In regards to Virginia’s quarterback rotation, the Cavaliers’ 28-14 loss Saturday to North Carolina State brought to the forefront the discussion of how many people take responsibility for an incomplete pass. Obviously, the quarterback who threw it shoulders a significant portion of the blame in many cases. The intended receiver can be at fault, as well.
But Coach Mike London and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor have spoken often this season about putting their players – and specifically their quarterbacks – in position to be successful, and it appears they came to the conclusion following the showings of sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco and true freshman quarterback David Watford during the N.C. State defeat that such an objective wasn’t being met to a high enough degree.
Despite throwing for just 36 yards on 7 of 19 passing, Rocco performed well enough to lead the Cavaliers to victory, according to the “bad play percentage” metric. And that’s due in large part to the fact that while Rocco did not make many good plays, he did not make many bad ones, either. Incomplete passes do not count as bad plays in the bad play percentage metric, which was designed by East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.
On the other hand, Watford did not come close to performing well enough to lead Virginia to a win, according to Riley’s metric, despite logging – for the first time this season – nearly as many snaps as Rocco. Watford completed four passes to Cavaliers players Saturday and three to N.C. State. On Sunday, London said it is time to scale back the in-game responsibilities placed on Watford. Virginia plays Thursday night at Miami.
“You want to make sure that you can still bring him along, which we have, which we’ve done,” London said of Watford. “But at the same time you try to do things that can help him be successful. To go in and say, ‘You drive us from here to there,’ and take the entire weight of the playbook on him, may have been unfair to him.
“But at the same time, the skills and ability have lended (sic) him credence to be able to do that. As we’re looking into it now and going into this next game, and plus the other thing is it’s such a short week, such a short turnaround, that you’re putting all the big parts of your game plan in early on the front end because you travel on a Wednesday for a Thursday night game. It may be a good time, this particular game, to make plays with David, not necessarily series.”
Watford recorded a bad play percentage* of 31.2 against N.C. State. 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.
Watford entered the game for Virginia’s fourth offensive possession and threw an interception on his second play. London said N.C. State’s defense did a good job all game of altering its coverages right after the snap, and that’s what occurred on Watford’s first interception. Before the snap, it appeared to Watford as if the Wolfpack was going to play a three-deep zone coverage, which made a hitch route appealing. True freshman wideout Darius Jennings, lined up wide to Watford’s right, was supposed to run a hitch route.
But right after the snap, N.C. State switched to a Cover 2 look in which the cornerbacks are responsible for the flat areas on their particular side of the field. Jennings ran a deep route instead of a hitch, and N.C. State cornerback David Amerson sat on the hitch route. Amerson dove and collected the interception. In Lazor’s timing-based offense, Watford is supposed to trust that the receiver will be where he’s supposed to be, which is why he threw the pass even though Jennings wasn’t in the area where the ball ended up going.
“David just didn’t see it,” London said. “He didn’t see the rotation of the safeties. It was an ill-advised throw, and the kid felt bad about it. He just didn’t see it.”
That Watford was even in the game at that point was simultaneously perplexing and in line with the coaching staff’s previously adhered-to plan for its quarterback rotation. All season, London and Lazor have found playing time for Watford in the first half of games – in either the fourth or the fifth offensive series – regardless of circumstance.
On the Virginia possession that immediately preceded Watford’s entrance into the game Saturday, Rocco had led the Cavaliers on a 14-play, 72-yard drive that concluded with a six-yard touchdown pass to true freshman tailback Clifton Richardson, which afforded Virginia an early lead.
Following Watford’s interception, Rocco re-entered the game and threw incomplete passes on his next 10 attempts. Rocco ended up with a bad play percentage of 2.6, which was far and away a season-low. But he finished with a good play percentage* of 20.5, which also was a season-low.
* 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.
London said Sunday that when he went back and reviewed the game film, he saw that on three of the four Virginia possessions during which Rocco had his string of 10 straight incompletions, passes that should have been caught were dropped by the intended receiver.
“And a dropped pass, if the ball is caught, then it’s a different dynamic because it’s a first down and you’re moving the chains,” London said. “Just like on the other side with David’s interceptions, hey, it might have bounced off Timmy’s hands or whatever, but it still goes down as an interception, and we’ve got to be responsible for the ball. It’s a collaborative effort, and we just have to take a hard look at ourselves and look at our guys, our young guys, our quarterbacks, and say, ‘Listen, are we putting them in a good situation for them to be successful?’”
Watford’s good play percentage Saturday was 15.6, and the most obvious highlight was his 60-yard touchdown pass to Tim Smith late in the third quarter. But on the whole, it is clear London did not believe Watford performed well enough to continue to shoulder the responsibilities they’d given him.
Rocco played 39 snaps Saturday; Watford played 32. Barring an injury to Rocco, don’t expect to see a ratio like that between those two players in Thursday night’s game at Miami, and perhaps not for the rest of the season.