Scott German: Loss to Southern Miss leaves UVa. with QB quandary

If suffering a home loss to non-conference foe Southern Mississippi 30-24 was not enough of a blow, the Virginia Cavaliers left Saturday’s game with a question at quarterback.

Sophomore signal-caller Michael Rocco threw three interceptions and limped to the sidelines near the end of the first half after being tossed to the ground by a Southern Miss defensive linemen. After starting behind center at the start of second-half action, Rocco was relieved by true freshman David Watford. After starting slowly, Watford showed glimpses of what might be in the future for Cavalier fans. Unfortunately on this day, it was not enough as Virginia suffered a damaging blow to its postseason aspirations, losing to a average Conference USA team.

On Watford’s fourth series of action in the second half, he led a 10-play drive that culminated with a touchdown pass to tight end Jeremiah Mathis that pulled the Cavalier to within 27-22 late in the fourth quarter. Then Watford displayed a glimpse of what made him a sought-after high-school standout when he completed a two-point  conversion with a nifty pass on the run to wideout Kris Burd.

Southern Miss on its ensuing drive kicked a field goal for a 30-24 lead with 1:33 remaining on the Scott Stadium clock. Watford rallied Virginia to midfield, where two consecutive incomplete passes turned the ball over on downs, securing the road win for the Golden Eagles. Watford finished the game completing 10 of 20 passes for 81 yards and a score.

The Hampton High school product entered the contest with under four minutes remaining in the third quarter and facing an eight-point deficit. Rocco had minutes earlier had thrown his third pick of the game, and the Virginia sidelines determined a QB change was in order.

Now the dilemma arises as to how long will Virginia play the revolving quarterback game? Rocco, having suffered a severe hit on USM blitz late in the second quarter that left him dazed for a brief time on the ground, did return as the starter to begin second-half play. After Rocco threw his seventh interception of the season, he found himself a spectator on the sideline as Watford took his turn behind center.

After the game, Virginia Coach Mike London said Rocco was taken out of the game because of his injury, not his ineffectiveness. When Watford took the field early in the fourth quarter, it was the first time this season he had been behind center on consecutive series. That series the Cavaliers went three-and-out after two straight Watford incompletions.

To date, Watford’s playing time had been strictly scripted by the Virginia coaching staff with a specifically numbered series in which Watford would enter the game. On Saturday it was series number four.

Series number four found the Wahoo’s pinned on its own 1-yard line, and on came Watford. He gained two yards on a keeper up the middle to get a bit of breathing room, but then two incomplete passes later the Cavs were forced to punt from their own end zone. Leading 14-13, Southern Miss started the offensive series on the Virginia 35-yard line. The Golden Eagles scored on an eight-play drive that ended with a three-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Austin Davis. That score pushed the halftime lead to 21-13.

Davis would finish the game completing 27 of 41 passes, but his biggest completion came with less than 3 minutes to play -a swing pass that Southern Miss receiver Tracy Lampley took 41 yards down the left sideline to convert a crushing third-and-23 from the Golden Eagles’ 41 yard line.

Virginia (2-2) had closed to within three points at 27-24 but Lampley’s back-breaking catch-and-run led to a 27 yard field goal with 1:33 remaining. After picking up two first downs in the closing seconds the Cavaliers gave up the ball on downs.

The Cavaliers will be back at Scott Stadium next Saturday with another non-conference game against Idaho.


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