Thursday, September 1, 2011

game preview: William & Mary

Date/Time: Saturday, September 3; 6:00


History against the Tribe: 26-6-1

Last matchup: W&M 26, UVA 14

Last week: N/A

Line: UVA by 8

Opposing blogs: none

Injury report: none

Well, here we are.  I don't need to remind you about what may or may not have happened last time we decided William & Mary should be on the schedule.  William & Mary is one of the best teams in Division I-AA, which means they'd probably be expected to win against several of the worst I-A outfits.  And which means UVA - as a generally accepted Bad Team among those who don't follow the ACC very hard (and some who do) - is a popular upset pick.  Not that we'd get any special props for winning, of course.  It seems like a relatively unimportant game, then, at least in the grand scheme, but there's this at least: if Virginia doesn't win, we can basically forget about analyzing any further hopes of meeting bowl-related expectations.  Not that this game in and of itself is the tipping point, but if we can't beat William & Mary, #3 rank in the I-AA ranks aside, who can we expect to beat outside of a lightning bolt of an upset?

-- UVA run offense vs. W&M run defense:

We really don't know what Bill Lazor has in store here.  The approach to the run game is going to have to be very different from last year; Perry Jones is the only returning weapon here.  Without a Keith Payne type to get yardage the bashing way, a slight change in philosophy is on tap.  And we don't even know how much of that philosophy will be on display on Saturday; there are quite a few new toys to play with in the running game, but surely Lazor doesn't want to tip his hand as to the extent of their usage.

Among the possibilities for new wrinkles are David Watford in a wildcat-esque formation, or perhaps Dominique Terrell on a reverse.  I expect to see one or two as the coaches get into an experimental mood, but who knows how far they'll take that?  Honestly, the best case would be the ability to get five or six yards out of Perry Jones any time we want it; you don't want to have to get fancy in order to win against your I-AA opposition.

As with most I-AA teams, W&M is undersized up front, with one exception: 300-pound DT Harold Robertson.  Middle linebacker Jake Trantin is 240 pounds; on the outsides, though, UVA's much larger blockers should find an easy path to clearing running lanes.  W&M does have just a ton of experience in the starting front seven with six of them being returning starters, and outside 'backer Dante Cook is a top-notch tackler, but past the starting seven the experience is almost totally lacking.  The two-deep is full of former scout teamers and guys with two, three games of experience.  W&M won't be able to rotate without taking a serious hit to their ability to stop the ball.

So I think UVA will have a clear advantage when the ball is on the ground.  Expect a 100-yard day out of Perry Jones and some experimenting with the rest of the tailbacks, mostly along the lines of spreading out the carries and seeing who looks best in game action.

-- UVA pass offense vs. W&M pass defense:

One thing the Tribe have going for them is a preseason all-conference defender at each level of the defense, and it's pass defense where those guys excel.  DE Marcus Hyde is a good if undersized pass-rusher; Dante Cook defends the pass very well as a linebacker; CB B.W. Webb has nine career picks, although just one last year.

However, the strength of the UVA O-line is at tackle, and it ought to be an interesting sight to watch the 242-pound Hyde battle 320-pound Morgan Moses.  Is Moses quick enough with his feet to handle a bug-sized speed rusher?  Or will he just swallow up the rush with size?

UVA's attack, unlike the rushing game, will look a lot like last year's, because Mike Rocco is going to be awfully similar to Marc Verica.  You don't ask either one to do spectacular things to win the game; just find the open receiver because eventually there'll be one.  The biggest question going in is, how much passing will David Watford do?  There's no doubt among anyone that Watford can make plays with his feet that none of the other QBs can, but how his arm looks in live action is a total mystery.  We don't even have high school to go off of because Watford ran an offense at Hampton that almost never passed.  I do expect Watford to pass the ball at least once or twice, and I'm as curious as anyone to see how that will go.

The matchups will almost certainly involve Webb, a preseason I-AA all-American, covering Kris Burd, and the very experienced Terrell Wells covering whoever else, probably Tim Smith.  Regardless of experience, expect Lazor to have Rocco and Smith - or perhaps one of the wondertwin freshmen - test their deep-ball chops.  Even against a I-AA opponent, nothing would do more for the offense going forward than if they can connect on a bomb.

The prediction here is that Rocco is efficient but not eye-popping, connecting on about two-thirds of his passes with stats very similar to Verica's against Richmond last year.  As Rocco's safety blanket, I think Burd has a big day, too, and we should get to see, at least once, one of the freshmen receivers, Terrell or Jennings, do something exciting.

-- W&M run offense vs. UVA run defense:

One of the reasons Billy & Mary is expected to contend for a national title is their running game, and their tailback, Jonathan Grimes.  Grimes is a true workhorse; he's the CAA preseason co-OPOY and on the Payton Award watch list - the I-AA version of the Heisman.  W&M center James Pagliaro is also a preseason all-conference player.

Most of the rest of the line is underexperienced, though, and if W&M falters this season because of that, they would hardly be the first team to do so.  It's a long and humble list of teams that've had expectations dashed by an inexperienced O-line.

Regardless, the Tribe will lean on Grimes, Grimes, and Grimes some more, and at some point he will probably break one.  It happened last year; UVA kept Richmond's Kendall Gaskins in check most of the game, except for the pesky 70-yard touchdown early in the game.  Grimes, too, will probably end up with a big run.  The key will be to at least make sure it happens outside where at least, we expect it.  If the defensive middle is as strong as I think it is, then W&M's one ace, at center, can be nullified, and Grimes will be forced to test our outside defenses instead.

-- W&M pass offense vs. UVA pass defense:

Quarterbacking the Tribe attack is Mike Paulus, a name you might recognize; Paulus (besides being the brother of Duke basketball standout Greg) used to play QB at UNC, where he was horrible.  He transferred to W&M last year and was playing very well before a shoulder injury ended his season - against UNC, incidentally, in a game where he was playing exceedingly well before the injury.

The Tribe's second-leading returning receiver is - uh, Jonathan Grimes, who's a big threat in the passing game.  The wide receivers are returning backups turned starters: Ryan Woolfolk and D.J. Mangas; the actual biggest threat is preseason-AA tight end Alex Gottlieb.  UVA's corners should by and large be able to shut down the receivers; the real test will be of the linebackers' abilities to cover Gottlieb, who along with Grimes represents the Tribe's best chance at moving the ball through the air.

Because of that, and because of the relative inexperience on the line - particularly at right tackle where they have Robert Gumbita who only played in five games last year - expect W&M to try and move the ball in short bursts rather than large chunks.  There's an opportunity here to exploit matchups on the line and let the pass rush really shine, and Paulus will probably pick up his share of grass stains.

-- Outlook:

Remember when I said this seems like an unimportant game?  It only seems like it.  Truth is, Mike London has been picking up a lot of results on the recruiting trail by selling the notion of UVA as a program on the upswing.  That line won't work for a third straight year if you can't prove it.  The best way to prove it is by not losing to the same lower-division team you made headlines by losing to last time.  The second best way is by going bowling when everyone expected you not to.

To put it more bluntly, UVA can't prove it's on the upswing just by winning this game, but neither can it prove to be on the upswing if it loses.

-- Prediction summary: (gleaned from the above paragraphs)

- UVA's biggest advantage will be when they are running the ball, as W&M's front seven is too undersized and unable to rotate players effectively.
- Perry Jones will carry for more than 100 yards.
- Kris Burd will have more than 100 yards receiving.
- Mike Rocco's day will look a lot like Marc Verica's against Richmond in 2010.
- David Watford will throw the ball at least once or twice.

- Jonathan Grimes will have at least one big run.
- W&M will find little running room inside.
- W&M will have some success passing the ball in the short game to Grimes and Alex Gottlieb, but the receivers will be, by and large, shut down.
- UVA's pass rush will give Mike Paulus trouble.

- Final score: UVA 31, W&M 13.


Anonymous said...

Dude, I hate to ruin your salivation over the coming glorious first game of the season but I gotta ask....

You've heard of the Ags moving to the Dixie Conference, and the rumblings is that VPI would be next....

Are you worried about what that will do to Virginia?

Brendan said...

Not even remotely worried, because VPI isn't going anywhere. Don't panic. "The rumblings" are just message board crap. The Va. legislature fell over themselves trying to get VT into the ACC, and VT practically demanded it...why?

Academics. The boys in Richmond, as well as the VT brass, want to bask in the warm glow of ACC academics to raise their academic profile. The SEC is an academic cesspool, and conference membership is determined by the school president, not the AD. Richmond will never allow it, either.

Now let's talk William & Mary.

Anonymous said...

Off topic, but not surprisingly, Chris Mangus chose the Hokies. The fact that the Virginia papers are trumpeting this as a huge win for Va Tech and a huge loss for UVA bothers me (Specifically, Doughty and Norm Wood make it seem like a huge win for the Hokies). I shouldn't be surprised a this, considering their history, but it is annoying and someone should call them out on it.

Look, Mangus is a nice talent. About on par with Kye Morgan. Both are intriguing backs with the potential to develop into solid collegiate, Cedric Peerman type running backs. But ... this was the obvious move for Mangus (furthermore, weren't their rumors that UVA had cooled on Mangus a bit after getting the Morgan committ?)

At Tech, there's David Wilson and ... ? Nothing realy threatening for a high school senior to ponder over. JC Coleman is a nice back, but more Kevin Parks/All-Purpose guy, not a main runner type. Mangus has a clear shot at PT sooner than later, particularly if Wilson goes pro.

At UVA? Perry Jones is clearly ahead of him next year. Richardson/Parks are clearly ahead, and he's on level with Morgan. He would've clearly had to redshirt a year, barring some sort of spectacular surprise where he edged out Richardson for PT. It simply wasn't a good situation for him.

I wish him the best, and I wish the Hokies the best as well, but I wish VA papers would show a little knowledge in their writing.

Anonymous said...

ACC will survive. I think one of the Southern schools may bolt to the SEC to give them that balace in East/West, and I wouldn't be shocked if Maryland eventually bolted depending on how the dominoes fell (although I would be surprised). But it would take several schools leaving to cause the ACC to collapse, IMO, so overall, UVA should be fine.