Friday, September 30, 2011

game preview: Idaho

Date/Time: Saturday, October 1; 3:30


History against the Vandals: 0-0

Last matchup: N/A

Last week: USM 30, UVA 24; Fresno St. 48, UI 24

Line: Virginia by 16.5

Opposing blogs: none

Injury report: N/A

This game is kind of my poster child for why I want to play nine games in the ACC.  Do we really need a random WAC-snack game?  Are the fans going to show up for this one?  (I'm guessing not.)  Of course, it's also the poster child for the opposition in that argument: yes we need a WAC-snack so we can get ourselves bowl-eligible, cause it's not gonna happen if we replace Idaho with Clemson.  (No, probably not, but maybe Wake Forest instead.)

Anyway, if you ask me this is pretty much the most completely random matchup I've ever seen in 11 years of following UVA.  At least it's an improvement over a home-and-home with UTSA.  I mean, who does that?

-- UVA run offense vs. Idaho run defense

Top backs:
Perry Jones: 59 carries, 255 yards, 4.3 avg.
Kevin Parks: 50 carries, 282 yards, 5.6 avg.

UVA offense:
181.25 yards/game, 4.5 yards/attempt
43rd of 120 (national), 5th of 12 (ACC)

Idaho defense:
124.5 yards/games, 3.56 yards/attempt
46th of 120 (national), 4th of 8 (WAC)

The big question of the week is Kevin Parks and his ankle.  After four games we're starting to get enough of a look at the offense to be able to say that Parks is the most effective back in the ground game.  The workload split has been about 2-2-1 between Parks, Perry Jones, and Clifton Richardson; Jones is solid with good vision and excellent skills as a receiver, but the other two bring physical talents that Jones does not.

For their part, Idaho's run defense should be given more respect than the name "Idaho" commands.  The Vandals got killed by Texas A&M but it wasn't the fault of the run defenders, as they held A&M's workhorse back Cyrus Gray to 3.5 yards a carry.  Gray got to 101 yards but he needed almost 30 carries to do it.  The secret to Idaho's success is the back seven.  The defensive line doesn't get involved in playmaking much; the safeties are brought up in run support, and they and the linebackers are relied upon to get the stops.  Middle linebacker Tre'Shawn Robinson leads the team in TFL and is tied with safety Gary Harris for the lead in tackles.  The top four tacklers are the safeties and two linebackers.

It's hard keeping Parks off the field, but I'd like to see it this week.  With a lesser opponent and then a bye week, this'd be a decent chance to get Parks good and healthy for the ACC long haul.  Let's go ahead and predict that Parks and Richardson swap places in that 2-2-1 workload split, and Parks gets the fewest carries of the three.  But Texas A&M has a very solid rushing offense that Idaho was able to control.  We don't have a very wrinkly running game and this isn't really a question of line vs. line, so I don't expect to get much better results than the 4.5 ypa we've been getting.

-- UVA pass offense vs. Idaho pass defense

Mike Rocco: 74/119, 62.2%; 792 yards, 1 TD, 7 INT; 6.66 yds/attempt

Top receivers:
Kris Burd: 22 catches, 250 yards, 0 TD
Perry Jones: 17 catches, 158 yards, 0 TD

UVA offense:
243.3 yards/game, 6.4 yards/attempt
91st of 120 (national), 11th of 12 (ACC)

Idaho defense:
301.8 yards/game, 8.3 yards/attempt
106th of 120 (national), 8th of 8 (WAC)

(sigh) is it quarterback controversy time already?  It is, brought on in part by the soreness in Mike Rocco's midsection after taking one too many shots to the gut.  Rocco is still the most efficient mover of the offense, though.

Unfortunately, this is the part of the offense that has regressed somewhat as the season goes on.  The run game here is strength vs. strength; this is weakness vs. weakness.  A huge part of the reason Idaho has been bad is because the pass defense has been terrible.  There is no such thing as a pass rush; Idaho has only recorded two sacks all season.  Teams are averaging over 8 yards an attempt and 300 yards a game.  Nobody other than crappy I-AA opponent North Dakota has had any trouble moving the ball through the air.

So this is a perfect opportunity to get somebody on track, whether it's Rocco or David Watford or even Ross Metheny.  As long as Rocco is healthy, I expect it'll be him, and the quarterback workload will continue as before.  Precedent says that London has a much slower trigger finger on pulling quarterbacks than Groh did.  The question is: how effective can he be?  I will guess at pretty decent.  Accuracy has not been Rocco's problem.  He shouldn't be under any pressure on Saturday - expect no sacks especially with the short passing game that Bill Lazor has favored this year - and in general, his bad interceptions have come as the result of pressure.

If Rocco doesn't play, I think Ross Metheny will and will get plenty of reps.  I don't expect the entire game to be handed over to Watford.  But as I said, Rocco plays if healthy - or even healthy-ish - and he'll improve on his completion percentage (which is already solid) and his passer rating (which is dismally low) and go for 250+ yards.

-- Idaho run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Ryan Bass: 29 carries, 117 yards, 4.0 avg.
Princeton McCarty: 28 carries, 109 yards, 3.9 avg.

Idaho offense:
67.25 yards/game, 2.4 yards/attempt
117th of 120 (national), 8th of 8 (WAC)

UVA defense:
119.75 yards/game, 3.5 yards/attempt
44th of 120 (national), 5th of 12 (ACC)

Part of the reason for the horrible rushing numbers that Idaho displays is that they're also worst in their conference at allowing sacks, but let's not sugarcoat things - this is a garbage running game.  Idaho operates out of the pistol, which is designed to be a running formation, but it's not getting things done.  The Vandals run the ball only about 42% of the time; you'd think that'd be from playing from (way) behind all the time (I did), but they also passed much more than ran in their 30-point win over UND.  (Then again, if you're confused about Idaho's offensive philosophy, you're not alone; so are their fans.  One man's conclusion: "It keeps a low profile so as not to offend anyone.")

So it really just goes back to ineffectiveness.  Idaho stayed away from the run last year as well, racking up less than a quarter of their total yards on the ground.  They had four new starters on the line last year and just weren't good there.  As long as the defense can figure out the pistol formation (it's designed to keep you from figuring out which side the run is going to) they should give UVA fans a little bit of a warm and fuzzy about their abilities.  Idaho's longest running play from scrimmage is 22 yards; I think not only do we silence the big-play bug for this week (nothing over 15 yards will be my call) I think we'll also see the defense hold the Vandals to less than 100 yards total on the ground.  If Bowling Green can do that, we can do that.

-- Idaho pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Brian Reader: 85/149, 57%; 842 yards, 8 TD, 1 INT; 5.65 yds/attempt

Top receivers:
Mike Scott: 26 catches, 328 yards, 1 TD
Armauni Johnson: 14 catches, 192 yards, 2 TD

Idaho offense:
226.3 yards/games, 5.8 yards/attempt
101st of 120 (national), 7th of 8 (WAC)

UVA defense:
196 yards/game, 6.0 yards/attempt
27th of 120 (national), 2nd of 12 (ACC)

If Idaho doesn't move the ball on the ground, they must do so through the air, right?  A little.  Brian Reader isn't a strong-armed quarterback - in fact, he's very like Rocco only with better taking care of the ball.  Idaho only gets about five and a half yards per attempt out of him because he only completes 57% of his passes, but this is where the focus of the Vandal offense will be.

Reader's favorite target is without a doubt Mike Scott, a waterbug type who can scoot.  Scott's longest play this year is 51 yards; that was not Reader who delivered that ball, however.  Armauni Johnson is a big guy at 6'3", and between them they have almost half of Reader's completions.  Johnson will be targeted in the end zone should Idaho find itself approaching hallowed ground.  Because of the size differential, I think the coaches will prefer that Chase Minnifield cover Johnson while Demetrious Nicholson takes Scott, even though Scott is clearly the go-to receiver.

Reader's been on his butt a lot, though, having been sacked 12 times; this puts Idaho in the bottom 20 in the country.  Southern Miss's refusal to stand up and play offense like gentlemen meant the UVA defensive line had trouble getting to Austin Davis; we may see something similar this week with Idaho working out of the pistol, although probably not to the extent that USM did.  If Idaho plays football like men do, and not all this hustling up to the line and then getting the playcall, UVA could finally have an opponent it can make a target out of, which is why I worry that they won't.

Regardless, though, UVA has been effective against the pass.  This is the game right here.  If our relatively strong pass defense can nullify Idaho's passing attack, then the only thing for our offense to determine is whether or not we cover the spread.  Reader brings efficiency but not much big-play potential, which is exactly the kind of offense we're happy to face.


Before the season it was widely considered that this would likely be the worst opponent we'd face all year.  William & Mary has sucked more than expected - only beating VMI by 17 is not impressive - but when you're playing patsy to MAC teams and getting cuffed around by Bowling Green in your own building, the fact that you're not the worst opponent on someone's schedule is not your own fault.  It would be a Very Bad Upset to lose here, because this is the last Bowl Eligibility Special of the season.  Idaho's offense is largely one-dimensional and their defense is totally ill-equipped to take advantage of the UVA offense's biggest weakness.  This sets up well to go into the break on a high note.

Prediction summary:

- Kevin Parks gets fewer carries than both Perry Jones and Clifton Richardson.
- The UVA run game stays near its average of 4.5 ypc.
- Mike Rocco will still get the lion's share of snaps if healthy; if for some reason he can't go, Ross Metheny will at least get significant snaps.
- Assuming Rocco plays, he will deliver noticeable improvement on his passer rating and completion percentage, and pass for 250+ yards.
- Idaho will not record a sack.
- Idaho will have no running plays over 15 yards.
- The UVA defense will hold Idaho to less than 100 yards total rushing.

- Final score: UVA 35, Idaho 13.

Rest of the ACC:

Wake Forest @ Boston College, 12:30 - Time to find out if it's for real that BC sucks.
Maryland vs. Towson, 3:30 - Please don't embarrass the ACC this week, Maryland.  Or do, actually.  I don't care.
Georgia Tech @ NC State, 3:30 - GT's offense is crushing weaklings and NC State's defense is banged up all to hell.
Miami vs. Bethune-Cookman, 3:30 - Wuteva.
Clemson @ Virginia Tech, 6:00 - This is the marquee game of the week; isn't 6:00 usually the time of day that you play, like, VMI?
Duke @ Florida International, 7:00 - Duke at Florida International?
North Carolina @ East Carolina, 8:00 - UNC meant to schedule the South version but got mixed up.


TimNyc said...

I like the WAC-snack, nice to watch a game in a relaxed fashion, be guaranteed a win and maybe get bowl eligible

Anonymous said...

"This game is kind of my poster child for why I want to play nine games in the ACC. Do we really need a random WAC-snack game?"

Yes!!! We need to schedule 4 wins OOC. Any halfway decent coach can get us to .500 in-conference on a consistent basis. Add 4 wins OOC, and we're a consistent 8-win team with an excellent shot at 9 wins (because the fan base doesn't travel well enough to expect a terribly challenging bowl opponent).

That's not playing at any sort of elite level, but string together a few 8-9 win seasons in a row, and you'll see UVA consistently ranked. And with that comes increased media attention, more fans in the stands, more merchandise sales, and a recruiting bump. Turn that recruiting bump into just marginally better play on the field, now we're a 9-10 win sort of program with all kinds of media respect, and another potential recruiting bump.

There are all sorts of examples of scheduling OOC wins as a blueprint for program building: Beamer, Leach, Fridge, etc. Even Welsh to some extent (Navy and VMI staples in the early 80s).

You suggest we shouldn't schedule Idaho because nobody's going to show up. That's a short-sighted view. We need wins to build media and fan interest and, more generally, to build the program. It doesn't matter who the wins come against. And, if fans are interested, we can set attendance records against teams like Duke (see 2003).

Anonymous said...

Watching this game was frustrating. I'm not the biggest Watford fan, and for all the "exciting" plays he makes, he just looks way too inconsistent right now. Rocco had a solid enough game, but I almost get the feeling that they are scared to let him really attack.

A lot of positives on offense, but this was still close. A bit frustrating to see. All that said, for me, this year was still a rebuilding year. I wasn't certain this was definitely a bowl team, and I'm still not, but that's okay. He's still getting his pieces in place.

2012, on the other hand, almost has to be a bowl year for London, as there simply are too many things in place for him to not take that step. I don't think he'd be fired if he failed to make a bowl in 2012, but he'd definitely be on the hot seat if we didn't

Brendan said...

The problem with looking to 2012 as the must-bowl season is that we went and scheduled ourselves Penn State and TCU, so it practically demands we go 4-4 in the ACC. That's not unachievable, but this is the year that the schedule shakes out best, and waiting til 2012 to go to a bowl is going to slow down the recruiting momentum.

Anonymous said...

Don't disagree, but from a personnel standpoint, this was never a strong enough unit that any realistic fan could say, it was definitely a bowl team. If we compared the caliber of talent and polish on this team to most "mid-majors", we might be better than the average mid-major, but not by enough, and that's played out the last few games.

I'm also not going to be too worried about Penn State and TCU just yet. Neither squad looks to be in such great shape this year. Experience will help, but off the top, both schools are losing some fairly solid guys this year as well.

At the end of the day, London needs to accomplish one thing, one thing (not the only, but a key one) that eventually was critical in taking Groh down (IMO) - develop a steady QB. Not necessarily a next level QB of some sort, but a good college QB. After Hagans, we simply never had that. This far into the season, I'm not sure our answers are any clearer than at the beginning of the year. I just get the feeling that Lazor doesn't trust Rocco enough yet too take chances, but Watford is too inconsistent to really get that much more time than he does right now. Ground and pound with the run should open up some more vertical opportunities than they've taken, even accounting for the style of offense that Lazor runs.

Anonymous said...

Will somebody please tell Watford to lead Kris Burd on crossing routes on final drives in the 4th quarter to win a game? That's two games in a row now. He did it once earlier in this game, so I know it can be done, but he needs to do it when the money is on the line.

Somalia State football rules.