Thursday, November 24, 2011

game preview: Virginia Tech

Date/Time: Saturday, November 26, 3:30


History against the Hokies: 37-50-5

Last matchup: VT 37, UVA 7; 11/27/10; Blacksburg

Last game: UVA 14, FSU 13; VT 24, UNC 21

Line: VT by 4

Opposing blogs: Gobbler Country, The Key Play

Injury report: too early for it right now.  Maybe I put it in later, maybe not.

Do I need to say anything to hype up this game, or to tell you anything about the importance of it?  I don't.  You know what's at stake.  That's a good thing, because I'm hardly sure if I can.  It's hard to do justice to this game in a single paragraph, especially to what it would mean if we won.  The list of possibilities is long: a spot in the ACC championship game; major recruiting chops; a year's worth of ammunition against a fanbase that is both galactically arrogant and hates us because they think we're arrogant.  You have your own reasons for wanting this one, and the exciting part is, it's our best chance in years.

-- UVA run offense vs. VT run defense

Top backs:
Perry Jones: 170 carries, 870 yards, 5.1 avg, 5 TDs
Kevin Parks: 134 carries, 644 yards, 4.8 avg, 8 TDs

UVA offense:
177.64 yards/game, 4.44 yards/attempt
43rd of 120 (national), 4th of 12 (ACC)

VT defense:
104.91 yards/game, 3.29 yards/attempt
19th of 120 (national), 3rd of 12 (ACC)

Out of the frying pan, into the fire, so to speak.  From one tough run defense to another.  VT's rush defense isn't that far behind FSU's; the difference is that FSU did not honestly have any bad games.  They had games where they allowed teams to sort of approach their average.  VT has had bad games, and therein lies your hope.  Miami, for example, the same Miami that UVA shut down, went apeshit, with Lamar Miller running for 166 yards on 18 carries.

Up front, Tech basically does not ever rotate its defensive linemen.  Injuries have forced them to run thin at this spot.  Against UNC, which was having success running the ball until Giovanni Bernard left the game with a concussion, the starting four each played over 90% of available snaps.  Nose tackle Derrick Hopkins can make plays, but fellow tackle, freshman Luther Maddy, is an exploitable spot in the defense.

Injuries have similarly befell the Tech linebacking corps; Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and Bruce Taylor both suffered Lisfranc injuries to their feet, and are out for the season.  Gouveia-Winslow's backup, Alonzo Tweedy, has also been hurt, forcing Tech to play a full-time nickel package.  That leaves middle linebacker Tariq Edwards, who knows what he's doing out there.  Edwards is a playmaker and he's been instrumental in covering up for a little bendability on the defensive line.  At the other linebacker position, Taylor's old spot, Tech now rotates Barquell Rivers and walk-on Jack Tyler.  Neither are standouts, but they get the job done.

Other than Georgia Tech, UVA will be VT's best test in the run game.  Tech is traditionally good at this stuff, but could be vulnerable if they are forced to play a 4-2-5 nickel as their base defense.  Replacing a linebacker with 189-pound nickel cornerback, freshman Detrick Bonner, is a decent proposition for UVA.  Tech's defensive ends are good pass-rush ends, but smallish, and the whole setup is far less experienced than UVA's offensive line.

Do not, by the way, put it past Mike London to have come up with a way to use David Watford in a creative fashion.  London is good at pulling out the stops.  I'm not saying we're suddenly gonna go back to that damnable quarterback platoon, but you'll remember how Vic Hall almost singlehandedly took the Hokies down in 2008 because they never saw that coming.  It's possible London has Watford in mind for something similar.

In 2004, Alvin Pearman rattled off 147 yards in a 24-10 loss; since then, no UVA tailback has turned in a 100-yard performance in the Tech game.  Does that change this week?  I think so.  I think you will see Bill Lazor pound the run enough to get either Superman Jones or Parks over that mark.  The challenge will be to see if our wide receivers can get some quality blocking in, because Kyle Fuller is an excellent run-stopping cornerback.  If not for him, Tech might be in semi-dire straits.

-- UVA pass offense vs. VT pass defense

Mike Rocco: 180/298, 60.4%; 2,148 yards, 11 TD, 9 INT; 7.21 yds/attempt

Top receivers:
Kris Burd: 53 rec., 710 yards, 1 TD
Perry Jones: 41 rec., 416 yards, 3 TD

UVA offense:
233.4 yards/game, 6.9 yards/attempt
67th of 120 (national), 8th of 12 (ACC)

VT defense:
202.6 yards/game, 6.7 yards/attempt
40th of 120 (national), 5th of 12 (ACC)

(Before I get started, this is the point where I have to say I have not yet gotten tired of watching Mike Rocco loft that touchdown pass to Perry Jones last week.  That throw had to be perfect to find its target, and there are other QBs in the nation that can make that throw too, but it can't be thrown any better.)

5th of 12 looks pretty average, but there are four teams tied at #1, and VT is just two-tenths of a yard behind them.  So we're not talking about an easy time here, really.  The really cogent stat here is that VT is only one of three pass defenses in the country that allows a completion percentage less than 50%; the only team ahead of them here is Alabama.  Even the explosive Clemson, the only team to beat VT, hit on just 13-of-32 passing.

Jayron Hosley is a very solid cornerback and in most years would probably earn first-team all-ACC honors, and strong safety Antone Exum (the Hokie defense calls it "rover") joins him in the pass-defense excellence category; both have 11 passes defensed, with 10 breakups for Exum and eight plus three picks for Hosley.  Middle 'backer Tariq Edwards has two picks of his own; this defense is no picnic to throw against.

The pass rush is also an issue; ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins have five and six sacks, respectively.  Tech also likes to corner-blitz with Fuller, who's picked up three.  (This all is partly why I say Lazor will prefer to pound the run.)

Rocco has been hovering at 60% completion just about all season.  I don't think he'll get there on Saturday, but for UVA to win, he won't absolutely need to if the run game is working.  What he does absolutely need to do is avoid throwing interceptions.  UVA loses this game if Rocco throws two of them, is how I see it.  He's been exceptional lately in the take-care-of-the-ball department, and was remarkably cool under pressure against Florida State.  But that was "just" Florida State; there wasn't as much pressure, in the sense of pressure to succeed.  I think Rocco will complete between 50 and 60% of his passes, with Perry Jones once again being a recipient of at least five of them, and that'll be enough to keep things from getting out of hand as long as some of those incompletions aren't actually interceptions.

-- VT run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
David Wilson: 231 carries, 1,442 yards, 6.2 avg., 7 TD
Logan Thomas: 118 carries, 387 yards, 3.3 avg., 9 TD

VT offense:
201.27 yards/game, 4.73 yards/attempt
36th of 120 (national), 3rd of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
123.36 yards/game, 3.66 yards/attempt
37th of 120 (national), 5th of 12 (ACC)

This is going to be a short section.  David Wilson will get his yards and that's all there is to it.  He will break tackles and it will be frustrating.  You basically just mark him down for 130 yards on 20-25 carries and call it a day.  Only UNC and Arkansas State(!) managed to hold him under 100, and even then he got 80-some, which, it's not like that sucks.

Also, Logan Thomas will run the ball and that's all there is to that, too.  Here's where you like things a little better.  Thomas typically carries about 12 times a game.  Often, a running quarterback has similar numbers to Thomas's, and the low average means he gets sacked a lot.  Thomas has only been sacked 12 times; some of his runs are designed keepers, and some of them are because he's so goddam huge that he's tough to actually sack, and turns a loss of 2 into a gain of 2.  Both of these guys are just loads to bring down.  UVA has got to play perfect positioning, because arm tackles will never cut it.  Especially not with Thomas, who is a galoot and a half.  Oh, and VT's offensive line: huge as well, with three 300-pounders, and topping out at 311 with Blake DeChristopher.

Now, the silver lining here: starting center Andrew Miller may not play.  He was hurt in the UNC game.  Could that have been responsible for Wilson's un-Wilsonlike day?  Perhaps.  Tech has faith in utility backup Michael Via, so I wouldn't hang your hat on suddenly being able to stuff the Turkeys all day long in the run game, but every little bit helps.

Regardless of that injury, though, it's the easiest prediction in the world for me to chalk up Wilson for another 120-yard game.  Hopefully it takes him like 30 carries, but he'll get there.

-- VT pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Logan Thomas: 180/298, 60.4%; 2,338 yards, 16 TD, 7 INT; 7.85 avg.

Top receivers:
Jarrett Boykin: 50 rec., 629 yards, 4 TDs
Danny Coale: 48 rec., 761 yards, 3 TDs

VT offense:
222.8 yards/game, 8.0 yards/attempt
29th of 120 (national), 6th of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
213.7 yards/game, 6.5 yards/attempt
30th of 120 (national), 1st of 12 (ACC)

I had to double-take to make sure I didn't get my wires crossed and accidentally put one QB's numbers in for another, but it's an actual truth: Rocco and Thomas have attempted and completed exactly the same number of passes each.  There's your Yak Fact of the day.

Anyway, if you want to win the game, it has to happen when Logan Thomas drops back to pass.  I am stealing a bit of the thunder from the other half of the Gobbler Country Q&A, so, bad blogger dude, but here is what I see about Thomas.  Three of his games matched both the following two criteria: more INTs than TDs, and a below-average (or so near it that it counts) completion percentage.  They were his three worst games, passer-rating-wise, of the season - ECU, Clemson, and Duke.  They're also Tech's three worst of the season.  They averaged 11 points a game in those three, and 32 points a game in the rest of their FBS matchups.

UVA can top 11 points on Tech.  That is very doable.  They will not top 32; they haven't done that since Indiana.  Make Logan Thomas have a bad day throwing and UVA can, and likely will, win this football game.  David Wilson is a complete hoss but one-dimensional offenses have trouble regardless of opponent or how good that one dimension is.

Now, Thomas is developing into a dangerous passer.  Coale and Boykin are his main weapons; Tech doesn't deploy the tight end or running backs as pass-catchers most of the time.  And the deep ball is not a specialty; Thomas can hit it sometimes, but not too consistently.  This plays into Virginia's hands rather well, I think, considering that we have the lockdownest corner in the league.  Danny Coale is an obnoxious son of a bitch because he's that gritty, techniquey white receiver that always makes a 10-yard catch on 3rd-and-9, and he's like a seventh-year junior or something.  If Chase can shut down Coale, that'll be huge.  That would almost be the ballgame.

Remember that I pointed out that the VT pass defense is second in the country in completion percentage; you know that the UVA defense ain't too shabby itself in this regard, coming in at 11th.  Like Rocco, I only expect Thomas to complete 50 to 60% of his passes.  That means whoever turns the ball over less, wins.

-- Outlook

In 2003, I went into this game feeling, along with the rest of the student body that "it's our year, and if not now, when?"  It's been awfully hard to think that since then.  "If not now, when?" may have been partly a function of the fact that it was my last game in Scott Stadium as a student, but Tech also has a better team now; it's hard to feel like this is our best shot for a while.  It's not like they can get much better than 10-1.

But it's hardly an invincible 10-1.  My brain says Tech has the advantage in at least two of four of the above game sections, possibly three if Logan Thomas decides to have a really good day.  And special teams is not a happy place either (although we have gotten our hands on several field goal attempts this year, and nothing would be funner than getting another one this weekend.  Tech acts like blocking kicks is still their big thing but they haven't been really stand-out good in that area for a while.  Plus, their punting really sucks.)

On paper, Tech should win.  But on paper, so should Florida State have.  This UVA team is flying high with confidence right now.  It's too early in the process to call it cockiness; UVA just didn't seem to realize that FSU was more talented.  UVA is much more experienced in the trenches besides, and hopefully will be willing to run the ball til Perry Jones's legs fall off.  If I were an objective media dude doing a drive-by pick, VT would be a logical choice.  I'm not.  I'm a homer blogger and I'm allowed to sit on my homer ass and do homer things once in a while.  UVA will be confident, more motivated, and finally has some talent and experience to match, and is playing at home besides.  This is our year, and you're off your fucking rocker if you think I'm gonna pick otherwise.

-- Prediction summary:

- Either Jones or Parks tops 100 yards rushing.
- Mike Rocco completes between 50 and 60 percent of his passes.
- So does Logan Thomas.
- Perry Jones catches at least five.  He is Superman.
- David Wilson runs for 120+ yards.
- Whichever QB throws fewer interceptions, wins.

Final score: UVA 23, VT 17

-- Rest of the ACC:

- Boston College @ Miami, 3:30 Friday (Don't be surprised to see BC pull this out, now that Miami has pulled out of bowl contention and will probably be playing in front of 400 people.)
- Georgia Tech vs. Georgia, 12:00 (Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.  If GT loses, it might improve our chances of going to El Paso, but do we want that?)
- Maryland @ NC State, 12:30 (NC State trying to finally get bowl-eligible.  You should be hoping they do for the ACC's sake.  Also screw Maryland.)
- Duke @ North Carolina, 3:30 (Only thing at stake is the right to chant Just Like Football in February.)
- Wake Forest vs. Vanderbilt, 3:30 (Vandy trying to be bowl-eligible, which would be cool and piss off Maryland fans even more.)
- Florida State @ Florida, 7:00 (The last time these teams had so few wins between them?  Not even the Zook era, I don't think.)
- Clemson @ South Carolina, 7:45 (Truthfully, this ought to be a very entertaining game.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Don't see any reason why we can't win this game. I think, though, that UVA will have to make a big play early in the passing game. If I'm the Hokies, I'm coming in guns a blazing to force Rocco beat us. Our OL is very good, but an overloaded box is an overloaded box.

I also am expecting a lot of check-downs, and I really would like to see the TE's more active in the passing game in this game. I feel like Mathis could probably exploit a matchup on Exum, and Phillips/Freedman are solid safety valves.

On the flip side, more than anything, I think our defense needs to stay disciplined. Fortunately, that's one thing that front does well. While we haven't had elite pass rush pressure from the DL, they are active and disciplined. We need to keep Logan Thomas in the pocket, and then, I expect a healthy dose of gut blitzes.

Go Hoos!