On a day in which Virginia sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco became the most prolific passer among first-year starting quarterbacks in program history, he did not perform well enough to put the Cavaliers in position to win against Virginia Tech, according to the “bad play percentage” metric.
Clearly, when a team loses 38-0, as Virginia did Saturday, one person is not solely at fault, even if that person is the starting quarterback. Rocco didn’t let David Wilson run wild all over the field, and he wasn’t responsible for Logan Thomas beating the Virginia secondary with pass plays just about every time the Hokies quarterback needed to.
But Rocco did lead an offense that ventured into Virginia Tech territory six times in the first three quarters Saturday without coming away with a single point to show for its efforts. He did complete 2 of 7 passes on third downs and get sacked on another. He did throw two late interceptions, though one went through the hands of his intended receiver.
Fifth-year senior linebacker Aaron Taliaferro may have put it best – “I don’t think it was the offense’s fault; I don’t think it was the defense’s fault. I just think together as a whole as a team we just failed that game.” – but unfortunately in this case for Rocco, he plays the highest profile position.
And so when he turns in a bad play percentage* of 17.3, it stands out. That’s not an obscenely high number by any means, but it was a sub-par performance when matched up against Rocco’s other recent outings. Rocco, after all, had been a key figure in leading Virginia to the four-game winning streak that preceded Saturday’s game.
* 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. According to East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who created the bad play percentage metric, a quarterback’s bad play percentage never should be more than 15. Ideally, it would be 12 or less.
The Hokies, Rocco said, did a nice job of “mixing up their pressures,” meaning they blitzed Rocco at various times from various different places. The offensive line struggled to provide Rocco consistent protection, which led to Rocco being sacked four times and badgered on several other occassions.
Virginia’s first trip into the Hokies’ red zone ended with an ill-advised decision to go for it on fourth and two from the seven-yard line. Instead of attempting a short field goal, the Cavaliers handed the ball off to Kevin Parks, who was stopped short of the first down marker.
On a red zone trip late in the first half, Rocco fumbled the ball after being sacked for a loss of 13. Virginia Tech recovered, and again, the Cavaliers came away from a scoring opportunity empty handed.
Rocco threw for 141 yards before halftime and finished the day completing 16 of 27 passes (59.3 percent) for 211 yards. He has thrown for 2,359 yards on the season, the most by any first-year quarteback in Virginia history.
Indeed, there were some bright spots in Rocco’s day. He completed a 32-yard passes to wideout Tim Smith and fullback Max Milien. He completed a 24-yard pass to seldom-used wideout Ray Keys. And he compelted seven passes for 100 yards to wideout Kris Burd.
Still, with a struggling offensive line and an ineffective run game, Rocco turned in a good play percentage* of 25. As a point of reference, Rocco typically has turned in a good play percentage of around 30 in games this season. As London pointed out Sunday, the Hokies made the Virginia offense one-dimensional, and that certainly didn’t improve matters for Rocco.
* 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.
The second half devolved rather quickly for Rocco. Part of that was on him; part of it was not. On Virginia’s second drive of the third quarter, Rocco threw a pass intended for Burd that went through Burd’s hands and was intercepted by Virginia Tech cornerback Detrick Bonner.
Virginia’s third drive of the third quarter seemed promising until the Cavaliers neared the Hokies’ goal line. On third and three from the Virginia Tech 10-yard line, Virginia Tech defensive end James Gayle beat Cavaliers right tackle Morgan Moses and applied pressure on Rocco. It appeared Rocco, who knew he was under pressure, could have thrown the ball away since he had scrambled out of the box. But on second effort, Gayle brought Rocco down for a loss of 11 yards.
Senior placekicker Robert Randolph missed the ensuing 38-yard field goal wide right.
Gayle beat Moses off the edge and sacked Rocco again on the first play of Virginia’s fourth offensive series of the second half. On second and 16 from the Virginia 20-yard line, Rocco attempted a pass to junior tailback Perry Jones, but threw the ball behind Jones and into the hands of Virginia Tech defensive end J.R. Collins.
Rocco tackled Collins at the Virginia four-yard line. The Hokies scored a touchdown three plays later to extend their lead to 35-0.