For the first time this season, Virginia sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco did not perform well enough in a game to put the Cavaliers in position to win, according to the “bad play percentage” metric.
Rocco, as you know, was pulled late in the third quarter of Virginia’s 30-24 loss Saturday to Southern Mississippi and replaced by true freshman David Watford, who tallied a very limited number of bad plays in about two-thirds as many snaps.
It’s unclear at this point who will start under center when Virginia hosts Idaho this weekend in the Cavaliers’ final non-conference game of the season. Rocco took a crushing hit late in the second quarter Saturday and, according to Coach Mike London, suffered an injury to his “midsection area.” Rocco said Saturday he was fine.
What we do know is that Rocco has thrown seven interceptions in four games this season. Granted, all interceptions are not created equal. Some were more his fault than others. But Rocco threw three interceptions against Southern Miss, and he acknowledged afterward his decision-making could have been better on each of those throws.
Rocco turned in a season-high bad play percentage of 17.3. Bad play percentage* is a method of evaluating a quarterback’s performance that was crafted by East Carolina Offensive Coordinator Lincoln Riley. According to Riley, a quarterback’s bad play percentage should be no higher than 15 percent in order to put a team in position to win. 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.
While Rocco’s bad play percentage has increased each week this season, Saturday marked the first time he had ever notched one higher than 15 percent.
Against Southern Miss, Rocco completed 16 of 24 passes (66.7 percent) for 140 yards. He also ran the ball twice for 11 yards, including a six-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Rocco’s good play percentage* Saturday was 30.8.
*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 has not tallied a good play percentage of less than 30 this season and, in fact, has remained remarkably consistent in that category. He posted a good play percentage of 31 in Virginia’s first two games and came in at 30.4 in the third.
One thing London said last week he wanted to see the offense do was open up the playbook and make the passing game more vertical in an attempt to create more “big plays,” which he described as plays that gained 15 or more yards. During Virginia’s 28-17 loss at North Carolina on Sept. 17, the Cavaliers tallied 12 big plays.
Virginia recorded six big plays Saturday, and Rocco was on the field for three of them. In the first quarter, he completed a pass to tailback Perry Jones that gained 17 yards and one to wideout Kris Burd that gained 16 yards. Later in the first quarter, Jones rushed the ball for a 20-yard gain.
It’s worth noting that on the first two of Rocco’s three interceptions Saturday, his intended targets were at least 15 yards downfield.
After Rocco’s third interception, he was pulled in favor of Watford*, who was on the field Saturday for 33 snaps and turned in a bad play percentage of 6.1. Granted, the playcalling while Watford was under center was very conservative, especially on his first four drives (which included one series in the second quarter).
* For clarity’s sake, London said Saturday he decided to replace Rocco with Watford rather than redshirt sophomore Ross Metheny because “David had been in the game already.” Leading up to Virginia’s season opener Sept. 3, London had said Metheny would be the one to replace Rocco in the event Rocco was injured or proved ineffective. The line of quarterback succession clearly changed in recent weeks. London said that had Watford not performed well in relief Saturday, Metheny would have gone into the game.
Watford’s good play percentage was 24.2, which also may be attributable at least in part to the limited menu of plays he was allowed to execute.
On Watford’s fifth series of the day – which came midway through the fourth quarter – the playcalling seemed to open up a little. Watford completed passes of 15, 18, 12 and 13 yards while conducting a 10-play scoring drive. On third and goal from the 1-yard line, Watford completed a touchdown pass to tight end Jeremiah Mathis.
The Cavaliers went for two. On the conversion play, Watford had to scramble to his right to evade a Southern Miss defender. He eventually connected with Burd in the end zone.
“That was an athletic play,” London said of the two-point conversion. “Obviously, the drama with all that was having to escape the rusher that’s coming at (Watford). But it showed some athleticism and wherewithal. It was a good play. We need more plays like that from everyone on the team.”