By at least one metric, Virginia sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco performed well enough to lead the Cavaliers to victory Saturday at North Carolina. That, as you know, did not happen. The Tar Heels prevailed, 28-17.
But despite guiding an offense that advanced into the red zone only once Saturday and that failed to capitalize on several first-half scoring chances, Rocco’s bad play percentage came out to 14.5.
According to a method for evaluating quarterbacks drawn up by East Carolina Offensive Coordinator Lincoln Riley, if a quarterback’s bad play percentage* is less than 15, said quarterback has done enough to put his team in position to win. Ideally, though, Riley believes, a quarterback’s bad play percentage in any given outing is less than 12.
* To review, every sack, interception, turnover, negative yardage play and offensive penalty that occurs while a particular quarterback is on the field is considered to be a bad play for said quarterback.
Rocco completed 22 of 37 passes (59.5 percent) for 287 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions Saturday. He also ran four yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Rocco’s good play percentage* Saturday was 30.4.
*Every pass play of at least 15 yards, run play of at least 12 yards, touchdown and first down while a particular quarterback is on the field is considered to be a good play for said quarterback.
“There were a couple of plays out there that showed the presence of what a quarterback has to do,” Coach Mike London said after the game. “One of those interceptions came off the hands of a wide receiver, but it goes into (North Carolina’s) hands so it doesn’t matter. You look at the stats and you see interceptions, and we can’t have that.
“I did think he took a step forward (Saturday) in leading the team and doing some of the things that we’ve asked him to do.”
The next step in Rocco’s progression as a starting quarterback is being able to execute a larger number of what Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazor called “big plays,” or plays that gain 15 or more yards. In the first two games of the season, Rocco requested an offensive game plan that was heavy on short- to intermediate-range passes, and Lazor obliged. He called much of the time for Rocco to make relatively safe throws, and Rocco did that well.
On Saturday, Lazor called for Rocco to attempt longer throws more often. When ACC play resumes for the Cavaliers in four weeks, that progression will need to be much further along. Lazor said Saturday that he wanted to examine whether he needed to start calling for more big plays, ones that would gain “chunks” of yardage rather than ones that move the ball down the field “little by little.”
The Cavaliers and the Tar Heels each tallied 12 “big plays” Saturday, though one of Virginia’s came when Rocco was not on the field. North Carolina gained 257 yards combined on their big plays; the Cavaliers gained 275 yards on theirs.
So perhaps it’s not that more big plays are in order for Virginia, but rather that the Cavaliers need to start calling for big plays earlier in the game. Five of Virginia’s big plays occurred in the fourth quarter, at the beginning of which the Cavaliers trailed by 18.
Virginia gained 170 rushing yards Saturday against one of the stingiest run defenses in the nation. The Cavaliers allowed just one sack against one of the most aggressive, athletic and talented defensive front sevens in the country. Now, London said Sunday, it’s time for Virginia’s passing game to become as potent as the rest of the offense.
“I think that the confidence coming out of this game is that if the offensive line can protect, which hopefully they’ve proven that they can, and we can run the ball on teams, which hopefully we’ve proven that we can do also,” London said. “So teams are trying to stop you with an eight-man box or by bringing a safety down, and you have an opportunity to line up and throw a straight route, throw intermediate routes, throw combination routes, throw the ball downfield to get some of these guys, Darius Jennings, Dominique Terrell, Kris Burd, Timmy Smith. …
“We do have to throw the ball downfield more, because I think offensively so far we’ve proven that we can protect the quarterbacks, so now I think what (Lazor) was alluding to was just to open up the playbook a little bit more and trying to stretch the field more vertically.”
That, of course, will put more pressure on Rocco. Thus far, he’s proven he can handle the responsibilities handed to him.
Here’s a rundown on how Rocco has performed through the first three weeks of the season, based on the good play/bad play percentage metric:
Opponent – FCS William & Mary
# of good plays (good play percentage) – 18 (31 percent)
# of bad plays (bad play percentage) – 6 (10.3 percent)
Opponent – Indiana
# of good plays (good play percentage) – 22 (31 percent)
# of bad plays (bad play percentage) – 10 (14.1 percent)
Opponent – North Carolina
# of good plays (good play percentage) – 21 (30.4 percent)
# of bad plays (bad play percentage) – 10 (14.5 percent)