Will Mike London’s Cavaliers ever find a steady quarterback?

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Virginia football coach Mike London is known for splitting snaps between two quarterbacks. Columnist Matthew Comey argues that it's time to change that. 

Hannah Mussi | Cavalier Daily

The Orange-Blue scrimmage has come and gone, and Virginia football coach Mike London has set himself up for a fifth consecutive year of quarterback controversy. At this point, it seems London is married to the two quarterback system, which is strange because it’s never once worked out for him.

Neither Matt Johns nor Greyson Lambert — the two junior QBs sitting at the top of the depth chart — seemed to have turned many heads Saturday evening, though I’ll admit I wasn’t in attendance for the spring game. The two split first-team reps in a play that has been described as “up-and-down,” without either “clearly asserting themselves as the team’s No. 1 quarterback.” UNC-transfer wideout T.J. Thorpe apparently put on a show, but as Cavalier Daily beat reporter Robert Elder put it, “the signal caller who will throw him the ball still remains unclear.”

As I alluded to, this isn’t a new phenomenon. When I entered the University in 2011, it was Rocco vs. Watford. My second year, it was Rocco vs. Sims. After that, we saw Watford vs. Lambert and then this past year, it was Lambert vs. Johns. You’d have to go all the way back to 2010 before you’d find a quarterback who attempted more than 85 percent of the team’s passes, and in 2012 and 2014, the team’s top signal caller was hovering just around 60 percent of team pass attempts. I can’t imagine London breaking that trend for next year.

Even when London decides to stick with one guy as the starter, he’s very quick to bench him within games for a back-up when the going gets tough, as we saw with Rocco in 2011 and Watford in 2013. While each of those players technically started every game, there were multiple games where it seemed like that job was hanging by a thread given London’s inclination to sit guys down after poor play.

While all the losing in the past four years has hurt, what’s been worse is the incompetence of the offense — especially in the passing game. It would be much easier to swallow three consecutive below-.500 seasons if the games were fun to watch. But the Virginia offense has been more likely to elicit yawns than cheers as of late, largely due to the fact that we’ve never had a guy who could accurately and consistently throw downfield.

In fact, Virginia hasn’t seen a quarterback throw more than twice as many touchdowns as interceptions since 2002, when Matt Schaub was behind center. In the past four years, Virginia has ranked no higher than No. 86 nationally in points per game, and no higher than No. 48 nationally in passing yards. I love defense as much as anyone, but this isn’t basketball where you get the chance to watch it every 30 seconds or so. On second thought, considering all the three-and-outs it actually may get close to that.

I’m stuck wondering if the poor quarterback play is a symptom of lack of confidence and experience due to the rotation system London loves so much. Seeing how reps between quarterbacks are split on game day, you have to imagine something similar going on in practice. If London were to pick a guy in the spring and completely commit, giving him 99 percent of first-team practice reps and in-game snaps, you have to think things would have been better.

Ultimately, I think this comes down to a flawed philosophy many coaches preach about the benefits of competition at positions. Sure, it’s great to have a bit of pressure coming from below in the depth chart, just to let players know if worst comes to worst, they’re getting benched. But having to fight for your job every single week is taxing on both the body and the mind. I’d much rather see a team go all in on a guy, building up his confidence and letting him know you are depending on him week in and week out.

The motivation that comes with getting a chance to beat out another team should be much greater than the motivation that comes with beating out your fellow teammates. If a player isn’t going to give it his all unless he knows he’s about to get benched, he’s probably not a good fit for a team.

The good news is that despite my graduating this May, I’ll be returning for another year to complete my masters degree. I hope London can finally get this quarterback thing right for my last year. I don’t care if its Johns or Lambert, but please Mike London — I beg you to make your choice before July and stick with it.

UPDATE: I wrote this column before Virginia coach Mike London named Matt Johns the starting quarterback. I applaud London's decision to name a starter so early, and I hope he commits to Johns fully going forward.

Matt Comey is a weekly Sports Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at m.comey@cavalierdaily.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewcomey.

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