Friday, November 11, 2011

game preview: Duke

Date/Time: Saturday, November 12; 3:00


History against the Blue Devils: 32-30

Last matchup: Duke 55, UVA 48; 11/6/10; Durham

Last weekend: UVA 31, Maryland 13; Miami 49, Duke 14

Line: UVA by 10

Opposing blogs: Duke Hoop Blog (obviously, it's mostly hoops, though)

Injury report:


S Pablo Alvarez, LS Charlie Richards, WR E.J. Scott, WR Bobby Smith, DL Tyler Smith, WR Matt Snyder, LS Michael Terrell, FS Joseph Williams

G Luke Bowanko, DE Thompson Brown, DE Cam Johnson, S Rodney McLeod, TE Colter Phillips, LB Daquan Romero


S Lee Butler, QB Brandon Connette, C Brian Moore

WR Jamison Crowder

LB Kelby Brown

DE Justin Foxx, CB Zach Greene, CB Johnny Williams

If UVA wins out, they go to the ACCCG.  Simple.  But that starts with getting past Duke, which UVA hasn't done since 2007.  Even in the three years of non-bowl dark ages, we managed victories against most of the division.  Somehow, Duke is an exception.  At the risk of sounding like a Maryland football coach, if you want to be a legitimate ACC football team, you have to beat Duke.

-- UVA run offense vs. Duke run defense

Top backs:
Perry Jones: 147 carries, 782 yards, 5.3 avg.
Kevin Parks: 104 carries, 538 yards, 5.2 avg.

UVA offense:
189.89 yards/game, 4.63 yards/attempt
40th of 120 (national), 5th of 12 (ACC)

Duke defense:
161.33 yards/game, 4.82 yards/attempt
96th of 120 (national), 11th of 12 (ACC)

It's not a complete surprise, really, that a bad team has a bad run defense, and true enough, you can rack up yardage on Duke.  With one caveat: they've shown the ability to stop even worse teams.  Maryland was a case where the train was at the station and everybody rides.  But most of that damage against Duke that's dropped them to 11th of 12 in the ACC has been done by teams with a pulse.  Miami, Virginia Tech, Stanford, what have you.

UVA's no Stanford, but fortunately we bring a running game to the table.  Duke counters with a 4-2-5 defense meant to cover for the fact that they don't have enough good linebackers to play a regular 4-3; this problem will be exacerbated if Kelby Brown, who's listed as questionable on the injury report, doesn't play.  Brown plays a solid middle linebacker and has 7 TFL on the season, by far the most of anyone on the team save pass-rusher DE Kenny Anunike.  The 4-2-5 gives an interesting look, but it'll probably affect the pass game more; the run blockers still have four down linemen to deal with.

Perry Jones is starting to heat up; he's got the 1,000-yard mark in his sights, and with an extra game to get there, it looks very, very achievable.  He's passed Kevin Parks in yards per carry, too.  I expect Jones to be the feature back on Saturday, because Duke's defensive ends are way undersized (the three that rotate in are 250, 240 and 225(!) pounds), and it should be highly advantageous for UVA to attack the edges.  I think he'll get 20+ carries, which will be the first time this season he'll pass that mark in consecutive games, and that'll easily get him past 100 yards.  The UVA run game looks like a safe bet to rack up another 200 yards; I think especially because Bill Lazor will want to limit Rocco's having to deal with the odd look that the 4-2-5 shows you.

-- UVA pass offense vs. Duke pass defense

Michael Rocco: 143/238, 60.1%; 1,719 yards, 8 TD, 9 INT; 7.22 yds/attempt

Top receivers:
Kris Burd: 46 rec., 592 yards, 0 TD
Perry Jones: 29 rec., 324 yards, 2 TD

UVA offense:
237.6 yards/game, 6.9 yards/attempt
73rd of 120 (national), 8th of 12 (ACC)

Duke defense:
248.9 yards/game, 8.6 yards/attempt
112th of 120 (national), 12th of 12 (ACC)

Then again, given those numbers, Lazor might just have Rocco let 'er rip, even though the UVA fan in me says "it's a trap!"  The 4-2-5 is a little strange.  I'm not any kind of a guru with it, but the basic idea is that it's kind of blitz-happy in bringing safeties in from different parts of the field, and shows you something other than the traditional coverage looks.  Or at least, it can disguise those coverage looks.

Duke does like to blitz, although it hasn't resulted in a ton of sacks by their safeties.  Without quality personnel, this is the kind of defense that a veteran quarterback can have a field day with.  Andrew Luck and Jacory Harris did whatever they wanted.  However, I worry about the effect on a relative neophyte.  Logan Thomas of VT had kind of a lousy day, which is a big reason why VT only beat Duke by four.

The question will be if Rocco and his receivers can take advantage of Duke's lousy cornerbacks.  The safeties know what they're doing, for the most part.  Matt Daniels is both the team's top tackler and best pass defender; he's broken up an astounding 13 passes and intercepted two more.  The other safeties aren't bad either.  Duke would like Lee Butler back, but they've got the depth to cover for him.  It's these safeties that give me the heebie-jeebies.  One-on-one against their cornerbacks, I think Kris Burd and Tim Smith could have a field day.  Duke won't put them on an island, though.

So I think, unfortunately, we're in for watching Rocco, at some point, throw an ARGH interception to a safety he didn't think would be there.  On the other hand, because of that edge attack I mentioned in the run game, it's a good day to do some of those passes-that-are-really-run type things; screens to the flat and what have you.  Perry Jones will come in handy again; he's averaging about 3.5 catches a game and I think he'll get at least four against Duke.  This game, more than most, playcalling will be huge in order to keep Rocco out of trouble.

-- Duke run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Juwan Thompson: 88 carries, 398 yards, 4.5 avg.
Desmond Scott: 54 carries, 319 yards, 5.9 avg.

Duke offense:
105.33 yards/game, 3.26 yards/attempt
107th of 120 (national), 10th of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
126.33 yards/game, 3.68 yards/attempt
41st of 120 (national), 4th of 12 (ACC)

One thing that's been constant for a while is that Duke hasn't had, and still doesn't have, a running game worth a damn.  And obviously it's no help that their starting center has been ruled out of this game.  The funny thing was that if they'd run the ball more against VT, instead of passing, they might've won.  That was topsy-turvy day.  Otherwise, they haven't gotten much on the ground.

The one guy to watch for is Desmond Scott.  Scott is a quality back that, with consistently decent blocking, could be a 1,000 yard guy.  He doesn't get that kind of blocking, though.  The main danger is that Scott will break one open at some point.  He can do that.  Juwan Thompson - probably not.  Bottle up that particular threat, keep Scott from having any big gains, and you've basically nullified the Duke run offense.

So can UVA do that?  A couple of times now I've said "hey watch out for the big play" and lo and behold it doesn't happen.  So let's say it doesn't happen again.  The last two wins, the defense has held the opponent under 100 yards rushing, and this is definitely the kind of opponent we should do that to.

-- Duke pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Sean Renfree: 222/334, 66.5%; 2,185 yards, 6 TD, 8 INT; 6.54 yds/attempt

Top receivers:
Conner Vernon: 56 rec., 783 yards, 4 TD
Donovan Varner: 41 rec., 497 yards, 0 TD

Duke offense:
269.8 yards/game, 6.6 yards/attempt
85th of 120 (national); 10th of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
205.3 yards/game, 6.4 yards/attempt
22nd of 120 (national); 3rd of 12 (ACC)

I expected Duke to be better here.  Truthfully, I did.  Vernon and Varner are weapons that a lot of OCs would love to have.  But it's hard to say that Sean Renfree has progressed from last season.  I wouldn't focus too much on the interceptions; Renfree had 17 last year, and three of this year's are courtesy of Virginia Tech.  He's improved in this regard.  It's a little strange, though, that he's only tossed six touchdowns.

If I had to surmise, it's possibly because it's not a big-play passing offense.  Conner Vernon - he's a little bit of a big play guy.  Chase Minnifield will have a battle on his hands.  Nobody other than the V's average double-digit yardage per catch, though.  Duke will throw to Vernon and Varner, tight end Cooper Helfet, and possession receiver Brandon Braxton - and that's about it, other than whichever running back is in the game.  There's hardly any rotation.  In other words, shut down the V's and you've taken away most of what they want to do.

Easier said than done, of course; Duke was, I think, the only team in the country to have two preseason Biletnikoff nominees.  (If not the only one, one of a very few.)  Teams have picked on Demetrious Nicholson all year (to his credit, he gives as good as he gets, which is to say that sometimes they pay for doing it) so I would expect Varner to be targeted quite a bit.  He'll have six or more catches.

Ultimately, Duke will rack up some yardage in this section of the game.  But a lot of it will be yardage by volume.  When they're reasonably in a game, Renfree's arm gets a workout.  The only games where he's thrown fewer than 30 passes are the ones in which Duke has been blown right out of the stadium - Stanford and Miami.  He threw 53 against Boston College.  But he's only thrown for 250 yards three times.  UVA's pass defense has been excellent this year, and they'll find a way to keep it that way.

-- Outlook

I was a little bit worried that Duke might keep the Miami game close.  They lost by one to Wake Forest and by four to Virginia Tech; another close loss - in Florida - would've had them thinking they're right there, and just in time because they'll be playing a team whose number they've had for a few years.  Miami killed 'em, though.

With UVA on a two-game roll, it's easy to get caught up in optimism.  I should guard against it, and be objective and realistic, so let's be objective and realistic: Duke is a lousy team.  They have bright spots and the ability to take advantage of you if you're not on top of things that day, but three-quarters of the teams in this country will beat Duke with an ordinary effort.  UVA is returning to Scott Stadium for the first time in a few weeks, and in the right frame of mind, I believe, for a win.  You can't be a legit ACC team if you lose to Duke a whole bunch like we have; this week is another check in the box on the way back to legitimacy.

-- Prediction summary:

- Perry Jones has 20+ carries, 100+ rushing yards, and 4+ receptions.
- UVA's running attack will have another 200+ yard game.
- Mike Rocco throws a Verica-style interception that makes you wonder what the hell he was looking at.
- Duke has less than 100 yards rushing.
- Donovan Varner hauls in at least six catches.
- Sean Renfree throws the ball at least 30 times, but for less than 250 yards.

- Final score: UVA 35, Duke 10

-- Rest of the ACC:

Virginia Tech 37, Georgia Tech 26 (Thanks to a pathetic tackling display by GT, if UVA loses another game, then all VT has to do is beat UNC next week and the division is theirs.)

Wake Forest @ Clemson, 12:00 (Clemson clinches the division with a win.)
NC State @ Boston College, 12:30 (Three ACC teams are going for bowl eligibility this week, but NC State is the only one likely to get there.)
Miami @ Florida State, 3:30 (It's our turn in Tallahassee next week. Not gonna feel good about the idea if Miami gets thwacked.)
Maryland @ Notre Dame, 7:30 (Speaking of getting thwacked.


Anonymous said...

I think NC State has two FCS wins, so they need 7 wins to be bowl eligible. If that's right, BC won't be enough.

GT threw that game away last night. Sigh.

Go HOOS! Break the streak!

Brandon said...

GT threw it away in style at least... If you're gonna go down, do it with an after-the-whistle punch to the qb's head.

Anonymous said...

Hey, so, d'you figure if we beat Duke, we'll go to Music City if FSU and VT beat us? I was thinking Military if we lose out, Music City for Duke, Belk for Duke + 1, and the ACCCG for a win out. Your thoughts?

Brendan said...

See last Sunday's bowl post for bowl possibilities; will update this Sunday after this week's game.

P.S. - yes, that's an oops on my part about NC State. Looks like the ACC is gonna go down to the wire on bowl eligibility, but should still earn 9 spots.