Neither sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco – who made his fifth start of the season – nor true freshman quarterback David Watford – who played extensively in the fourth quarter and overtime period – performed well enough Saturday to lead Virginia to victory over visiting Idaho, according to the “bad play percentage” metric.
The Cavaliers, as you know by now, did prevail, though. Thanks in large part to a sterling defensive effort, Virginia held on for a 21-20 overtime win.
Virginia switched quarterbacks five times Saturday and never was able to recover the offensive momentum the Cavaliers generated at the outset of the game. Virginia scored touchdowns on two of its first three possessions and then did not score again until overtime.
Coach Mike London said he thought Rocco began to struggle late in the third quarter, and so London inserted Watford. Then Watford became unraveled a bit, and so London put Rocco back in the game for one series. Then one of Rocco’s incomplete passes fluttered, and London thought the rib injury Rocco had suffered a week earlier might be bothering him. So in went Watford once more.
In the end, Rocco turned in a season-high bad play percentage* of 18. According to East Carolina Offensive Coordinator Lincoln Riley – who came up with the formula as a means to evaluate a quarterback’s performance – 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.
But Rocco was not alone in his struggles. Watford turned in a bad play percentage of 22.2. It should be noted that Rocco played 61 snaps, while Watford played 36 snaps against the Vandals.
“We’re trying to find rhythm with David and with Michael,” London said. “There were some good things and there were some bad things. It’s one of those things that going into (the bye week), taking a long look at this game with the open week that’s coming up to solidify, whether it’s positions or type of plays that we have to run or the type of plays that we have to get rid of and the type of defenses that we need, there’s going to be kind of a look at everything we do and who is doing it.”
Rocco’s bad play percentage has increased each week this season, and Saturday marked the second consecutive game in which his output was higher than 15 percent.
In total, Rocco completed 20 of 30 passes (66.7 percent) for 240 yards and one touchdown. And he did not throw an interception, which was a notable improvement from the week before when he threw three.
But it’s worth wondering whether Watford’s scripted entrances into games are messing with the rhythm Rocco and the offense generate at the outset of games. Saturday marked the second consecutive week in which Virginia scored touchdowns on two of its first three possessions and in which Watford was inserted on the fourth series.
Against Southern Mississippi on Sept. 24, Virginia trailed, 14-13, when Watford entered the game in the second quarter with the Cavaliers backed against their own 1-yard line. Virginia went three-and-out.
Rocco came back in on the fifth and sixth series and ended both with interceptions. To be clear, neither the coaches nor Watford deserve any blame for either of those two turnovers. Rocco took full responsibility for both throws.
Still, the sequence of events makes you wonder whether Rocco’s rhythm was in any way affected by having to come out of the game and then re-enter after a pro-longed break. He knew it was coming. The coaches decided before the game that Watford would play the fourth series and informed both quarterbacks of that plan. But that doesn’t necessarily make handling it any easier.
On Saturday, Virginia led, 14-0, when Watford entered the game – again, per the script – on the Cavaliers’ fourth possession. The drive began at the Virginia 11-yard line. Watford threw an interception on his third pass attempt.
Rocco re-entered the game for the Cavaliers’ fifth and sixth offensives series, both of which ended with fumbles by Virginia tailbacks.
On the Cavaliers’ final drive of the first half, Virginia advanced 52 yards in 31 seconds to move into field goal range. Following a timeout with the ball at the Idaho 20-yard line, Rocco couldn’t find an appealing option to throw to out of the pocket, so he scrambled toward the end zone.
He was tackled at the six-yard line with no time left to attempt a field goal before the end of the first half.
“There were six seconds left on the clock, and we were going to take a shot at the end zone,” London said. “If the guy wasn’t open, we wanted Michael to throw it out of the end zone and have at least a second on the clock to kick a field goal. I guess everyone saw the scramble opportunity that occurred. Instead of going down, I guess he thought he had an opportunity to get into the end zone.
“It was a mistake that cost us three points at the end of the half there. It’s a learning issue with him. We’ve just got to make sure in those situations when you’re trying to get points in the time that you have on the clock that you’re fully alert and aware of those things.”
Rocco posted a season-high good play percentage* of 32.8 against Idaho, and he recorded his highest number of good plays in the first quarter.
* 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.
Watford, on the other hand, posted a good play percentage of 22.2. He tallied the same number of good plays (8) as he did bad plays.
At one point late in the fourth quarter, Watford called the wrong play. The result was a nine-yard loss on a reverse run by true freshman wideout Darius Jennings. After that series, London removed Watford from the game to settle him down.
But Watford’s respite was brief. He went back into the game after sitting out one offensive possession. On Virginia’s final drive of the fourth quarter, Watford completed 2 of 6 passes for 20 yards.
London stuck with Watford when overtime began, and on the sixth play, Watford connected with true freshman wideout Dominique Terrell on a bubble screen that became a 27-yard touchdown pass. On the day, Watford completed 10 of 20 passes for 95 yards.
“We could have scored more points,” Watford said. “I think we could have scored a lot more points. … The rhythm, we’ll have to pick that up a little bit, but that’s just something we’ll have to work on.”