Thursday, December 29, 2011
game preview: Auburn
Date/Time: Saturday, December 31; 7:30
History against the Tigers: 1-1
Last matchup: UVA 19, AU 0; 9/3/98; Auburn
Last game: VT 38, UVA 0; UA 42, AU 14
Line: Auburn by 3
Opposing blogs: Track 'Em Tigers
In 2011, UVA won a national championship in lacrosse, went to the College World Series on the heels of a thrilling ninth-inning comeback, won multiple ACC titles, and placed the basketball team in the top 25.....so what better way to cap off an awesome year than with a prime-time bowl game - the best we've had since, well, the last time we went to the Peach Bowl. It's a well-deserved reward for a great season. Auburn and UVA don't share a lot of history, at least on the field; the last and only matchup was a home-and-home series in the late '90s, in which each team won on the other's field. Perhaps a little-known fact: it was a Virginia grad who founded Auburn's program and gave them their school colors. (So Auburners ought to be grateful to Allen Potts for his summer excursion to England, or else today they might be looking like Ohio State!) UVA has a golden chance here to make a huge impression in a prime-time slot; Auburn, as we've seen, is nothing like the Auburn of last year, but that's the kind of thing that filters out of impressions.
-- UVA run offense vs. AU run defense
Perry Jones: 176 carries, 883 yards, 5.0 avg.
Kevin Parks: 141 carries, 661 yards, 4.7 avg.
165.33 yards/game, 4.26 yards/attempt
54th of 120 (national), 5th of 12 (ACC)
194.75 yards/game, 4.66 yards/attempt
88th of 12 (national), 11th of 12 (SEC)
If there's an area of this matchup that has Auburn fans worried, this is it. UVA's run game hasn't been as productive lately as it was earlier in the season, but then, the last two games of the year (FSU and VT) were against the best run defenses we've seen all season. Auburn's run defense is more comparable to Georgia Tech or Maryland, both of whom we rolled.
The Auburn front four is inexperienced; three sophomores and a freshman. Defensive tackles Jeffrey Whitaker and Gabe Wright each top 310 pounds, so there is cloggability in the middle. But neither is a dynamic playmaker. Quite a bit of the runstopping is done by outside 'backer Daren Bates, plus the safeties in run support. UVA's higly seasoned and cohesive offensive line should at least occasionally be able to blow a few holes in the Auburn line, and I expect a quality performance overall.
I don't think an overly complicated game plan will be necessary here. I think the old Big Ten plan should work just fine: line 'em up and see if your guys are better than theirs. I'll bet they are. Do that and at a minimum, UVA should be able to control the ball and the tempo. Auburn has pulled out a couple really nice games this year (they shut down South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore) but for every game like that one there are three in which they presented no obstacle. I don't doubt we'll have a 100-yard rusher in this game, and we should be able to pound out 175 yards in total.
-- UVA pass offense vs. AU pass defense
Michael Rocco: 196/325, 60.3%; 2,359 yards, 11 TD, 11 INT, 7.26 yds/attempt
Kris Burd: 60 rec., 810 yards, 1 TD
Perry Jones: 41 rec., 416 yards, 3 TD
231.5 yards/game, 6.9 yards/attempt
65th of 120 (national), 8th of 12 (ACC)
211.0 yards/game, 7.2 yards/attempt
70th of 120 (national), 11th of 12 (SEC)
The UVA passing game has never been described, exactly, as explosive, but since Rocco took the reins (NOT "reigns") for good, he's produced eight touchdowns against just three interceptions, and has averaged 8.2 yards a throw. That's a very nice number that, if extended to the whole season, would've put UVA in the top 20 passing offenses in the country.
This game would scare me more if Auburn's best cornerback weren't on the sidelines with a destroyed-up knee. Without him, the Auburn cornerbacks are green as hell. That said, though, the safeties are to be accounted for. Neiko Thorpe is a good playmaker, and Demetruce McNeal isn't bad either. And the number-one threat when Rocco drops back is the speed-rushing terror, Corey Lemonier. With 9.5 sacks, he's arguably Auburn's best defensive player. Oday Aboushi will have his hands full with Lemonier all day.
The first priority, I think, should be to attack the edges and test Auburn's rookie cornerbacks. They will probably start the game in something close to press coverage on our receivers, trusting their safeties to cover for mistakes. If the run has been established and the safeties have their eyes on the handoff, throwing deep on play-action could pay off. I think Kris Burd, the grizzled veteran of the WR corps, will have a big day working on whoever has him as their assignment, catching at least six Rocco passes. As long as Lemonier doesn't end up setting up camp in the backfield, Rocco should become the seventh passer to complete more than 2/3 of his passes against Auburn.
-- AU run offense vs. UVA run defense
Onterio McCalebb: 102 carries, 532 yards, 5.2 avg.
Tre Mason: 19 carries, 97 yards, 5.1 avg.
174.75 yards/game, 4.26 yards/attempt
54th of 120 (national), 7th of 12 (SEC)
128.33 yards/game, 3.70 yards/attempt
38th of 120 (national), 4th of 12 (ACC)
Those running backs might look a little thin on stats, but there's no point in including the suspended Michael Dyer. Without him, Auburn no longer has the bruising workhorse that carried their running game all season. In his place, there's scatback Onterio McCalebb and relative unknown, lightly-used Tre Mason.
McCalebb can be dangerous; he'll also be returning kicks for Auburn and has taken at least one to the house this year. He's broken a double-digit run in every game this year, despite never having more than 15 carries and often having just 3 to 5. On the other hand, his season-long is 21. Mason - I have no idea. In limited time, his per-carry average is every bit as good as anyone else Auburn has, but it's not even out of the question that he'll see as many carries in this game as he's had all year combined.
The key matchup here will be our defensive tackles vs. Auburn's excellent freshman center, Reese Dismukes. Dismukes is the only Tiger O-lineman to start every game at one position. The defensive line must also be prepared to play entire series without substitution because of Auburn's fast-paced no-huddle. This is where it will hurt not having Bill Schautz - with him, we had a highly dependable three-man rotation at each of the two D-line positions.
UVA will also have to defend the zone read and other running plays designed for freshman quarterback Kiehl Frazier, who comes in the game primarily to run the ball. Frazier can scoot. I'd rather have the ball in his hands than McCalebb's, but not by much.
The ground game is Auburn's best chance at moving the ball, and even though we likely have the trench advantage, I expect Auburn to be able to pick up some yards, in fits and starts at worst. Auburn's up-tempo offense is something we haven't seen before, and that's probably good for at least a long drive or two. Since they don't have Dyer to lean on, I think Frazier, McCalebb, and Mason will split the carries pretty evenly, so as to keep the defense off-balance. Really good run defenses have held Auburn under 100 yards, but we're not LSU - I think they'll top 175 just as we will.
-- AU pass offense vs. UVA pass defense
Clint Moseley: 65/104, 62.5%; 794 yards, 5 TD, 3 INT; 7.64 yds/attempt
Emory Blake: 30 rec., 505 yards, 5 TDs
Onterio McCalebb: 30 rec., 291 yards, 1 TD
153.4 yards/game, 6.8 yards/attempt
73rd of 120 (national); 8th of 12 (SEC)
214.8 yards/game, 6.7 yards/attempt
40th of 120 (national), 2nd of 12 (ACC)
Evidence of the lack of confidence Auburn has in their quarterbacks is the 65-35 split in playcalling, leaning heavily towards the run. They actually had an even heavier split last year, but that had everything to do with Cam Newton. Newton's passes and non-Newton runs were much more evenly balanced.
Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier will platoon, but it's highly unlikely Frazier will do much throwing. Gene Chizik says "the whole playbook is open," but that's almost certainly just coachspeak. Frazier hasn't thrown but 12 times all year, I don't think he's suddenly good for 10-15 passes.
Auburn's receivers might be part of the reason for their lack of desire to pass. Emory Blake is the only one that has numbers that look like a starting receiver. Trovon Reed has 21 catches but averages a paltry 7.8 yards a catch. A lot of the passing game involves McCalebb and/or H-back Philip Lutzenkirchen. Lutzenkirchen is a red-zone weapon; nearly one-third of his 24 receptions are touchdowns. McCalebb is also a frequent target; in fact, between the emphasis they give him in the passing game and suddenly being the #1 running back, it's probable he'll have his best game of the season, well outstripping the 119 combined yards he had against Arkansas.
But, you have to like the idea of Chase Minnifield on Blake. Blake is a good receiver, but Minnifield's covered better this year. I expect Auburn will try and pick on Demetrious Nicholson, being a true freshman and all, but I don't think they have the weapons to do that consistently. When it comes to moving the ball through the air, Auburn will have to scheme to get their yardage - getting Lutzenkirchen in mismatches and things like that. Moseley and Rocco are about even as far as their effectiveness, but Rocco has more weapons to work with.
Vegas has UVA as three-point underdogs, and that's not even where it started; the money came in and moved the line from an opening of 1.5. Is this largely on reputation? Either as a halo effect from last year's championship, or from being in the SEC? I think so. UVA has a big advantage in the trenches. Our offensive line is a veteran group and everyone has started at the same position, every game, all year. The same for the defensive line. Auburn's are inexperienced and shuffley. The Tigers' advantage is in the versatility of their schemes and personnel, but if the UVA lines are dominant enough, it won't matter. There's a decent chance I'm overrating our talent. I'm a UVA fan, it's what we do. But I think I've done my homework enough on Auburn to be able to say: I think we pull off the upset and wrap up 2011 in fine style.
-- Prediction summary
- UVA has a 100-yard rusher.
- UVA runs for over 175 yards.
- So does Auburn.
- Kris Burd has at least six receptions.
- Mike Rocco's completion percentage is over two-thirds.
- Onterio McCalebb leads Auburn in receptions.
- McCalebb has at least 120 combined yards, not counting returns.
Final score: UVA 28, AU 21
-- Rest of the ACC
- Missouri 41, North Carolina 24 (Independence Bowl; not even as close as the score indicated)
- NC State 31, Louisville 24 (Tire Bowl; the Pack made me nervous, because that's not a game we wanted to lose if we want to act like the ACC is a high-major conference.)
- Florida State 18, Notre Dame 14 (Tangerine Bowl; probably the first time in my life I've actively pulled for FSU** - it felt really, really weird.)
- Wake Forest vs. Mississippi State (Music City Bowl; Wake is very likely to get rolled, which means they'll probably win.)
- Georgia Tech vs. Utah (Sun Bowl; I keep forgetting this game is actually happening.)
- Virginia Tech vs. Michigan (Sugar Bowl; this is like another Ohio State game for the Michigan fan in me.)
- Clemson vs. West Virginia (Orange Bowl; let's be honest - this ought to be a blowout for Clemson.)
**I realize Florida State has played VT before, but the fact is my hatred for FSU used to be deep and abiding, and it goes back much further than my hatred for Tech. So that was always a meteor game. I still don't like the Noles, exactly, but since they've stopped being the ACC hegemon and Bobby Bowden is no longer the coach, it's begun dissipating to where I can at least root for them for the sake of the ACC.