”
The change doesn’t seem to cause any major adjustment for the Blue Devils.
“I think it’s the same offense,” Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe said Wednesday when asked about the possibility Sims would start. “They have a system, a very versatile system. Any coordinator will call something to the strengths of a player, but not outside of their system. It’s the same system.”
Virginia players have praised both quarterbacks for the way they throw deep, but Sims has a stronger arm and seems to throw tighter spirals that get from his hand to the receivers more quickly.
The Cavaliers used a more wide open attack against high-scoring Louisiana Tech, trying to match them offensively, and it was in that wide open framework that Sims threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns.
“I just like to give guys an opportunity to make plays and throwing the football down the field, it’s just something I feel comfortable doing,” he said. “I think I have the arm strength and the accuracy to make those throws, so I just feel I might as well capitalize on that.”