Evaluating the performances of Michael Rocco, David Watford against Georgia Tech

For the first time since true freshman quarterback David Watford began receiving significant playing time, both he and sophomore Michael Rocco performed well enough in the same game to put Virginia in position to earn a victory, according to the “bad play percentage” metric.

Rocco made his sixth straight start under center for the Cavaliers and took roughly three-quarters of the snaps during Virginia’s 24-21 upset win Saturday over then-No. 12 Georgia Tech. He threw his eighth interception of the season – the most of any ACC quarterback – but he also led the Cavaliers to touchdowns on two of their first three drives for the third consecutive game.

Watford, meantime, played one series each in the second and fourth quarters. His first possession under center Saturday ended up being a 10-play scoring drive that put Virginia back on top after Georgia Tech had erased the Cavaliers’ 14-point advantage.

Neither quarterback was asked to do much with his throwing arm. Virginia attempted a season-low 19 passes, which is a considerable break from its usual pattern considering the Cavaliers entered the game averaging 40.2 pass attempts per contest. Rocco was 8 of 14 for 118 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Watford threw for 17 yards on 1 of 5 passing.

Rocco turned in a bad play percentage* Saturday of 14.3, which marked the first time in three games he met a standard for quality quarterback play established by East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. According to Riley’s method of quarterback evaluation, a signal caller should never turn in a bad play percentage higher than 15 in any given game. Ideally, it would be no higher than 12 percent.

* 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.

Unlike in last season’s 33-21 loss at Georgia Tech, the Cavaliers offense was aggressive at the outset Saturday against the Yellow Jackets. Rocco completed 6 of 8 passes for 95 yards in the first quarter, which included a 37-yard touchdown completion to redshirt sophomore wideout Tim Smith and a 30-yard completion to senior wideout Kris Burd.

However, on the third play of Virginia’s fourth possession, Rocco threw an interception that was returned 32 yards for a touchdown that knotted the score, 14-14.

That Rocco was in the game at that particular point signified a break from Virginia’s recent quarterback rotation pattern. In the Cavaliers’ three previous games, Watford had replaced Rocco for the team’s fourth possession, a move scripted by the offensive staff before the game.

In two of those three games, Rocco had led Virginia to touchdown drives on two of the first three drives before subbing out for Watford, and the Cavaliers’ offense – whether by direct effect or coincidence – never regained its initial momentum.

Following Rocco’s interception Saturday, Watford entered the game for Virginia’s fifth possession and led the Cavaliers on a 10-play drive that ended with true freshman tailback Clifton Richardson tallying a 22-yard touchdown run.

Rocco returned to the game for the sixth series. He ended up recording a good play percentage* of 32.6.

* 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.

Rocco was on the field for three of Virginia’s four offensive possessions of the second half. But in sticking with their recent trend, the Cavaliers could not replicate their offensive proficiency in the second half. Virginia has scored 11 points combined in the second halves of the past three games, though it should be noted the Cavaliers did score seven points in the overtime period Oct. 1 against Idaho.

It also should be noted that Virginia likely could have scored if it had wanted to on its final possession Saturday. The Cavaliers kneeled twice inside the Georgia Tech 10-yard line to run out the game clock in the fourth quarter.

Still, the team’s recent troubles scoring after halftime would seem to be reason for concern as it ventures further into ACC play. Rocco, in particular, appears to lose something – be it momentum or rhythm or mojo – in the second half.

“As the game goes on, other teams are allowed to adjust to what you’re doing,” Coach Mike London said Sunday when asked about Rocco’s performance in the second halves of games. “It’s just one of those things that happen. It was unfortunate that (Rocco) threw into a coverage the dictated that he not throw it (on his second-quarter interception). He thought he saw something, and he threw it. It wasn’t a good decision.”

Watford logged 17 plays Saturday, which pails in comparison to Rocco’s 49, so take Watford’s output with a grain of salt. According to Riley’s metric, Watford recorded just one bad play, which gave him a bad play percentage of 5.9.

But there’s one play that didn’t count toward Watford’s bad play percentage total that probably sticks out in the minds of Virginia fans. On fourth and one in the fourth quarter from the Georgia Tech 35-yard line, the Cavaliers called for a play-action pass. Watford’s throw was intended for redshirt junior tight end Colter Phillips, but Watford said the ball slipped as it came out his hand. It fell incomplete, and Virginia turned the ball over on downs.

On the other hand, Watford’s good play percentage came in at 41.2 percent. Again, it was a relatively small sample size, but still, that’s not too shabby a performance.

In fact, the 10-play scoring drive Watford orchestrated in the second quarter was crucial, considering the Yellow Jackets had tied the score just moments earlier. Virginia gained all 72 yards on that possession on the ground, but still, Watford was the one under center. We’ve seen times this season when his overall operation of the offense has not been smooth. That drive was not one of those times.

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