Friday, October 14, 2011

game preview: Georgia Tech

Date/Time: Saturday, October 15 - 3:30

TV: ESPNUVA (which means that Screech Ward will be behind the mike)

History against the Jackets: 16-16-1

Last matchup: GT 33, UVA 21; 10/9/10; Atlanta, GA

Last weekend: UVA bye; GT 21, Md. 16

Line: GT by 7

Opposing blogs: From The Rumble Seat

Injury report:

S Pablo Alvarez
DE Vincent Croce
OT Tim Cwalina
S Darius Lee
LS Charlie Richards
WR E.J. Scott
WR Bobby Smith
DL Tyler Smith


LB Henry Coley


I haven't found Georgia Tech's full injury report, but I have discovered that Tech's linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu is doubtful for the game, which is fantastic news for UVA.


Before the season, GT looked like a vulnerable team - an evolving defense, an inexperienced offensive line, and a quarterback controversy.  50 points a game later, maybe not so much.  GT is rolling and has the three toughest games left in the season - Clemson, VT, and UGA - at home.  Before the season, I suggested it wouldn't surprise me if GT failed to make a bowl; now, I think there's actually an outside shot they go undefeated.

-- UVA run offense vs. GT run defense

Top backs:
Perry Jones: 80 carries, 365 yards, 4.6 avg.
Kevin Parks: 50 carries, 282 yards, 5.6 avg.

UVA offense:
177.2 yards/game, 4.39 yards/attempt
46th of 120 (national); 6th of 12 (ACC)

GT defense:
161.33 yards/game, 4.48 yards/attempt
85th of 120 (national; 10th of 12 (ACC)

This is a cliche, horribly overused analysis by the pundit-types, but it applies here: the more UVA can control the ball and the time of possession, the less GT can - because that's exactly what GT wants to do.  Much pressure can be taken off the defense if the offense has the ball.

Fortunately, this is a way-accomplishable goal against Georgia Tech, whose run defense hasn't been up to par.  This is why I say they have an outside chance, not a great chance, at an undefeated season, because I think they'll be seeing VT's David Wilson in their sleep after that game.  I digress.  Here is what GT has allowed on the ground to ACC competition:

- UNC's Giovanni Bernard carried 17 times for 155 yards, a season high for him.
- NC State's James Washington and Tony Creecy combined for 32 carries and 208 yards - 6.5 yards a carry.  Both had season-high yardage.
- Maryland's Davin Meggett carried 18 times for 86 yards, and backup quarterback C.J. Brown had a 77-yard carry on his way to 9 for 124 yards.

NC State doesn't even have that good of a running game.  UNC has a good running game but it was even better against GT.  There is opportunity here if the offensive line and Bill Lazor can take advantage.  GT had a ton of trouble with Maryland's C.J. Brown, who nearly led a game-winning comeback despite being incapable of completing a pass.  Makes you wonder if David Watford will be allowed to unleash his legs - UVA fans haven't yet seen what he can or can't do in the running department.

Regardless, this is a chance for the running backs to do their thing.  I'll be disappointed ten ways to Sunday (almost literally) if someone doesn't get to 100 yards.  Here's predicting someone will, and that the running game will generate at least 180.

-- UVA pass offense vs. GT pass defense

Mike Rocco: 94/149, 63.1%; 1032 yards, 2 TD, 7 INT; 6.93 yds/attempt

Top receievers:
Kris Burd: 30 rec., 373 yards, 0 TD
Perry Jones: 24 rec., 199 yards, 1 TD

UVA offense:
261.6 yards/game, 6.5 yards/attempt
87th of 120 (national), 10th of 12 (ACC)

GT defense:
181.5 yards/game, 5.9 yards/attempt
14th of 120 (national), 3rd of 12 (ACC)

Part of the reason the run game needs to be so good is that the passing game is probably going to suffer.  GT hasn't really faced an all-star lineup of quarterbacks, but we don't have one either, so the results they've been getting are plenty applicable.  They've done a good job of forcing shorter completions and not allowing the big play.

It helps that their pass rush is pretty impressive.  Not having Attaochu takes a big chunk out of their sack total, as he's still the team leader even having missed the Maryland game.  Exactly as I expected in the season preview, Attaochu has been playing the Darryl Blackstock kill-the-quarterback role for Al Groh.  Still, GT can bring it from a lot of different places around the field, a Groh specialty.  Mike Rocco isn't what you call elusive, so Watford's better mobility may come in handy.

The left side of the field (pretty sure that's "right side" for the offense) is a tough place to throw on GT, with safety Isaiah Johnson and cornerback Rod Sweeting combining for five of Tech's seven interceptions.  The other side of the field has zero.

Now, the good news: Mike London probably has some insight into the Groh defense, having of course been his defensive coordinator.  It's not gonna be 100% the same, obviously, but here's an unorthodox stat for you: UVA's yards per minute of possession last year, in the Georgia Tech game, were its second-best all season, second only to the offensive pointfest against Duke.  The actual numbers weren't anything special, but UVA had only 23 minutes of possession, to almost 37 for GT.  It boils down to 16.3 yards per minute, better even than the Eastern Michigan game.

This is a fancy way of using statistics - which are still one step above damn lies on Mark Twain's bullshit scale - to say that the gameplan, whatever it is and dammit it better be good we had two weeks to work on this, should be able to set Rocco up for success.  Rocco (and Watford) will have to execute.  I'd like to see Rocco at some point get a game where he doesn't have to anticipate sitting out a few series and can concentrate on being the starter, but I don't think it'll be this week.  I have no prediction (other than that, against what I think is better judgment, Watford will continue to usurp Rocco's snaps and still not do as well) because the bye week hopefully throws a few variables into the game plan.  I think we'll need them in order to move the passing game along.

-- GT run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Tevin Washington: 95 carries, 309 yards, 3.3 avg.
David Sims: 66 carries, 432 yards, 6.5 avg.

GT offense:
360.5 yards/game, 6.5 yards/attempt
3rd of 120 (national), 1st of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
116.4 yards/game, 3.46 yards/attempt
36th of 120 (national), 4th of 12 (ACC)

This is always what it's about, of course.  You know by now what Georgia Tech's approach is.  The backs listed above aren't even the guys you have to worry about; Orwin Smith and Roddy Jones, as well as Embry Peeples, are the ones who bring the danger.  (GT's best players are Smith and Jones.  Welcome to the Matrix.)  I haven't seen a GT game with my own eyes yet, but my impression is that Washington still keeps too much.  When he averages less than 4 yards a carry and his pitch options average 11 or more, I think it's a safe impression.

You don't want him pitching.  Smith ripped off a 95-yard run against Kansas.  GT tries to do two basic things with that offense: control the clock, and set you up for big plays.  Guess what UVA's big problem was last year?  Yeah, big running plays on the edge.

What must happen is pretty straightforward, but actually executing it, isn't.  UVA should find ways to discourage the pitch on the option; the ideal result is for Tevin Washington to keep as much as possible.  That requires cornerbacks to get off their blocks, which is gonna be tough for 165-pound Demetrious Nicholson.  It also requires the outside linebackers to balance discipline and aggression - something they've had the damndest time doing - and Steve Greer has got to hustle to get to the play and not be caught up in the trash.  It's too bad Henry Coley is still hurt because there's no better team to have fresh, rotating, athletic middle linebackers against.

Unfortunately, a big play by one of GT's A-backs seems inevitable.  I sure hope not 95 yards worth of one, but I bet at least Smith or Jones ends up with something longer than 50 yards.  Maybe both.  With two weeks to prepare, I think we can at least hold GT under 400 yards on the ground (that's not exactly a lofty goal, but they ran for 477 last year and 608 against Kansas) but there will still be some awfully frustrating moments.

-- GT pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Tevin Washington: 37/73, 50.7%; 1052 yards, 10 TD, 2 INT; 14.41 yds/attempt

Top receivers:
Stephen Hill: 17 rec., 552 yards, 4 TDs
Orwin Smith: 8 rec., 239 yards, 1 TD

GT offense:
193 yards/game, 14.5 yards/attempt
1st of 120 (national), 1st of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
195.4 yards/game, 5.7 yards/attempt
11th of 120 (national), 1st of 12 (ACC)

Like I said: GT wants to set up the big play, and when they pass the ball, that's what they're going for.  They want to catch you off guard; get your cornerbacks and safeties cheating.  Then they'll go deep.  If they connect, it's a near-automatic six.

Fortunately, they don't connect as often as they'd like.  Washington is hitting on just half his throws, which is much better than Josh Nesbitt did last year but still a small enough percentage to limit the potential of the passing game somewhat.  Having a senior cornerback is a big weapon here; Chase Minnifield's a smart guy and should be able to hang with and limit Stephen Hill and hopefully not get sucked in by the 23rd running play in a row, because #24 turns into a deep bomb when you forget.

There isn't much else to defending the passing game.  Let your best cornerback cover GT's one receiver and keep one safety disciplined and deep and you've taken away most of what they want to do.  As with the above, much easier said than done, but I think the two weeks to work on this should be enough to keep these fundamentals in mind.


It's a little interesting that the #12 team in the country is only a touchdown favorite.  I think that's a function of 1) them being on the road and 2) them having a few exploitable weaknesses.  The bye week certainly helps; it's nice to finally have one in a position to be useful.  Still, there remains a talent gap between us and the good teams in the ACC.  The UVA ground game should be working nicely, but GT's will be even better.

Prediction summary:

- At least one UVA running back goes over 100 yards.
- The UVA ground game goes over 180 yards.
- Watford has about one-fourth of the total pass attempts, but still has fewer yards per attempt than Rocco.
- Orwin Smith or Roddy Jones rolls off at least one big run of at least 50 yards.
- GT's running game generates between 350 and 400 yards.
- Tevin Washington completes fewer than 50% of his passes.

Final score: GT 31, UVA 24.

Rest of the ACC:

- Miami @ North Carolina, 12:30 (Miami is O-U-T of the division race but could take UNC down with them.)
- Florida State @ Duke, 3:00 (Lost to Wake last week.  Wouldn't it be weird if....nah.  No way.  Right?)
- Virginia Tech @ Wake Forest, 6:30 (Next time, Deacs, save your upset mojo for when it counts.)
- Clemson @ Maryland, 7:00 (One of these days, Clemson will wear all-purple at the same time Maryland wears all-yellow, and my eyes will explode.)


TBS said...

Excellent detailed analysis as always. The only thing I'd say is that the opening 95-yd TD run by Orwin Smith in the KU game wasn't a pitch from what I recall. It was a handoff to a counter play, the first we've run this year I believe, and one of the very few we've ever run. It was also the longest TD run in school history.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think Jim Reid should walk Mosley and McLeod up as much as possible. Position then outside the hashes when you walk them up, and try and force Tevin or the pitch to cut inside, where you hope backside pursuit nabs the runner. Sure, this opens up the passing game for them, but that's a chance I'd be willing to take. Virginia needs to play smart, disciplined football, on both sides today, but if they do, they've got a chance.

I'm not too enthused on Watford in this game, though. Al is going to force Watford to stay in the pocket, and that's when issues may occur. Despite his lack of mobility, Rocco's ability to process reads may be more useful in this game.

Anonymous said...

Tell those assholes from "From The Rumble Seat" to eat a nice big bowl of shut the fuck up, eh, Brandon?

Brendan said...

Hey now...the FTRS crew is good people. It's not like I can call them out for expecting GT to run wild on our defense when I expected the same.

Anonymous said...

I think the thing to take away from the ACC after this weekend is ...

1. we're horribly mediocre. Georgia Tech looks very much like the rebuilding team many thought they would be. North Carolina lost to a Miami squad that's really, in all honesty, rebuilding, with looming issues. The Hokies had to scramble back against a Wake team that over-achieves. Clemson didn't show up against Maryland until their backs were against the wall (and a MD team with CJ Brown at the helm). Good teams don't do that.

2. ... but a lot of the teams look to be trending in the right direction. I mean, the Jackets, in a rebuilding year, has done well. They'll get better next year. We're on the uptick. The Hokies will have a veteran Logan Thomas next year. Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, and Dabo's recruiting classes put Clemson in a good spot. FSU should be getting better. I believe in Al Golden.

TBS said...

Just wanted to congratulate you on a well-deserved win. We got a reality check that's been coming for a while now. I just don't understand how you've struggled in earlier games this season if you played like you did yesterday.

Brendan said...

Thanks, TBS. Chalk the inconsistency up to a young but fairly talented team, coming off a bye week in which they might have had a little bit of a wake-up call the previous game (also, the Idaho game probably wasn't as close as the score indicated.)