For the second time in the past three games, Virginia sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco turned in a bad play percentage that would be categorized as “ideal” by the metric’s creator.
Rocco completed 15 of 29 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns Saturday during a 31-21 win over Duke. He also did not throw an interception for the third time in the past four games. In fact, after tossing seven interceptions in Virginia’s first four games this season, Rocco has thrown two in the past six.
“I think he’s handling the offense,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said after Saturday’s game. “I think he made some good throws. We thought we’ve had more productive days, but he did what he had to do to win the game today, and so I was really happy with it.”
While Rocco’s completion percentage both against Duke (51.7 percent) and on the season (59.2 percent) leaves something to be desired, few can argue that Rocco has not performed capably in the past three games since assuming the full reins of the offense. True freshman quarterback David Watford’s play has decreased since Virginia’s 28-14 loss Oct. 22 to North Carolina State, and Saturday marked the first time all season Watford did not play a single snap.
The offense, as a whole, seems to have benefited from the recent stability at the quarterback position. In its first seven games this season, Virginia averaged 407.4 yards of total offense and 24.9 points per contest.
In the past three games, the Cavaliers have averaged 451 yards of total offense and 27.7 points* per contest.
* The offense does not get credit for cornerback Chase Minnifield’s 54-yard interception return for a touchdown, which is why that average might seem a tad low for the past three-game scoring output.
Rocco does not deserve all the credit for Virginia’s recent offensive success – just like he didn’t deserve all the blame when Virginia’s offense was in a rut – but has consistently has done exactly what the Cavaliers have needed him to do in the past three games. No more and no less.
It seems like I have been writing that sentiment a lot of late as it pertains to Rocco’s performance, but as long as he keeps doing exactly that, the Cavaliers will stand a good chance of winning.
On Saturday, Rocco turned in a bad play percentage* of 9.7, which is well below the limit East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley – the innovator of this particular method of quarterback evaluation – set for “ideal” performance. According to Riley, a quarterback needs to post a bad play percentage of 15 or less in order to put his team in position to win any given game. Ideally, though, Riley says it should be 12 or less.
* 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 found his stride in the second and third quarters Saturday, in which he completed a combined 11 of 18 passes (61.1 percent) for 152 yards. He didn’t need to throw much in the fourth quarter, when the Cavaliers essentially were just aiming to run out the clock (13 rushes, five passes).
In the first half, Rocco orchestrated two 11-play scoring drives in which he completed a combined 8 of 11 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns. But the Cavaliers also went three-and-out four times in the first half.
Rocco posted a good play percentage* Saturday of 29.2, which is not bad but not spectacular, either. He threw a six-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeremiah Mathis and an eight-yard pass to wide receiver Kris Burd, who avoided a tackle and then tight-roped 30 yards down the sideline for another touchdown.
* 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.
Overall, Rocco performed adequately, gave his team what it needed to succeed and put them in position to earn another victory. Lazor, Coach Mike London and Virginia’s fan base surely will take that on most nights.
“I think we’re maturing,” Lazor said of the Cavaliers offense. “I think they believe that the formula is to be physical and play fast and that big plays will come from that. I think we’re going to watch the video both in the run game and the pass game and see that we were really close to hitting a few more that could have probably busted it open, but that’s football. You miss some, and you’ve got to keep moving on anyway.”