Will the dawn of the Phillip Sims era spell a much-needed victory for the Hoos?


UVA quarterback Phillip Sims last started a football game in 2009 for Chesapeake's Oscar Smith High School. Photo: Jack Looney. UVA quarterback Phillip Sims last started a football game in 2009 for Chesapeake’s Oscar Smith High School. Photo: Jack Looney.

The golden right arm of Phillip Sims has lain dormant for three years.

No longer. Sims will make his first collegiate start Saturday when Virginia travels to Duke.

“Nobody’s asking me to go out and be Superman or be Michael Vick or Peyton Manning or anybody like that,” said the Alabama transfer. “I’m just being asked to be Phillip Sims and go out there and do the things that I’ve been taught to do within this offense and help my team win and move the ball offensively.”

Truth be told, Duke doesn’t exactly move the meter, and UVA is mired in a three-game losing streak. And yet Sims alone has made Saturday’s game the most anticipated of the season to date.

In September, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was not able to utilize the entirety of his playbook with Sims at quarterback, because Sims had not sufficiently mastered the terminology or tempo of the system. Suggesting, I guess, that less can very well be more. Sims has led Virginia’s offense to six touchdowns in just 11 opportunities. He’s thrown for five of the six scores and zero interceptions.

Conversely, Michael Rocco, with a complete understanding of the system, struggled to keep UVA competitive against Georgia Tech, TCU, and Louisiana Tech. Virginia’s problems have not been limited to the quarterback position, but Rocco’s eight interceptions are a big reason why UVA ranks No. 116 (out of 120) in turnover margin. The junior led Virginia to its most successful season since 2007 a year ago, but has been unable to capitalize on that momentum.

The Wahoos are now 2-3 (and 1-5 in their last six games against FBS opponents), and the most popular player on a losing team is the backup quarterback. Unfortunately for Rocco, Virginia’s second-stringer happened to be one of the most decorated players in Virginia High School League history.

Sims was asked to describe one of his touchdown passes in a postgame radio interview earlier this season. After a vivid retelling of the play’s various complexities, he explained why he decided to throw it to his third and final read: “The backside safety looked a little flat-footed.” Translation: The guy knows what he’s doing.

While UVA hasn’t won in Wallace Wade Stadium since 2006, Sims couldn’t have picked a better venue for his debut. It’s a quiet place, reminiscent of stadiums the 5-star quarterback saw in high school – a track surrounds the field, after all. Duke is 4-1 this season, with wins over Florida International, North Carolina Central, Memphis, and Wake Forest.

Saturday, the Blue Devils will play a supporting role to the main attraction.

The Phillip Sims era is upon us.

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