Friday, September 16, 2011

game preview: North Carolina

Date/Time: Saturday, September 17; 3:30


History against the Heels: 54-57-4

Last matchup: UNC 44, UVA 10; 10/16/10; Charlottesville

Last week: UVA 34, IU 31; UNC 24, RU 22

Line: UNC by 10

Opposing blogs: Carolina March, Tar Heel Fan

Injury report:


S Pablo Alvarez
LB Henry Coley
OT Tim Cwalina
DE Stephen Lawe
S Darius Lee
WR Bobby Smith

TE Colter Phillips

LB Aaron Taliaferro

S Corey Mosley
RB Kevin Parks
LB Laroy Reynolds

North Carolina:

DB Jabari Price
RB Devon Ramsey

WR Joshua Adams

OT T.J. Leifheit
CB Terry Shankle

LB P.J. Clyburn
LB Norkeithus Otis

It's a little early in the season for it, but it's time for Carolina and another edition of the South's Oldest Rivalry anyway.  This'll be UVA's first test against a postseason-worthy team.  Last year's game was a disaster on both sides of the ball as Marc Verica ended up getting booed off the field as fans got tired of watching him throw interceptions.  Not to be left out of the fun, Ross Metheny and Mike Rocco each threw one as well, which might well have saved Verica's job.  The game sucked in all facets, not least because The Streak got broke.  UNC is still pretty damn good, so a challenge awaits in Chapel Hill.

-- UVA run offense vs. UNC run defense

Top backs:
Perry Jones: 34 carries, 154 yards, 3.9 avg.
Kevin Parks: 27 carries, 151 yards, 5.6 avg.

UVA offense:
201 yds/game, 4.62 yds/attempt; 44th of 120 (nat'l); 5th of 12 (ACC)

UNC defense:
30 yds/game, 0.94 yds/attempt; 3rd of 120 (nat'l); 1st of 12 (ACC)

So that looks like a scary number.  Less than one yard per carry allowed.  It kind of is a scary number, but let's start this off with a few mitigating factors.  Namely, that Rutgers's run offense is complete trash.  UNC did just fine against JMU in their first game and then totally bottled up Rutgers's pathetic rushing attack to the tune of one net yard all game.  (Partly due to sacks.)  UVA has a better run offense than Rutgers, I'll tell you that.  Somalia State has a better run offense than Rutgers.

That said, UNC does have a pretty gonzo defensive line, and their linebackers have been out making plays.  It's a quality front seven.  Tydreke Powell and Jordan Nix are the top two tackles in the rotation and they've been getting after things; they've been much more active than just clogging things up for others to make plays.  Sylvester Williams rotates in (technically he actually starts but Nix does more of the work) and he's 320 pounds to go with Powell's 310.  It's a good thing Austin Pasztor isn't on the injury report because UVA can't afford to have troubles up the middle.

We should expect to see a pretty even split of carries between the three main backs, in part because whatever UVA tries in the beginning probably won't work as well as we'd hope.  Clifton Richardson has been impressive, bringing fresh legs into the games late and making the yardage count; meanwhile, Perry Jones has struggled a touch.  I expect the run game to complement the pass this week instead of the other way around; partly because UVA is likely to end up playing from behind and partly because UNC is just much easier to pass against than run against.  The power game probably won't work; look for UVA to use pitchouts and plays that are technically passes but mimic runs, such as screens and shovels.  It'll be a slow day on the ground and it wouldn't surprise if all three backs have a roughly even number of carries but none tops 60 yards.

-- UVA pass offense vs. UNC pass defense

Mike Rocco: 36/58, 62.1%; 365 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT; 6.29 yds/attempt

Top receivers:
Perry Jones: 7 rec., 102 yards, 0 TDs
Tim Smith: 7 rec., 72 yards, 0 TDs

UVA offense:
227 yds/game; 6.9 yds/attempt; 66th of 120 (nat'l), 9th of 12 (ACC)

UNC defense:
197.5 yds/game; 6.3 yds/attempt; 41st of 120 (nat'l), 5th of 12 (ACC)

Here, UNC is exploitable.  The competition hasn't been top-notch, but the defense has yet to record an interception.  The secondary is questionable.  The aforementioned defensive line does make it difficult to get the ball off in the first place.  Donte Paige-Moss was expected to be the big-league bookend for Quinton Coples, but it's sophomore Kareem Martin who's stolen the show so far, with 2 sacks and 3 TFL.  If UNC could maintain the pace they're on, they'd finish the season with a whopping 54 sacks.  They won't, but it's been a blistering pace so far.

Still, the secondary is exploitable, and the linebackers aren't outstanding in pass coverage.  It's a shame that Colter Phillips probably won't play again, but regardless, I expect UVA to take advantage of the tight end with a quick hitch or two to Paul Freedman.  This is also why I think we'll see shovels and screens in the passing game; Rocco will need to unload the ball quickly and a well-timed screen could take advantage of UNC's aggressiveness.

When in a traditional dropback, Rocco will probably see pressure.  If David Watford is used, UNC will probably try and fluster him with a blitz or three.  UVA has a good offensive line, but I think there's no denying that eventually, UNC will get to the quarterback, and at least one drive will be killed by a big sack; I think UNC will have at least two, as Rocco isn't the most mobile guy.  Still, UVA will want to use the passing game to move the ball, and this weeks playcalling will be slanted well in favor of the pass.  Look for Perry Jones to be the leading or second-leading receiver, at least in terms of catches, and for Paul Freedman (or Jeremiah Mathis if the coaching staff is so inclined) to get at least a pair as well.  It's going to be a spread-it-around kind of day, and I think at least three players get four catches each.  And Rocco will finally break the touchdown drought.

-- UNC run offense against UVA run defense

Top backs:
Giovani Bernard: 25 carries, 145 yards, 5.8 avg.
Ryan Houston: 22 carries, 92 yards, 4.2 avg.

UNC offense:
158 yds/game, 4.94 yds/attempt; 33rd of 120 (nat'l), 4th of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
98 yds/game, 3.21 yds/attempt; 43rd of 120 (nat'l), 4th of 12 (ACC)

On TV they're gonna make it sound like UNC's rushing offense isn't all that, because they always stupidly use yards per game instead of yards per carry.  Actually, it should be a strength.  UNC's offense will be hard to stop whether on the ground or through the air.  The running game has a pretty effective thunder-and-lightning combo in Ryan Houston and redshirt freshman Giovani Bernard.  Houston is big - 245 pounds, bigger than the linebackers who'll be trying to stop him.

The good news is that the stats are rather misleading.  Outside of a 33-yard run to kill the last of the clock against Rutgers, Houston's averaging under three yards.  And Bernard is under four when you take away the one 60-yarder; he had a touted 81-yard day against Rutgers, which was 21 yards on 15 carries and 60 more on one scamper.

So it should be a decent attack, but it can be bottled up.  The question is, how much has UVA's run defense really improved?  Last year UVA came into this game having been completely torched in the previous two (allowing 733 yards total), and run defense was such a focus and then it didn't matter because T.J. Yates opened the bomb bay doors and threw for 325 yards.  You know how the run defense was last year.  I guess if I had to make a prediction about this I'd say that UNC's stats will look about the same as last year's, in which Shaun Draughn and Johnny White averaged about four yards a carry between them and weren't spectacular but were good enough.  But this is the one area where I'm most curious to see the results.  UNC's rushing offense should theoretically be excellent, what with a veteran O-line and a very veteran tailback.  If UVA can shut it down, I'll crank up the optimism meter a notch.

-- UNC pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Bryn Renner: 42/49, 85.7%; 550 yards, 3 TD, 4 INT; 11.22 yds/attempt

Top receivers:
Dwight Jones: 15 rec., 251 yards, 3 TD
Erik Highsmith: 7 rec., 79 yards, 0 TD

UNC offense:
275 yds/game, 11.22 yds/attempt; 5th of 120 (nat'l), 2nd of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
146 yds/game, 4.5 yds/attempt; 11th of 120 (nat'l), 2nd of 12 (ACC)

In a small sample size against bad competition, Bryn Renner has been ruthlessly efficient.  Only three of his 49 passes have dropped to the turf.  The problem is that he's also been turnover-prone, having actually thrown more interceptions than incompletions.

This is where UVA must do work in order to be successful.  The pass rush hasn't been lights-out, but it's shown signs of breaking through.  And are Rutgers's and JMU's defensive backs better than UVA's?  I submit to you they are not.  That doesn't automatically extrapolate to more interceptions, of course, but they should at least make it harder for UNC's receivers to get open.

They are good receivers, though.  Jones and Highsmith get around.  They're veteran guys and tough to cover.  UNC doesn't have a ton of diversity in the passing game; it's Jones, Highsmith, and the running backs.  They do lean heavily on the running backs, because getting a 245-pounder the ball in open space where he can freight-train people is usually a sound game plan.

UNC's offense here will probably be predictable, but effective.  Jones, Highsmith, and the two backs will hog all the catches but maybe one or two.  And the Heels will go after Demetrious Nicholson hard.  Nicholson's had his moments, but he's also had his freshman moments.  They'll want him trying to tackle Houston - he got trucked last week by one of IU's regular-sized backs - and they'll want to throw at him all day.  Unfortunately, I think it'll work.  Nicholson will likely match up on Highsmith, who is a wily ol' veteran, and I think Highsmith will end up with a big day and Nicholson will have his baptism by fire.  Renner will throw picks, but probably have at least as many TDs as interceptions.  If UVA can shut down the UNC passing attack, they can win this game, but I think eventually UNC will break down the defense and move the ball through the air.


As I said, this is the first big test.  It's winnable.  UNC was kind of lackluster against Rutgers, a team they should've beaten by more than two.  Turnovers are what everyone's talking about, what with UVA's five last year and Renner's three against Rutgers.  And turnovers are what UVA needs in order to win.  I don't think we'll see enough of them, though.  UNC is the better team still, and at home, I think they'll prove it.

Prediction summary:

- UVA's three top running backs will split the carries about evenly.
- None will go over 60 yards rushing.
- The running game will include a lot of plays that are technically passes, like screens and shovel passes.
- At least three players have four receptions each.
- The tight ends finally get involved, with at least one having multiple catches.
- Rocco finally throws a damn touchdown pass.

- UNC's running backs have rushing statistics similar to last year's game: a roughly even split of carries and about four yards average per carry.
- Erik Highsmith has a big day working against Demetrious Nicholson.
- Bryn Renner has at least as many TD throws as picks.
- At most two catches go to someone other than UNC's big four of Jones, Highsmith, Houston, and Bernard.

Final score: UNC 30, UVA 17.

Rest of the ACC:

Clemson vs. Auburn, 12:00
Maryland vs. West Virginia, 12:00
Duke @ Boston College, 12:30
Georgia Tech vs. Kansas, 12:30
Virginia Tech vs. Arkansas State, 4:00
NC State vs. South Alabama, 6:00
Wake Forest vs. Gardner-Webb, 6:30
Miami vs. Ohio State, 7:30
Florida State vs. Oklahoma, 8:00


There are two things to note that I'd get around to tomorrow, but Friday is this blog's off day.

-- If you liked and agreed with yesterday's post about Texas and the ACC, you'll be happy to know (I know I am) that I'm not the only one trying to spread the truth; Matt Hayes at the Sporting News says much the same stuff I do only in SFW language.  "Scouring for crumbs in the ACC" was a bit rude, but still.  Do not be lured by the siren song of the Texas brand.  Texas sounds desirable and influential but they bring shipwreck and disaster.  Why do you think their two biggest rivals are willing to stop playing them?

-- Tony Bennett finally got his 2012 point guard: it is way-under-the-radar post-grad player Teven Jones.  Ordinarily I get onto a new basketball commitment right away with a profile of sorts; that'll have to wait til next week.  Which helps because I don't know bung about Teven Jones and neither did anyone, really, until like yesterday.  No fair making judgments about sloppy seconds or diamonds in the rough til I get around to the recruit profile, OK?  What you basically need to know is this: 2012 recruiting is probably done unless Bennett finds someone he really likes; only two scholarships are open for the 2013 class and one of them is definitely going to a point guard.  The other one might be held for Brandan Stith, or, if Stith reclassifies to 2014 as seems likely, perhaps a 2013 wing type as 2013-14 will be senior season for KT Harrell and Joe Harris.


Anonymous said...

Somalia State football rules!

Anonymous said...

As of now, I'd lean towards a post player to develop in 2013 than a wing (assuming one schollie goes to a PG). We'll have Akil as a senior in 2013, with James/Darion as juniors, and Tobey as a soph. Getting another post in there to develop makes some sense, particularly since Tobey might still be adding weight.

Of course, transfers could change the equation, and I'd imagine a legacy, particularly a solid talent legacy, like Brandan, would get the schollie if he wanted it. Going to be interesting how the wing situation plays out the next few years. Too many bodies.