A September loss to a non-BCS conference team, Southern Mississippi, was a wake-up call for Virginia last year as the Cavaliers went on to win six of their next seven games and contend for an ACC Coastal Division title.

After Saturday's 44-38 loss at home to Louisiana Tech, Virginia (2-3) hopes for a similar script.

To spark the revival, the Cavaliers have made a quarterback change as highly touted Alabama transfer Phillip Sims practiced with the first team on Tuesday in preparation for Saturday's game at Duke (4-1).

Up next
Virginia at Duke
When » Saturday, 3 p.m.
Where » Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, N.C.

After insisting on Monday afternoon that the Cavaliers would evaluate the quarterback situation this week, coach Mike London reversed his field four hours later on his radio show, saying Sims would start, provided he was healthy. Against Louisiana Tech, the sophomore absorbed a hit to his leg after taking over for starter Michael Rocco.

"You have to perform at a high level," London said on Monday night. "Phillip has performed every time he has gone in."

Sims replaces Rocco, who had started 18 straight games with Virginia winning 10. In 2009, Sims was rated the top quarterback prospect in the nation by ESPN. At Oscar Smith High in Chesapeake, Va., Sims threw for 10,725 yards and 119 touchdowns, both state records.

In his five appearances in relief this year, Sims (158.8 efficiency rating) has outplayed Rocco (127.1). While Sims has thrown five touchdown passes with no interceptions, Rocco has six touchdowns to eight interceptions. Only four teams in the FBS have been intercepted more than Virginia.

Sims entered Saturday after Rocco threw an interception which was returned for a touchdown. Sims completed 10 of 17 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns, leading a rally that fell short.

"When the time presents itself that one player has exceeded the expectations and the opportunity of another player, whether it's the quarterback or any other position, then that player warrants an opportunity to get a chance to play," London said.

Now Virginia will try to settle on an identity. Before the season, London said he wanted the offense to be more dynamic. In the process, however, the Cavaliers' ground attack has suffered. With a stable of talented, experienced backs and a pair of All-American candidate tackles, Virginia is averaging only 124.6 rushing yards per game, down from 162 last season.

Senior Perry Jones, who averaged 5.0 yards per carry in 2011, is down to 3.4 per rush. Sophomore Kevin Parks is averaging 4.1 yards per carry, down from 4.7. The return of the Cavaliers' most powerful between-the-tackles runner, sophomore Clifton Richardson, who averaged 5.1 yards in 2011, will help.

"Where do you go from here? What are you looking at, personnel and things like that, is finding out what we do best," London said on Monday before announcing the move to Sims. "We want to run the ball, but what do we do best in terms of moving the ball and with whom in terms of the personnel?"