When Virginia football coach Mike London thinks about the daunting situation former U.Va. quarterback Anthony Martinez found himself in during the 2003 season in a game at South Carolina, it makes London cringe.
On that September afternoon in Columbia, S.C., Martinez got his first career start as a redshirt freshman, completing just 10 of 20 passes for 50 yards in U.Va.'s 31-7 loss. He was sacked twice and intercepted twice.
"That didn't bode well for his confidence," said London, who was U.Va.'s defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator in the '03 season.
It's exactly the kind of young quarterback meltdown London wants to avoid with current U.Va. quarterback David Watford, a true freshman who graduated from Hampton High. Watford already came close to something like it in last Saturday's 28-14 loss to North Carolina State.
He didn't start the game, but he replaced Michael Rocco for nine full drives, including U.Va.'s final eight possessions. Watford completed 4 of 16 passes for 89 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.
With a desire to take some pressure off Watford, London has decided to scale back Watford's role. Rocco will continue to start, but instead of having Watford come in to spell Rocco for entire drives, Watford will now enter for specific plays.
"David will do fine," said London, whose team travels to play Thursday night at Miami (4-3 overall, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference). "He'll be in the game and he'll play in the game. There probably won't be the rotation part of it as you've been seeing, in order to give (Watford) a chance to watch, but it will give Michael an opportunity to get in the game and play the game."
Watford has played in all seven games this season, entering for the first time in games at either the start of U.Va.'s fourth or fifth drive. He has completed 30 of 71 passes (42 percent) for 346 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions.
London's initial intent this season was to expose Watford to as much as he could handle, making sure Watford's strength areas were emphasized. London is concerned about Watford's work load and stress level at this point.
"I'm mindful of a young player like David who has a tremendous amount of talent and is going to be a good player here, but I don't want to put him in the situation where you try to put the ballgame on his shoulder, or every decision, every throw, every check, every play call is something that he's being scrutinized for," London said.
"He knows he's still going to play, and there's some things that we like to do to utilize his talents and his abilities. I'm responsible for these guys in a lot of ways. In a football way, you want it to happen. If it doesn't manifest itself on the field, it provides a level frustration not only for him, but people that are watching."
Rocco, a sophomore, hasn't been incredibly sharp this season, completing 109 of 182 passes (60 percent) for 1,186 yards, four touchdowns and eight interceptions. After opening the N.C. State game by completing seven of his first nine passes, he misfired on his final 10 attempts.
Watford was rotated into the game for the first time in the second quarter at what can only be considered an odd moment — immediately after Rocco led U.Va. (4-3, 1-2) on a 14-play, 72-yard drive for the game's first touchdown.
Despite his rocky conclusion to the N.C. State game, Rocco has been less interception-prone of late. He has thrown just one interception in U.Va.'s past three games, in which he has attempted 63 passes. Neither Rocco nor Watford were made available to media after Monday's practice.
"With Michael (it's), 'You've been through this system. You've watched (former U.Va. quarterback) Marc Verica play. You've been through the same system. You've had the opportunities and started every game. We can add more on your plate,' " London said.
U.Va. has squandered one opportunity to build off its 24-21 upset win Oct. 15 against No. 12 Georgia Tech. By settling the quarterback situation a bit, U.Va. may be able to re-focus on its primary ambition — getting bowl-eligible for the first time since the '07 season.
"A bowl game is our goal at the end of the season, but we don't really look at how many games we need to win to get to a bowl game," said wide receiver Kris Burd, who leads the team with 34 catches for 447 yards. "We go into every game expecting to win. At the end of the season, when they all add up, we look forward to being in a bowl game."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times