On the first play of the second quarter Saturday night at Florida State, Virginia sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco lined up under center at the Seminoles seven-yard line with one man in the backfield. At the snap, Rocco took a five-step drop and lofted a pass toward a spot along the side of the end zone.
When Rocco released the throw, his intended target – junior tailback Perry Jones, the lone man who started the play in the Virginia backfield – was at the six-yard line. In other words, Rocco was hoping Jones would end up were he was supposed to end up, and Jones was hoping Rocco’s throw would end up were it was supposed to end up.
The play worked seamlessly. Rocco’s pass sunk right in between the linebacker in coverage and the safety providing help over the top and into Jones hands for a touchdown. There weren’t many offensive highlights for Virginia on Saturday, but that one was pretty impressive.
The Cavaliers run many timing-based routes, but this one seemed to have a higher degree of difficulty. The pass required touch and counted on Jones at the very least being able to knock it down if he didn’t have positioning on the opposing linebacker or safety. But Rocco was pretty accurate most of the night, and that play was no different.
In turning in his second-highest completion percentage of the season, Rocco did just enough to put the Cavaliers in position to win Saturday’s game, according to the “bad play percentage” metric. As you know, Virginia did win, 14-13.
Rocco was far from flawless, but his bad play percentage* of 14.5 fell just below the marker East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley set (15 percent) as the maximum a quarterback can post in order to put his team in position to win a game. Riley is the creator of the bad play percentage metric, which can be used as one measure of a quarterback’s effectiveness.
* 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 completed 22 of 31 passes (71 percent) for 238 yards and one touchdown against a Florida State defense that Virginia offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said was the best he’d seen while coaching at the collegiate level. For the fifth time in his past seven games, Rocco did not throw an interception.
Other than the 11-play, 82-yard drive that concluded with the touchdown pass to Jones, the first half was a little rough on and for Rocco. He was sacked three times before the break. The Virginia offensive line hadn’t given up a sack in its three previous games, and Rocco had not been sacked in the past four games.
But for all the questions that surrounded Rocco at various points this season, none of them ever concerned his toughness. And so after each hit he took Saturday – and there were many others besides those three sacks – Rocco pulled himself up and kept playing.
In the second half, Rocco demonstrated some of his mobility. He scrambled out of the pocket on second and 15 midway through the third quarter and picked up 12 yards. In the fourth quarter, Rocco ran for 13 yards to pick up a first down on third and 12. Those were two of the 18 “good plays” Rocco tallied on the night. Rocco turned in a good play percentage* of 29, which is not great, but not awful, either.
* 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.
After the Virginia defense forced a punt with just less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and the Cavaliers trailing by six, Rocco and the offense took over at the Virginia 25-yard line.
On first down, Rocco completed a nine-yard pass to Jones. On second down, the Cavaliers lined up five-wide. The Seminoles rushed four defenders and had seven in coverage. Rocco connected with redshirt sophomore wideout Tim Smith down the middle of the field – in between two Florida State defensive backs – for a 34-yard pass play. That set up first and 10 at the Seminoles 32-yard line.
Next, Rocco completed a six-yard pass to fifth-year senior wideout Kris Burd – who on Saturday moved into sole possession of second place on the program’s all-time receptions list – and then completed a 16-yard pass to Jones down to the Florida State 10-yard line. Rocco completed 4 of 4 passes for 65 yards on that drive.
On first and goal, Rocco handed the ball off to redshirt freshman tailback Kevin Parks, who ran up the middle. The intent was to run some time off the clock. Instead, Parks rumbled into the end zone for what – with the extra point tacked on – proved to be the go-ahead score.