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 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

Top backs:
Perry Jones: 176 carries, 883 yards, 5.0 avg.
Kevin Parks: 141 carries, 661 yards, 4.7 avg.

UVA offense:
165.33 yards/game, 4.26 yards/attempt
54th of 120 (national), 5th of 12 (ACC)

AU defense:
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

Top receivers:
Kris Burd: 60 rec., 810 yards, 1 TD
Perry Jones: 41 rec., 416 yards, 3 TD

UVA offense:
231.5 yards/game, 6.9 yards/attempt
65th of 120 (national), 8th of 12 (ACC)

AU defense:
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

Top backs:
Onterio McCalebb: 102 carries, 532 yards, 5.2 avg.
Tre Mason: 19 carries, 97 yards, 5.1 avg.

AU offense:
174.75 yards/game, 4.26 yards/attempt
54th of 120 (national), 7th of 12 (SEC)

UVA defense:
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

Top receivers:
Emory Blake: 30 rec., 505 yards, 5 TDs
Onterio McCalebb: 30 rec., 291 yards, 1 TD

AU offense:
153.4 yards/game, 6.8 yards/attempt
73rd of 120 (national); 8th of 12 (SEC)

UVA defense:
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.

-- Outlook

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.

season preview: Maryland

Maryland Terrapins

Media prediction: 9th

Last season:

Record: 19-14 (7-9) - ACC 7th seed
Postseason: none
KenPom: 36th of 345

Returning scoring: 38.7%
Returning rebounding: 25.5%
Returning assists: 53.0%

2010-11 All-ACC:

1st team: F Jordan Williams
2nd team: none
3rd team: none
HM: none
Rookie: G Terrell Stoglin
Defensive: none

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Nick Faust (Fr.)
SG: Terrell Stoglin (So.)
G: Sean Mosley (Sr.)
F: James Padgett (Jr.)
F: Ashton Pankey (rFr.)


PG Pe'Shon Howard (So.)
G Mychal Parker (So.)
C Berend Weijs (Sr.)
F John Auslander (So.)
C Alex Len (Fr.)

Coach: Mark Turgeon (1st season)

ACC schedule:

Twice: Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia
Once: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, NC State, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

The fortunes of two programs changed when Jordan Williams left for the NBA.  Finally reaching his last straw with Williams's departure, longtime coach Gary Williams decided he'd had about enough of the coaching profession, and retired shortly thereafter, causing Maryland to undergo an awkwardly-timed coaching search.  (And of course, the coaching change prompted Justin Anderson to swap his commitment to UVA.)

Maryland did about as well in that coaching search as you'd expect, considering it was such an impromptu one, hiring Mark Turgeon away from Texas A&M.  It's been a rough start to the season, though.  Maryland got a win over Notre Dame, but hasn't beaten any of the other marquee teams on their schedule, not even the MAAC's likely eventual champion, Iona.  The Terps are 7-3, with their biggest margin of victory being nine, over the woeful UNC-Wilmington.  They have even narrower wins over equally woeful teams: six points over FGCU, three points over Mount St. Mary's, four points over FIU, five points over Radford.  None of these teams are currently in the top 200 in the KenPom ratings - the highest is 225th and the lowest, 314th.

However, we haven't seen the full-strength Terps just yet.  Nick Faust is ill-suited to the point guard position, but he was forced to play the one when Pe'Shon Howard started the season injured.  Howard returned against Radford, and didn't start but played 32 minutes.  And 7'1" freshman center Alex Len will make his debut in Maryland's next game (tonight), after serving a 10-game suspension for having signed a semi-pro contract in Europe prior to his Maryland commitment.

Howard's return will probably change Maryland quite a bit for the better as they get used to his presence in the lineup, as Faust has been absolutely horrendous so far.  His shooting has barely hit the mark and he's turned the ball over too much.  Going back to shooting guard will do him good.  Maryland has leaned far too heavily on the electric Terrell Stoglin.  Stoglin is averaging over 20 points a game, almost a third of Maryland's output by himself.  He should; he takes 37.2% of Maryland's shots when he's on the court (and he averages 33 minutes, so that's almost all the time) which is the 6th-highest total in the country.

There's little else to know.  Stoglin so dominates the offense that the rest of the team kind of fades into the background.  They're awfully generic.  And with the team having been incomplete in the first month of the year (in which the Terps did not look good at all) it's hard to say how the pieces will mesh in the ACC season.  My guess is that Howard will improve the efficiency of the offense and take a little scoring load off of Stoglin.  Len is a mystery.  Without him, Maryland has had to play very small; the 6'10", 200-pound-skinny Berend Weijs is at the back end of the rotation and the rest of their forwards are just that - forwards.  Len offers the only hope for a true frontline center, and not even Maryland followers know quite what to expect out of him.

So while Maryland will be a more dangerous team than the one that beat Mount St. Mary's by three, just how much more is up for debate.  I don't think it'll be a great amount.  There's just too much remodeling that had to be done.  If they could have brought back Jordan Williams they'd have at least been a bubble team; Williams was that talented.  But quite a few seniors left, too, and the upperclassmen that are left are role players, not statistical leaders.  With Duke, UNC, and UVA all on the schedule twice, look for Maryland to end up in the bottom half of the ACC this year.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

christmas weekend review

"Yes, brave Sir Robin turned about, and gallantly he chickened out...."

You may already know what that picture means - it means we are in for an ACC Roundtable session.  One in which most of our knights followed the lead of brave Sir Robin, so there will only be three responses to round up in this session.  Four if you count me.  (Lesson: never try to get people to do things within about ten days of Christmas.)  Our participants:

BC Interruption
Blogger So Dear (Wake Forest)
Duke Hoop Blog

Only one of them (the BC folks) actually printed their responses, so that means I get to paraphrase the others.  And I'll take a shot at speaking for the other ACC teams, too.  Here are the questions we asked:

1. How did the season go, relative to expectations? For bowl teams, are you ahead or behind the slot you thought you'd be at the beginning of the year? For non-bowl teams, is the season indicative of a trend or simply a bump in the road?

Obviously, UVA wildly exceeded expectations, and I'd wager we're the only team that can say so, outside of maybe Clemson.  Tech going to a better bowl than even they thought they deserved doesn't count.  Just about everyone else in the ACC felt they underachieved, or at best, ended up where they thought they should.  BC Interruption points out that BC's win totals over the past few years have been 11-9-8-7-4, which is a disturbing spiral.

2. It looks as though this will be the first offseason since about 2005 or so in the ACC that sees no head coaching changes. For each of your head coaches, on a scale of -10 to 10 with 10 being "we're building him a statue as soon as he retires, which we hope is never," and -10 being "when they build the space elevator to the moon, we're tossing that loser inside and locking the door," how badly do you want to fire or keep your coach?

People are pretty happy with their coaches.  Caveat: No response from Maryland this time.  The BC guys want to include the athletic director in the space elevator, which is understandable for a guy with way too itchy a trigger finger on Jeff Jagodzinski and not nearly enough of one on Al Skinner.

3. Besides head coach if you're way on the negative side in question 2, what one change do you want to see on your team for next year?

This turned out sort of like a Christmas wish list, so it ended up being an apropos question.  Duke wants to pick a quarterback and stick with him, which kind of sounds like a pretty good idea to me, considering.  Wake wants a killer instinct; also very understandable, with close losses this season that could have swung Wake into the "exceeded expectations so hard" category had they been wins.  BC would like an offensive coordinator.  And as for me, I want what we're already getting: an extra year of experience and confidence.  As the team gets into the swing of things with Mike London and gets some experience under their belts, games like the NC State game - where we mysteriously forget how to do things - will become scarcer and scarcer.

4. How do you feel about eventually going to a nine-game ACC schedule, if the ACC does indeed go that route?

You know my feelings. I'd be all over it.  Other bloggers agree it makes sense, too.  (To some degree, most of us ACC bloggers, whether they answered these questions or not, have in the past reacted to a nine-game schedule in the general range from "it's inevitable so fine" to "it's necessary and proper."  There's little resistance to the idea.)

The amusing part was this: Wake says "great, fewer games against Liberty and The Citadel" and Duke says "great, fewer games against Stanford and Alabama."  Someone's going to be disappointed.  I suspect it'll be the Wake camp, truthfully speaking.  I don't see UVA canceling its instate I-AA games against William & Mary and Richmond and whatnot.

5. Who do you want in your division, when they finally join the league: Pitt or Syracuse?

By a 2-1 vote, the bloggers want Syracuse in the Coastal and Pitt in the Atlantic; also by a 2-1 vote, they prefer to have Syracuse in their own division.  I agree most with BSD's point: Pitt fitting with the Atlantic teams (Maryland, Wake, FSU, Clemson, BC, NC State) "just makes more sense."  As does Syracuse with the Coastal teams, though BC is the dissenter here, wanting to play Syracuse every year.  (That might happen regardless - it's more than plausible that if Syracuse joins our division, the cross-division rivalries, which currently have BC playing VT, would shuffle so that BC plays Cuse and VT plays Pitt.)

6. What was your team's best single play of the season? Which single play would you change the outcome of if you could?

You know my thoughts on the subject.  As for the worst, let's see if we can reverse that 3rd-and-23 conversion by Southern Miss and then see if that game can be won.

BC and Wake picked plays by those they considered their best and most dynamic players; in BC's case, a pick-six by Luke Kuechly (who'd look awfully good in Honolulu blue and silver if he goes to the NFL) against Jacory Harris and Miami, and for Wake, "anything by Chris Givens."  DHB went with a sack against FIU that sealed Duke's only win against a bowl team.

Missed field goals plague the memories of fellow bloggers; BCI wants another try at the one that cost them the Duke game, and DHB wants the ones that lost Duke the Richmond game.  BSD says, pick anything that happened at the end of the Clemson or Syracuse games, continuing a theme of lamenting Wake's inability to close out a win.


OK, I guess it's time to address the two elephants in the room.  Don't worry, they'll be leaving soon; playing time is hard to find for elephants in living rooms.  Merry Christmas, Virginia basketball, Santa brought you coal in the form of two scholarship departures by KT Harrell and James Johnson.

Both of these are surprising and pretty frustrating decisions.  Playing time is cited as the reason.  In Harrell's case, Sammy Zeglinski and Malcolm Brogdon were starting to eat into his minutes.  Harrell's time dwindled from 30+ minutes in each of the first four games to 4 and 7 in the last two, and his shooting this year has been unbelievably bad.  Johnson had not played since the Longwood game and was the last man in the rotation, if he left the bench at all.  Mike Scott and Assane Sene get most of the big-man minutes, with Akil Mitchell third and Darion Atkins starting to worm his way in.

But please don't take that paragraph as a rationalization; losing these two players is a major detriment.  Here again is the list of players getting most of the playing time over Harrell and Johnson: Zeglinski, Brogdon, Scott, Sene, Mitchell.  And what do three of these players have in common?  They're frickin' seniors.  As in, not in the plans next year.  When Billy Baron left, it seemed understandable, as he was the first of six players in the same class to leave.  If you're getting beat out by every one of your classmates, you might be looking at the same thing for the next four years.  Brogdon is a freshman, sure, but not Zeglinski.

My original thought was that losing Harrell would be a much bigger loss, because we've seen what he can do and it's pretty good, when his shot is falling.  Johnson was a much more unknown quantity.  But his decision is more baffling; the guy is so patient with his development that he asks the coaches for a redshirt year, and then eleven games into his first season after taking the redshirt off, he bolts for lack of playing time?  Did he think he'd come out of his redshirt year ready for 20 minutes a game, even with two seniors playing his position?  Next year, Johnson would have been one of the primary options in the frontcourt. 

Harrell could have at least been a vital depth player, but there's at least a prism through which his decision takes on a level of understandability: if he wants to make a career of basketball, or at least make a living for a few years with his skills, his best chance to do so is as a primary scorer for a mid-major team, if he can't be a primary scorer for a high-major one.  But Johnson had as good a chance as anyone on this team to be a starter next year; he, Mitchell, and Atkins were the only returning big men and of the three, Johnson is the only one with the ability to play center.  And none so far have shown a real scoring aptitude.

So we'll have to hope Mitchell and/or Atkins develop one - or that Mike Tobey and Evan Nolte (and Nolte is more of a threeish four than a fiveish four) come in readier for the grind than Johnson did.  Paul Jesperson's redshirt will come off tonight, and I expect he'll get a lot of look tonight and Friday since we're playing two of the worst teams in the nation.  Jesperson is supposed to be a real sharpshooter but his other skills are a mystery right now.  Meanwhile, we're going to be digging out of a scholarship hole for quite a little while.  Right now we have nine guys on scholarship, and ten next year.  In the 2013 recruiting class, which will get filled up hopefully between now and next August or so, there's room for four, but I won't predict they'll all be filled because that would leave room in 2014 for only one other player beside B.J. Stith. 

Other possibilities to answer as time goes on:  Will Brandan Stith commit for 2013 now?  Maybe.  Will Bennett look into transfer options?  Maybe.  With only ten guys on scholarship for next season, it would be ideal to find a graduate student who can play right away next year and fill in some of those depth holes that otherwise we'll be depending on freshmen for.

With now only nine scholarship players, let's hope and pray for good health in the next three or four months.  It would be terrible to see injuries combine with attrition to derail what should be a pretty outstanding season.


Two last things.....

-- One, with spring sports less than 60 days away, it's time for news about them to start moving in; one of those news items is that the SEC baseball tournament is expanding by two teams and one day.  It used to be eight teams like the ACC's; now it will have ten.  Partly this is in response to the upcoming expansion of the conference; the natural question would be, will the ACC follow suit, since we too are expanding?  And I doubt it.  The difference between the SEC and ACC is that the ACC's bottom teams are off a cliff.  You can't make any kind of a good case for including a 9th and 10th team when those teams last year were 11-19 and 7-22 in conference play.  Besides, the SEC is adding two baseball teams; we are adding just one (Syracuse has no team), and whereas Texas A&M will strengthen SEC baseball, Pitt will weaken our conference.  So don't expect to see the ACC baseball tournament expand.  It'd be awfully hard on the pitching arms, anyway.

-- Now for a rant against terrible, terrible journalism.  There is an article making the rounds that Clemson will lose $185,000 on their Orange Bowl trip.  That's fine and dandy, but in their breakdown of revenues and expenses incurred by Clemson on this trip, the article neglects to mention the following facts:

- The ACC will distribute more than just Orange Bowl money.
- The ACC pays expenses for bowl teams, from the combined bowl money pot, over and above a team's slice of the bowl pie.
- The ACC picks up the tab for unsold seats as long as the school reaches 8,000.
- Which Clemson has.

How it works is like this: The ACC collects all the bowl payout money, which this year adds up to a little over $40 million.  It then uses that money to 1) give to bowl-bound teams to cover their expenses and 2) absorb unsold tickets for the schools if they fail to reach their quota but exceed 8,000.  Whatever's left over is split 12 ways and handed to the schools.

BCS teams get - hey - $1.7 million for their expenses.  Which is awfully similar to the $1.75 million cited by the article.  Putting two and two together we come to the conclusion that the article-writer completely failed to mention the rest of the money that Clemson gets.  It's obvious what happened: he assumed the ACC expense allowance was the only bowl money there was, and ignored everything else.  A little simple math uncovers the deception: he even writes -
What about the $18 million payout the bowl game guarantees the participants? That money goes to the ACC and is equally distributed to member institutions.
OK, so it's equally distributed - so $1.75 million times 12 is $21 million - so that means that $3 million total came from the seven other bowls?

At best this is slipshod bullshit.  At worst, if I may be allowed to climb the grassy knoll for a second, the writer knows and doesn't care because he's trying to present the bowls as an evil corporate racket that stands between you and your precious playoff, you poor innocent exploited football fan that only wants a nice bracket like in basketball and are prevented from having such by assholes in suits.  I would say that we are reaching - or have reached - the point where us bloggers are doing journalism better than the journalists, except that's kind of insulting to the fans who don't blog because I'm just a guy with opinions, same as anyone.  Here's a thread from your basic everyday message board that does it better than the journalists, for petesake.  I think the math is a little off, but not much - I calculate that each ACC team will pocket roughly $2.3 million from just the bowl season.  Not a bad bit of change.

Oh, and hell - even if it was true that Clemson ended up paying out $185,000 to go to the Orange Bowl, how is that even a bad deal?  Teams routinely pay more than twice that for fluffy pancake games like Idaho and Toledo and William & Mary and whatnot.  Are you telling me, Mr. Terrible Journalist, that I have to pay $400,000 to bring Idaho into town but only $185,000 to go to the Orange Bowl?  Where do I sign up to get exploited like that?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

auburnscouting: the defense

In the final installation in our weekly series looking at UVA's Peach Bowl opponent, we'll check out the somewhat-maligned Auburn Tiger defense.  It wasn't up to SEC standards; Auburn finished in the bottom half of the country in all major categories, and the result was that DC Ted Roof "left" to take the same position at Central Florida.

Auburn's defensive scheme is not complicated.  Gene Chizik's roots are on the defense - he was a DC at four prior stops (Auburn included) before taking the head job at Iowa State, and he'll play that role during the bowl game as well.  Chizik and Roof run a very basic 4-3 defense that's not especially different from the one run here at UVA.  They spend a lot of time in Cover 2 with two deep safeties and the corners playing close to the line of scrimmage.  So there isn't much that an experienced offensive coordinator hasn't seen before; Auburn depends on being able to recruit faster, better players and letting them make plays.

One media report suggests Roof was let go because Auburn has had trouble against the pass even while being stout against the run; I don't know about past years but the truth in 2011 was that more opponents than not outgained their per-game average on the ground, and the reverse was true through the air.

This defense has a few playmakers, but nobody quite like Nick Fairley, who's off to the pros.  It's a very young defense.  There are no upperclass starters on the defensive line and only one in the secondary.  Nickel corner Jermaine Whitehead and starting DT Gabe Wright are both true freshmen; starting cornerback Jonathan Mincy is a redshirt freshman.  They start five sophomores, too.  The only veteran unit is the linebackers.

Probably the best player is DE Corey Lemonier, who has 9.5 sacks and 15 QB hurries, as well as 13 TFL, better numbers in all cases than anyone on UVA can offer.  He's also forced five fumbles.  Lemonier is absolutely the real deal.  But the rest of the defensive line is so-so at best; a lot of the playmaking is done by the linebackers.  OLB Daren Bates is an excellent, rangy player who has 96 tackles, and MLB Eltoro Freeman is solid too.

At cornerback is where Auburn's biggest issues lie.  T'Sharvan Bell was the best they had, with two picks and seven breakups, but he wrecked his knee in the Georgia game; that's partly why there are so many freshmen in the secondary.  Out of Auburn's 10 picks this year, only one came from a non-Bell cornerback, so look for safeties Neiko Thorpe and Demetruce McNeal to be the secondary's biggest playmakers.  They are the second- and third-leading tacklers on the team, respectively; probably not a great sign overall for the defense, but Thorpe in particular is a player worth watching.  He's one of just two senior starters on this defense (Freeman is the other.)

Statistically speaking, there's not much that jumps out.  This isn't really a good defense, but it's not a terrible one.  Individually, Lemonier is the only one with eye-popping stats, although Thorpe and Bates make their mark pretty well, too.  They've had some really good days; wins over South Carolina and Florida were defensively dominant.  But Clemson, Mississippi State, and Georgia gashed the shit out of them.  Those five teams cover a pretty wide range of talent; these performances are the kind of inconsistency that shouldn't come as any surprise with so many underclassman starters.

Overall though, the results weren't good.  As mentioned, the Tigers were in the bottom half of the country in everything, and second-from-last in the SEC against both the pass and the run.  Only 2-10 Mississippi was worse.  And even the Somalia States of their schedule moved the ball pretty well.  Samford and FAU each managed over 300 yards.  (We should be hoping for more than that, but this is 1-11 Florida Atlantic we're talking about.)

UVA should be well able to pick up yardage.  In terms of YPC-allowed, the most similar run defenses we've faced are GT and Maryland.  (Auburn allows 4.66 per carry and is 88th in the country; GT and Md. allow 4.53 and 4.68, respectively.)  In both those games, UVA picked up over 200 yards on the ground and controlled the tempo this way.  It's possible Auburn could jump all over the Hoos and we could have just a terrible game on offense; their defense is a little bit like playing Russian roulette.  You might get your face blown off like South Carolina, but chances are you'll spin the chamber and come out OK.


A couple items to clean up the stuff I haven't addressed yet, before we go on break here:

-- In this case, stuff I've been sitting on for a long time and generally forgetting about, from lacrosse: the Nick O'Reilly suspension.  Which is for the whole year.  O'Reilly, you might remember, played a starring role in the NCAAs last year, especially in the championship against Maryland where he had four assists.  He might well have been John Haldy's replacement on the first offensive midfield this year.  So it's a little bit of a test of our depth; with Colin Briggs and Rob Emery more or less having two spots locked up on the first unit, Mark Cockerton is the next option.  Coupled with the Connor English transfer, it leaves us with a very formidable top six on offense - maybe the best in the country - but not much that's proven after that.  Matt Kugler is OK but no superstar, and most every other option on either attack or offensive mid has only ever seen garbage time (Pat Harbeson), redshirted (Owen Van Arsdale) or is an incoming freshman (Carl Walrath, etc.)

-- More spring sports: we're getting more baseball on TV!  ESPNUVA is expanding its baseball coverage - finally, the SEC isn't the only regular season college ball on TV - and UVA is on three times this season, more than any other ACC team except FSU, which also has three dates.  (In fact, only one of the baseball broadcasts doesn't feature either FSU or UVA.)  The downside is that these games are all on Monday - meaning three of our weekend series are moved from Fri-Sun to Sat-Mon.  It's weird, but it's a smallish price to pay for getting watch the UVA nine in action on national TV.  Our Monday games against FSU, Wake, and Miami are gonna be on the tube.  Excellent, excellent news.  (This is one of the more palatable byproducts of the conference arms race - the games are part of the ACC's deal with ESPN.)  The national exposure is huge, as is the obvious implication that Virginia is one of the marquee teams in one of the nation's marquee conferences.

-- Let us never schedule Seattle again in basketball.  That is all.

-- Offensive tackle might have been a major depth issue with next year's football team.  But Oday Aboushi has made it clear he's coming back, and Morgan Moses very likely will as well, so we should be in great shape.  We'll have to replace most of the interior, but the pass protection ought to be excellent.

-- I know that every offseason, you hear of football players doing knuckleheaded-ass things, but the kicker is usually squeaky clean.  But the home-invasion story out of Blacksburg that resulted in VT kicker Cody Journell's suspension is a pretty epic one, as these stories go.  If you're gonna get charged with home invasion, "they stole our weed" is a way funnier motive than "they were calling us names."  The fact that the home-invadees (one of which happens to be VT's star hoopster Dorenzo Hudson) chased down and beat hell out of Journell's chucklehead buddies is even better.  I'm not even mad that Hudson didn't get charged with assault.  Apparently the chucklehead buddies tried to get the police to do so, but the local constabulary usually has little interest in sympathy for people who wave pellet guns at people in order to break into their house.


Christmastime appears to be nigh upon us.  I can tell these things.  It's a gift.  The good news for you is that I'm not traveling anywhere for the first time in a while.  Instead of a week off, which I typically end up taking, I'm rolling with four days.  I return Tuesday.  Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Bah Humbug, and all the rest to you and yours.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

the FOV guide to the bowl names

Well, I had plans for today's post, but they've been put on hold for now.  So I started drinking scotch while watching the Poinsettia Bowl and this is the result.  It's occurred to me that I use a lot of alternate bowl names when I'm referring to them that might not always make sense.  This is because I refuse to recognize that any such thing as the "Capital One Bowl" exists.  90% of corporate names on bowls fall into one of two categories:

-- Replaced a perfectly good, worthwhile name (Chick-Fil-A Bowl, Insight Bowl, etc.)
-- Stupid-sounding name applied to a terrible bowl (Beef O' Brady's Bowl, Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl)

(You'll notice I'm actually using the names.  For now.  Don't get used to it, it's just for reference sake.)

So here is the From Old Virginia guide to what the bowl names should be.  First off, I don't care if someone decides to put their name in front of a regular one.  Fine, do it; I don't have to worry about it.  Those are never getting said anyway except by the people who are required to.  So, here are the names I actually like:

- Alamo Bowl
- Cotton Bowl
- Fiesta Bowl
- Gator Bowl
- Holiday Bowl
- Independence Bowl
- Las Vegas Bowl
- Liberty Bowl
- Music City Bowl
- Orange Bowl
- Poinsettia Bowl
- Rose Bowl
- Sugar Bowl
- Sun Bowl

So those are cool.  A good name plays on a local feature (Sun, Orange), or uses the holidays (Poinsettia, Holiday), or otherwise rolls off the tongue nicely.  Then there are some other names I'm not philosophically opposed to, but I don't care for the sound of:

- New Mexico Bowl
- Hawaii Bowl
- New Orleans Bowl

I think it's lazy to just use the name of your place as the bowl's name.  There used to be other offenders here - the Texas Bowl, the Mobile Alabama Bowl, the Seattle Bowl, to name a few.  Fort Worth Bowl.  It's boring.  (Las Vegas Bowl is the exception, because the name "Las Vegas" alone conjures up enough of an image to make it work.)  There's got to be something more creative than "New Orleans Bowl."  For these, I suggest Trinity Bowl, Aloha Bowl, and Bourbon Bowl (like in The Waterboy) - all have local connections which shouldn't be too hard to figure out.  And for different and semi-obvious reasons, none will ever be used.  Oh well.  I'll stick with the real names on these.

Then there's:

- Pinstripe Bowl
- Armed Forces Bowl
- Military Bowl

They just don't have that right sound.  But again, not philosophically opposed to the names, so I figure, might as well use 'em.  Big Apple Bowl would sound cool, though.

Now we get to the ones I am philosophically opposed to, and won't likely use.  Here's the part that might actually be helpful.  Some of the names, I actually don't really hate:

- Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Tell you what, let's just compromise and agree to call this the Potato Bowl.  It jibes with the idea of using local produce as the bowl name, and it's really not that different from the Citrus Bowl, which became that when the Florida Citrus Growers Association attached its sponsorship.  It sounds a little silly, but it can't be helped that potatoes aren't the awesomest things in history.  It sure sounds better than its old name, the Humanitarian Bowl.

Suggested name: Potato Bowl
Name I'll use: Potato Bowl

- Outback Bowl

This used to be the Hall of Fame Bowl, and it still doesn't sound completely horrible.  A select few of these corporate names don't.  I might slip and use it since it sort of rolls, and it's one of the older names that people are getting used to.

Suggested name: Hall of Fame Bowl
Name I'll use: sometimes Outback, sometimes Hall of Fame

Now we get into the names that are completely stupid.  Like, boycott-the-companies-til-they-take-their-name-off-our-traditions stupid.

- Beef O' Brady's Bowl St. Petersburg

OK, in some cases "traditions" might be a stretch.  I watched this last night and it was the worst football game in history.  Oh, and all the ads for Beef O' Brady's made the food look really unappetizing.  The food is supposed to look unrealistically good in the ads, not overcooked.  This is one of the newest bowls and it's played in a place that doesn't have a single distinguishing characteristic.  So I'm sort of at a loss.

Suggested name: Anything else at all
Name I'll use: St. Pete Bowl

- Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl

Mike Ilitch - the owner of Little Caesar's - has done a zillion great things in my home city, but I'm still not using his company's name on the bowl.  This was the Motor City Bowl and it ought to have stayed that way.

Suggested name: Motor City Bowl
Name I'll use: Motor City Bowl or Pizza Bowl

- Belk Bowl

Weirdly, I never hated the name "Continental Tire Bowl."  It does kind of have that roll to it and it's easy to shorten.  The bowl organizers called it the "Queen City Bowl" while they waited for a suitable sponsor, which also sounds just fine to me.

Suggested name: Queen City Bowl or Carolina Bowl
Name I'll use: Tire Bowl

- Champs Sports Bowl

This poor bowl has almost always been stuck with a corporate name - Blockbuster Bowl, Carquest Bowl, you name it.  However, for a couple glorious years it had the Tangerine Bowl moniker, which was perfect.  Bring it back, I say - it's a name with a long history.

Suggested name: Tangerine Bowl
Name I'll use: Tangerine Bowl or CS Bowl

- Insight Bowl

At least it doesn't have ".com" on it, still.  It used to be the Copper Bowl, but whoever the fuck "Insight" is, they've actually had the sponsorship on it longer than it was ever the Copper Bowl.  Still - that was a great name.

Suggest name: Copper Bowl
Name I'll use: Copper Bowl

- Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

Man, this is a company that just needs to go the hell away.  I get why the "of Texas" - the grease monkeys need to make sure people don't confuse it with the one in Charlotte that they used to sponsor.  It still sounds retarded.  They went to "Texas Bowl" for a while, and I'm not sure why they couldn't at least have gone with Lone Star Bowl or something.  The game is in Houston, which used to host the excellent Bluebonnet Bowl; I suggest we make it happen.

Suggested name: Bluebonnet Bowl
Name I'll use: Texas Bowl

- Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

Emerald Bowl was the former name of this one, which was a good enough name you could even forget it was actually corporate.  "Kraft Bowl" would only have sucked 90% - "Macaroni Bowl" would've been too easy, I suppose.  Anyway, Kraft decided their name alone wasn't good enough and decided to PC it up.  For that, we're taking "fight" out of the name.

Suggested name: Golden Gate Bowl
Name I'll use: Hunger Bowl

- Chick-Fil-A Bowl

Ah, here we are.  You know what this is supposed to be.

Suggested name: Peach Bowl
Name I'll use: Peach Bowl

- TicketCity Bowl

According to Wikipedia, "The game was called the Dallas Football Classic until TicketCity, an online reseller of sports and entertainment tickets, agreed to be the title sponsor."  It is a rule that any sporting event that calls itself the Something Classic is anything but classic.  It is always brand-new.  The use of the word "classic" is the most transparent attempt ever to sound better than you really are, because things that are classic don't have to say it.  I don't even know what to call it, maybe we should borrow that "Lone Star Bowl" name or something.

Suggested name: Whatever
Name I'll use: Ticket Bowl

- Capital One Bowl

Capital One annoys the shit out of me for trying to sponsor everything that college sports ever touch.  Seriously, the Capital One Cup?  Eff off.  Without the name "Citrus Bowl" we'd never have had fantastic zingers from Steve Spurrier like "you can't spell Citrus without UT."  So we're keeping that name, because it's a good one.

Suggested name: Citrus Bowl
Name I'll use: Citrus Bowl

- BBVA Compass Bowl

Fun protip: BBVA stands for Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, a Spanish bank.  When I think college football, I think "Bilbao, Spain," don't you?  This is one of several efforts to make a bowl game work in Birmingham, Alabama, which mostly all fail because of trying to put a bowl game in Birmingham, Alabama.  Always these games are at Legion Field, so "Legion Bowl" would work fine for me.

Suggested name: Legion Bowl
Name I'll use: Compass Bowl, I suppose, but because of general crappiness of bowl it'll probably always require further clarification even if I actually called it by its full Spain-inspired name.

- Bowl

What have we told you about .com?  Not only that, but GoDaddy every year has the worst Super Bowl ads history has ever seen, in that they assume that both grown men and college guys have never seen a pair of tits before and act like 12-year-olds in possession of their very first Playboy upon seeing a not-even-revealing picture of Danica Patrick.  This name is so bad it makes me wish we had "GMAC Bowl" back.

Suggested name: Nothing, because it probably just needs to disappear.  Who travels to Mobile?
Name I'll use: Danica Bowl.  Might as well.  If I ever bother referring to it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

the recruit: Mario Nixon

Name: Mario Nixon
Position: WR/DB
Hometown: Norfolk
School: Norfolk Christian
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 215

24/7: 83; three stars; #132 WR; VA #25
ESPN: 75; three stars; #55 TE; VA #30; #150 Atlantic Region
Rivals: 5.6; three stars; #97 WR; VA #17
Scout: three stars; #94 WR

Other offers: Virginia Tech, NC State, Vanderbilt, Navy

This is why people follow recruiting.  It's like a little soap opera sometimes, only, one that's testosteronically acceptable.  Nixon committed to Virginia Tech in May, not long after two of his teammates (Wil Wahee and Kwontie Moore) committed to UVA.  My theory at the time, which I still think was reasonable, was that Nixon knew ahead of time his buddies were likely to go to UVA; he wanted to play with them, but once they made their commitments and he knew for sure they would go to UVA, and still he preferred VT, that's when he decided to take his plunge as well.

His teammates were having none of this, though.  Courtnye Wynn committed to UVA later in the summer, and Nixon's three teammates put on the full-court press.  Nixon even showed up at one of UVA's fall camp practices, which really set the rumor mill on fire.  Not long after that, he flipped his commitment, causing Hokie fans to either to claim they didn't need him, or had pulled his offer (as was purportedly also the case with Dominique Terrell, you know, whatever), or snark about broken promises (this latter of which conveniently forgets about Darius Redman.)

So that was fun, stealing recruits from Tech and all.  With Nixon on board, UVA ended up with the Norfolk Christian grand slam.  Kwontie Moore is the star; Nixon and Wynn come in a little behind.  In Nixon's case, the recruiting services are astoundingly in agreement.  Three stars each, a very similar rating, and all drop him into about the same ranking slot for both his position and his state.  This isn't usually coincidence, so Nixon's potential is pretty well-established.

Nixon is one of a number of recruits in the class who comes in as an athlete-type without a set position; at his height, he's an unlikely cornerback, so wide receiver or safety are the likely landing spots.  ESPN seems to think he can develop into a tight end, which is a natural thing to think about a guy who's already 6'4-6'5" and at least 210 pounds.  Myself, I'm not sure about this; in my rather amateurish opinion, I don't see Nixon adding the necessary poundage for tight end.  He's too tall and not really athletic enough for that height for cornerback, and ESPN's evaluation implies he doesn't have the speed for safety.  So I think he'll end up as a possession receiver.  In this he has the chance to excel, particularly if ESPN is correct about route-running being a strength of his.  His height makes him a natural.

Nixon probably gets a redshirt year to - at the very least - sort out his position.  Wherever he ends up there's too much competition to say he's likely to stand out from the crowd enough to get any playing time as a freshman, though he's a possible candidate for coverage teams.  He's the tallest wide-receiver-type in this class, though, and of the current receivers, only Matt Snyder and Bobby Smith are taller.  So Nixon, assuming he's a WR, will stand out from the crowd a bit.  Nixon could be a more-athletic Snyder; obviously he needs just a world of polishing and practice before he's at that level, but I think you have to love the idea of Nixon as a guy with potential to move the chains and make catches over the middle.

season preview: Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Media prediction: 10th

Last season:

Record: 13-18 (5-11) - ACC 11th seed
Postseason: none
KenPom: 89th of 345

Returning scoring: 51.6%
Returning assists: 41.2%
Returning rebounding: 55.2%

2010-11 All-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: F Iman Shumpert
3rd team: none
HM: none
Rookie: none
Defensive: F Iman Shumpert

(italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Mfon Udofia (Jr.)
SG: Glen Rice, Jr. (Jr.)
G: Brandon Reed (So.)
F: Kammeon Holsey (So.)
C: Daniel Miller (So.)


G Jason Morris (So.)
G Nick Foreman (Sr.)
F Julian Royal (Fr.)
C Nate Hicks (So.)

Coach: Brian Gregory (1st season)

ACC schedule:

Twice: Boston College, Clemson, Maryland, NC State, Wake Forest
Once: Duke, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech

Paul Hewitt spent so long on the hot seat at Georgia Tech that it was paradoxically a surprise that he was ever fired; I think I just got to the point where I assumed he never would be.  Or maybe it was more like Kim Jong-Il.  You knew that old bastard would die eventually; it's still surprising when he does.  (Current events, boys and girls.  That's how SNL always stays so timelessly hilarious, amirite?)

Like a lot of the ACC, Georgia Tech has already had some ugly games, but as the Jackets are only 12 games into the Brian Gregory era, the early returns actually seem encouraging.  GT had to replace do-everything forward Iman Shumpert, who ended up in the NBA draft just shy of being a lottery pick.  Shumpert kept the Jackets from being completely horrible last year.  This year the difference is Gregory.

Last year, GT was a completely horrible three-point shooting team and they've gotten worse this year.  Glen Rice, Jr. doesn't seem to have the touch his dad had for Michigan; his freshman year was pretty good in limited time, but once he became a go-to shooter he's been shooting at barely a 30% clip.  But he's hitting on better than 50% of his two-pointers, a number usually only seen from a big frontcourt guy.  Nobody else shoots threes either; Tech's offense is inefficient but at least balanced.  Any of the five starters, plus Jason Morris who has also started half of Tech's games, can put the ball in the hoop.  It's never a bad thing to have a big scoring center, which in GT's case is Daniel Miller.  Miller is a load; a 6'11" middleman who averages 9.3 points, 7.6 boards, and 3 blocks.  He and Rice are GT's two irreplaceable players.

Also a solid scorer is Kammeon Holsey, who's hitting a crazy .681 shooting percentage; Holsey also has a bit of a turnover issue, however.  On the traditional stat sheet, point guard Mfon Udofia looks like Holsey's equal in the scoring department, but the truth is Udofia is barely ACC-level.  He needs a lot of shots to get those 10.9 PPG (only Rice takes more shots per game), he is a truly horrible three-point shooter, and his A/T ratio is below one.  Point guard play is the biggest weakness the Jackets have.

The second-biggest is lack of depth.  The aforementioned six primary scorers are also basically the only scorers.  Nobody else has more than 2.6 PPG. That's Nick Foreman's average, and it's likely he's somewhat underused as the only senior who's really in the rotation.  Everyone else is pretty much just eating minutes.  When Daniel Miller is out of the game, GT turns to Nate Hicks, but he's 6'10" and only 218 pounds.

Still, for all their flaws, GT has been competitive this year.  They defend and rebound quite well; one of the better rebounding teams in the nation, and Miller alone puts them into the top ten nationwide in blocked-shot percentage.  There have been ugly losses - Tulane and a blowout by Northwestern come to mind.  But the Jackets also upset VCU.  Playing up-and-down ball is a hallmark of newly-minted coaching regimes, of course, but the earlier you're up-and-down (instead of just plain ol' down) the earlier you're up.  Miller is a weapon that every ACC team will have to account for, and though at their very best they're a middling team in a down ACC, their record could surprise.  GT has by far the most ridiculously easy schedule in the conference, hitting UNC, Duke, FSU, UVA, and VT just once each.  They could find six wins from just playing BC, Maryland, and Wake twice each, which would be a one-game improvement over last year.  Getting to 8-8 against this slate is insanely doable, which could get the Jackets to the NIT at least a year ahead of schedule.


So last night's game was bizarre if only because the announcers couldn't tell the difference between Davy Jones and John Paul Jones, nor between Malcolm Brogdon and Doug Browman.  That was the game, though; the aftermath became certainly one of the more interesting stories to date in the college hoops year when someone decided to hack the Oregon official website and insert a few quotes of his own into Ducks' coach Dana Altman's postgame remarks.  Here is a screenshot of the phony quotes.

All I can say is: am very disappoint.  You use your nefarious hacking skills to break into the official website and the best you got is "the spaghetti was overcooked" and a very mildly disparaging remark about Mike Scott??  OK, maybe you're hoping they won't notice, but guess what, they will regardless of what you put down.  That was your big chance to put "my tiny little nipples went to France" like Jim Carrey on Steve Carell, or "UVA wears women's panties" or "Fuck this I quit" or a litany of Hungarian swear words or the Gettysburg Address or ANY FLIPPING THING AT ALL and that's the best you can do?  Either the weed in Eugene is of very low quality this year or CS majors at Oregon have the sense of humor of an earthworm.  What a waste.  Here's a PSA - anyone who's thinking of hacking a website to put up some phony coach quotes, call me, OK?  Before you start making the Napoleon Dynamite animated series look like George Carlin by comparison?

Anyway, this could be a solid win when all's said and done.  Oregon's no great shakes, but the Pac-12 is teetering on the edge of mid-majordom thanks to the addition of two shitty basketball teams, and the Ducks have a chance to have a decent-looking win-loss record.  A road win is always a good thing.  The win propelled UVA into the #24 ranking in the AP poll - very cool if totally meaningless - and to the 19th ranking in the nation in the KenPom numbers.  Exciting stuff.  The Hoos visit Cameron on January 12, and the in-between looks like this:

- Revenge match against Seattle
- Two of the worst-ass teams in the country (334th and 343rd of 345, KenPomwise)
- Another road test against LSU
- The ACC opener against Miami

It's highly possible we see the OOC schedule end at 13-1, and perhaps even get to 14-1 in preparation for the Duke game.  That would likely get us into the top 20 in both rankings and very possibly put Dick Vitale in the house.  Let's face it: every announcer slobs the knob when they're calling a Duke game, so it might as well be the one that tells the nation this is the game they should care about most on that evening.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

auburnscouting: the offense

So this, obviously, got a lot less scary when Auburn suspended its leading rusher.  It also got a little bit more X-factor-ey, as we will see.  What we do know: Gus Malzahn will stick around to coach Auburn in the bowl game.  When it's only Arkansas State you're going to, you can do that.  So we should expect to see all the Malzahney stuff that he's known for.

the basics

Auburn's offense under Malzahn is a no-huddle, hurry-up style.  The formation is called, then the play, and the formations are many.  The defense is given little to no time to substitute or set, and it's this principle that Auburn tries hardest to exploit, rather than running outlandish plays.  That's especially true this year, as there was no Cam Newton behind center.  Things got simplified some, with 80-90% of the plays being run by a pocket passer.

Still, that's not to say it won't be different.  Auburn's base set is a three-receiver set with a tailback and an H-back.  The starters:

QB: Clint Moseley (So.)
RB: Onterio McCalebb (Jr.)
HB: Philip Lutzenkirchen (Jr.)
WR: Emory Blake (Jr.)
WR: Quindarius Carr (Sr.)
WR: Travante Stallworth (Jr.)
LT: A.J. Greene (Sr.)
LG: Chad Slade (rFr.)
C: Reese Dismukes (Fr.)
RG: John Sullen (Jr.)
RT: Brandon Mosley (Sr.)

The H-back is a hybrid fullback and tight end, sometimes lining up on the line and sometimes in the backfield.  Three wide receivers is par for the course and Auburn runs most of their plays that way, but even though tempo and not scheme is the mainest focus, they're not above coming out in crazy formations.

the scheme

Crazy this:

This is one of those space-age things that spread coordinators these days come up with.  Because teams often play a very basic vanilla set against the hurry-up (lacking the time to send in anything fancier) this kind of formation opens up some wild possibilities.  Auburn would throw downfield on this play with the receiver just failing to haul it in, but check the flat as Moseley releases:

Holy blown coverages, Batman.  I think that's McCalebb out there, and trust me when I say whoever it is would have run for a touchdown if Moseley had looked in his direction.  The whole Samford defense swung to the short side of the field as McCalebb took off on a delayed route, having nobody to block.

However now, this is a more conventional look that is much more common:

Here you have three wide receivers with four routes, as the H-back is on the line.  (Bottom of the offensive line, just inside the 40.)  He's not covered by a receiver, so he might either block or go out for a pass; in this play he will do the latter, but the throw will be to the slot receiver on an out route for the first down.  This is what passes for vanilla in the spread.  (It also receives the FOV seal of approval, because one of my biggest pet peeves in the entire galaxy is running plays like toss sweeps and out routes to the short side of the field.  Here Auburn forces Samford to defend a much larger patch of grass.)

The H-back is a major key to this offense.  Lutzenkirchen has 24 catches, which is second-most on the team (McCalebb and Blake are tied for the lead, meaning Lutzenkirchen has more catches than all but one of the receivers.)  His presence forces linebackers to make a choice; play the slot receiver, or play the H-back?  On the very next play after the crazy-formation one above, Lutzenkirchen would score on a 3rd and 10 when Samford's defense chose poorly.

There are two things you will see almost none of.  Maybe none at all.  The quarterback directly under center, and pre-snap motion.  It's called a shotgun spread for a reason, OK, and pre-snap motion is largely eschewed because it defeats the purpose of going up-tempo.  The shotgun is basically 100% of the time; pre-snap motion does occur, but it's never things like the lazy jog back and forth across the formation to allow the quarterback to read the defense.  If you do see someone in motion before the snap it'll typically look like this:

A basic shotgun-spread run, where Tre Mason is moving toward the quarterback (he's the one above the wide-side receiver booking it toward the short side) in order to be at the quarterback just after the snap so as to speed up the handoff.  Very standard.

This is not something that's especially unique in college football these days.  However, the ACC doesn't have much of it.  The main thing UVA will have to deal with is the up-tempo style, and finding ways to disguise and change up the defenses despite the lack of time to do it in.  If the offense substitutes, they're required to allow the defense to as well, but it's still something that has to be done in a rhythm and on one's toes.  Similar to playing Georgia Tech, it requires assignment football.  Unless a blitz or something is dialed up, the defense can't allow itself to be bamboozled by formations.  Auburn likes to go with a lot of different formations and a variety of plays - they'll throw deep and then run an old-school option the very next play - but the running back is still the running back.

the personnel

The first thing to note is the quarterbacks.  Auburn runs essentially the quarterback platoon that UVA fans actually wanted to see; Clint Moseley is the starter, and freshman Kiehl Frazier will run in for a play, then run out.

Frazier isn't much of a thrower, and he's only attempted 12 passes and completed five of them, and two more to opposing defenses.  He carries an unbelievable 32.1 passer rating.  It's not like we shouldn't expect Auburn to do some different things, especially since Malzahn isn't exactly at risk of being fired for his performance here and is kind of playing with house money.  But Frazier throwing the ball isn't really our concern.

What he'll come in the game to do is largely run the zone read.  The zone read is becoming a staple of loads of offenses, even non-spread ones.  The basic idea is that the QB reads the defensive end, hands off if the end crashes inside, and keeps if the DE hesitates outward to play the handoff.  (There's, like, way more to it than that, as it's not like "the zone read" is even a single play any more.  Defenses have ways of defending it besides just telling the DE to go one way or the other, and offenses are likewise adapting.  But that is the main idea.)  Anyway, Frazier comes in largely for that purpose.  With Frazier in, UVA would be well-advised to stack the box and take our chances with our cornerbacks one-on-one on the Auburn receivers.

Moseley is less of a running threat than Frazier is a passing threat.  You get the idea that the Malzahn offense would much prefer to have a running quarterback in there - you know, Cam Newton and all - but Moseley is their best best for moving the ball through the air.  He's a little bit of a better passer than Barrett Trotter.  Moseley has a good strong arm, but is still rather limited in his ability to move past the first read on the play.  In this latter respect he's a typical college sophomore quarterback.

How Auburn will use their running backs is a bit of a mystery.  McCalebb is a pass-catching back; Dyer never was, with only two receptions on the season.  Dyer and McCalebb split the carries about 2.5-to-1, but it'd be oversimplification to suggest that McCalebb and Mason will do the same.  They might, but it's tough to bank on it.  McCalebb will no doubt get heavy use, but it may well be that the carries in the bowl game are split more evenly between them so that McCalebb is fresh; he's not only a pass-catching threat, but he returns kicks, too.

Auburn's receptions chart looks a lot like Al Groh's used to, with wide receivers on it only sparingly.  Emory Blake is the biggest threat, and he's a solid, all-around player.  Chase Minnifield will likely draw that assignment.  After that....there isn't a lot.  Blake has only 30 catches but 505 yards; the receiver with the next-most catches is Trovon Reed, who averages just 7.8 yards a catch.  Auburn is unlikely to be able to stretch the field with its receivers; Blake and Lutzenkirchen are the folks that the UVA defense should keep its eye on the most.  It might be said that the presence of all these receivers on the field is just to keep the defense spread out and force them to play the run honest.  (You know, I wonder if that's why they call it a "spread" offense?  Hmmm.)

UVA has had good fortune on the offensive line; we have been able to start the same five players at the same five positions all season.  That can't be overstated as a factor in our success.  Auburn hasn't had the same luck; the only player to start every game at the same position is center Reese Dismukes.  Dismukes is a true freshman but a good one; one of the top freshmen in the SEC.  But despite the quality of the run game, the line is shaky in pass-protection; they've allowed 2.5 sacks per game, and that's not just a function of playing against SEC-speeeeeeeeed at defensive end.  Samford and Utah State each collected two, and Florida Atlantic got three.

the stats

To break it down to its simplest level, Auburn is a very good running team and a non-frightening passing one.  Auburn's total and SEC-only rushing stats are almost exactly the same, which should give you a little ammo the next time someone tries to spring it on you that Auburn's SEC status gives them the benefit of always playing better competition than we did.

Passing-wise, though, Auburn managed just 126 yards a game in SEC play and 153 overall.  This is largely a function of preferring to run.  Only ten teams in the country attempted fewer passes than Auburn.  Three of them are GT, Army, and Navy, the triple-option old-schoolers.  One is Ohio State, which if you ever saw them try and pass the ball you'd know why they never pass.  One is Michigan, which if you ever saw them run the ball you'd know why they never pass.  Auburn is in the middle between those last two; not a passing incompetent, and not a running powerhouse, but good enough at the latter and bad enough at the former that they'd really rather keep it on the ground.

I have no idea how the absence of Dyer changes that dynamic, though.  Do they pass more without their 1,200-yard beastback?  My guess is no.  Teams are what they are; I think it would simply be playing into UVA's hands to suddenly start heaving it all over the place.  Moseley isn't so accurate that that would definitely be a winning proposition.  What we might get is a little more of the pass-game-as-run-game sort of play that OC's will deploy; swing passes, bubble screens, and the like.

The other thing from a cursory review of the stats to see what jumps out is: third-down conversions.  Auburn is bad at them; only a 35.6% success rate.  Perhaps because they are not a good passing team?  Perhaps.


So, what are the takeaways?

-- Up-tempo offense with multiple formations and a willingness to run a wide variety of plays.

-- But the space-age stuff comes before the snap, via tempo and formation; variety of plays, yes, but not ones that are new to the football world.

-- Kiehl Frazier is a runner, not a passer; Clint Moseley is a passer, not a runner.

-- No Michael Dyer, which will have an unpredictable effect on the playcalling, even as it takes away Auburn's biggest howitzer.

-- Moseley has a strong arm, but can be gotten to; he rarely progresses beyond his first or second read and does not move well.

-- Auburn wants to run.  They do not want to pass.  They will run sweeps, counters, draws, even reverses, zone reads when Frazier is in the game, and pass only to keep the run defense honest.

There's an element of Georgia Tech in this.  UVA will have success if the cornerbacks can stick with their receivers one-on-one.  The difference is that with all the extra receivers Auburn uses, it can't be just Chase Minnifield and Corey Mosley in pass coverage and nine guys playing the run, like how we defended GT.  Auburn will have success if they can isolate the H-back Lutzenkirchen in a desirable matchup, as well as McCalebb who is used in a similar way to Perry Jones.  But UVA will do well if they can be disciplined and play correct assignment football, and I think our veteran defensive line will also have an edge against Auburn's fluid O-line.


There is one thing you might be interested in knowing, and that is that the lacrosse schedule is out.  It is boring.  It is literally last year's schedule with all the locations flipped.  OK, a couple exceptions; we're probably not ever going to travel to VMI (cupcake) or Vermont (weather) and the Penn game is in Denver.  I know that about half the schedule is spoken for with games we will never not play (Hopkins and Cornell and the like), and that some are sort of becoming semi-traditions of their own (like opening up against Drexel for the 11th year in a row) but maybe we could swap a few of these others out every now and again.  Right now there's basically one game on the schedule - Ohio State - that looks likely to be different next year.  Maybe Penn as well.  It wouldn't really bother me, for example, not to see any Stony Brook on there for a while.  Ulterior motive disclosed: now that there are two D-I teams in the state of Michigan I wanna see some action up here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

season preview: Florida State

Florida State Seminoles

Media prediction: 3rd

Last season:

Record: 23-11 (11-5) - ACC 3rd seed
Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16
KenPom: 31st of 345

Returning scoring: 63.2%
Returning rebounding: 58.6%
Returning assists: 57.4%

2010-11 All-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: none
3rd team: F Chris Singleton
HM: none
Rookie: none
Defensive: F Chris Singleton

(italics indicate departed player)

Starting lineup:

PG: Luke Loucks (Sr.)
SG: Michael Snaer (Jr.)
SF: Okaro White (So.)
PF: Bernard James (Sr.)
C: Xavier Gibson (Sr.)


G Deividas Dulkys (Sr.)
PG Jeff Peterson (Sr.)
F Terrence Shannon (Jr.)
C Jon Kreft (Sr.)
G Terry Whisnant (Fr.)

Coach: Leonard Hamilton (9th season)

ACC schedule:

Twice: Clemson, Duke, Miami, Virginia, Virginia Tech
Once: Boston College, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, Wake Forest

We should really be liking the whole idea of Florida State right now.  They're living proof that you can have a semi-adequate offense but if you pair it with a nasty, suffocating defense, you too can be a Sweet 16 team.

FSU has officially gained a nationwide reputation for lockdown defense, and that is not an overrated rep.  Last year they were KenPom's #1 defensive team with an 86.2 rating; this year that rating is down to 83.7, which is, like, ridiculous.  (It'll come up some during the ACC season, but still.)

FSU's thing is that they have a guy playing power forward who'd play center on every other team, and then an actual center as well.  The former is Bernard James, who's done a heckuva job evolving his game from novelty (as a former NCO in the Air Force) to actual threat.  It won't surprise you to learn that at 6'10", James blocks a ton of shots.  Xavier Gibson gets the starts at center, and he's 6'11", and between them they're blocking 4.1 shots a game this season.  James by himself has 2.5 BPG, which is....a lot.

Blocks and steals, the secret to success.  Nearly every guard chips in at least 1 steal per game, and sixth man Deividas Dulkys is going strong at 2.2.  FSU averages nine steals and seven blocks per game, which nobody in the conference can touch.  All those blocks lead to an opponent's effective FG% (so far) of just 39%.  The only strange thing is that you'd think a team that tall and that active would also be good rebounders, and they are on the offensive end, but not defensively.  Good numbers for defensive rebounding are the ones above 70% - that is, you get 70% or better of available defensive rebounds - and right now FSU checks in at 65.5%, which is well below average. 

(Oh by the way - do you know who the best defensive rebounding team in the country is right now?  It's your own Virginia Cavaliers at 78.6%.  This is a really sneaky thing to do to people.  At some point this season, there will be an opponent blogger who looks at the big numbers on the ESPN profile that show UVA as the 264th-best rebounding team in the country and they will assume that we're an easy mark and ought to be easily outrebounded.  Then we'll beat their team by 15 and they'll criticize their team's lack of effort on the glass.  This is why your basketball stats should generally be tempo-free, especially rebounds.  Obviously when there are so few possessions in a game, there will be fewer total rebounds.)

But I digress.  Florida State.  Now, they have that great defense, but the scoring - tthhbbbpppttt.  They actually do miss Chris Singleton in this department.  FSU's offensive efficiency has gotten quite a bit worse since last year.  Point guards Luke Loucks and Jeff Peterson are strictly enablers who don't pose a major scoring threat; Peterson is a grad-student transfer from Arkansas (and Iowa earlier) and he's okay at taking care of the ball and all that but he's only shooting .378 from the field, which ain't good.  Loucks may have found a shot this year, as he's hitting on .453, but for most of his career he's been a long way belong the .400 mark.  Most of the scoring load falls on shooting guard Michael Snaer, and he's not very efficient, only shooting .402 himself.  Truthfully, though FSU likes to play a little bit up-tempo, a lot of their offense comes from putbacks or from simply working the ball inside and letting their considerable size advantage go to work.  Dulkys is the only legitimate threat from outside.  And they'll never be a good offense until they take care of their turnover issue.  It's something I brought up in last year's preview of this team - at which time they were turning the ball over on almost 25% of their possessions - and it's only gotten worse as this year they're up to an even 27%.  (In this regard, no higher than about 19% qualifies as "pretty good" and 27% puts you in the nation's bottom ten.  So it's definitely a thing.)

Still - that defense.  There's a reason Tony Bennett preaches it.  Because it makes you a good team and keeps you in every game, which is where FSU will be.  This is a senior-laden, experienced bunch, too.  They might be looking at a drop-off next year what with so many graduating, but they'll be tough to get to this year.  FSU is 7-3 this year, but all three losses are to tournament teams and won't necessarily be held against them come seeding time.  Not even the Harvard one.  It'll hurt that they don't have a marquee nonconference win and won't get one unless they beat Florida, but they should do well against one of the tougher ACC schedules out there (Duke, UVA, VT twice, and BC, GT, Wake just once) and earn another tournament bid.


So no post yesterday, and I'm vewy sowwy about that, but it's finals time you see.  If the basketball team gets 12 days off between games, I'm allowed one night to take my last final of the semester too.  A couple things from while I was out:

-- Auburn will be heading to Atlanta minus both coordinators now, with Ted Roof having been fired like last week, and now Gus Malzahn going to Arkansas State to replace Hugh Freeze, who left for Mississippi.  (It makes you wonder why Ole Miss didn't just cut out the middleman and hire Malzahn.)  So no coordinators and no Michael Dyer - the Tigers will be awfully shorthanded.  Obviously it's not like the Auburn offense is just gonna shut down, but I think the #1 effect here is that there won't be a ton of crazy wrinkles in either offense or defense.  Gene Chizik is taking over DC duties for the bowl, no doubt Auburn has a second-in-command to take care of the offense, but going in without their field marshals and one major piece of artillery can only spell good signs for the Hoos.

-- It was kind of a no-brainer, but now it's official: the ACC will go to an 18-game hoops schedule next year.  Is this a way of unofficially announcing that Syracuse and Pittsburgh will be joining up that quickly?  I doubt it - I think the most likely reason for making the move now, as opposed to waiting for the newcomers, is so that teams can nail down the scheduling logistics now and get comfortable with two fewer openings for OOC games.  18 is no great revolution; the Big Ten has been doing it for years and with only 11 teams at that.  It should be fun next year with seven teams on the schedule twice, the closest we've been (and the closest we'll ever get) to the double-round-robin since it went away.

Anyway, with 14 teams in the conference this almost had to happen, otherwise we'd only get to play three teams twice and everyone else once.  That would suck.  If we add two more teams that'll happen anyway, but oh well.

-- There've been so many all-America nominations for our Hoos (and not just in football) that I haven't even mentioned them, so routine has it become. (That sounds horrible, in a way. I should be happier about this stuff.) Chase Minnifield, Demetrious Nicholson, and Austin Pasztor all have various nods from various sources; Minnifield has shown up everywhere. Pitcher Branden Kline (only a couple months til baseball season!) is a first-teamer in the preseason per the NCBWA. But maybe the coolest one is Morgan Brian of the ladies' euro-football team being named Freshman of the Year by Soccer America.  I think we're quickly gathering up some strong contenders for this blog's Cavalier of the Year award next summer.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

sportscenter top ten

It's time to count down the top ten plays.  Of the season.  I wish I could do it all Sportscenter-style with highlights and witty commentary, but I don't even have the highlights yet and some of them, I never did.  So you'll just have to see it in your mind's eye.

These are the ten plays from 2011 that I thought were most influential on the season and in getting us to the Peach Bowl.  Keep in mind - there are literally over a thousand to choose from.  So you are highly encouraged to come up with some of your own if these don't satisfy, or you think there's an omission.  A lot of this comes from a quick-and-dirty memory search of my own gray matter - I figured if a play still resonates in December, it was probably that important.  Oh, and they all had good outcomes, or at least, non-bad ones.  So that one time we got totally sacked and threw an interception and fumbled and the other team scored twice on the same play and plus we got a 15-yard penalty for general principles, that didn't make the cut.

So here are this season's ten best:


-- Idaho's overtime two-point conversion attempt falls incomplete.

Lost in the final score, a narrow, 21-20 win for UVA, was that the Hoos basically dominated this game.  I'm not kidding.  We racked up almost 500 total yards, held Brian Reader to 17-of-41 passing, and Mike Rocco was efficient and took care of the ball.  But fumbles, missed field goals, and a blocked punt that was taken back for a touchdown almost turned the game into a disaster.  Idaho scored on their first possession of OT, and like all upstart WAC-snacks who smell a win, went for the all-or-nothing proposition.  But the UVA defense forced Reader from the pocket and then knocked down his pass attempt to preserve the win.  A true team effort.  I almost feel like this one should be higher - we definitely don't go to the Peach Bowl at 7-5 with that loss to Idaho, and who knows what the psyche of the team might have otherwise been like?  The score masked a much better game than appearances would have it, but fortunately, it was only a veil rather than an ugly black cloud.


-- Mike Rocco passes to Tim Smith for 34 yards in Tallahassee

In front of a sold-out and hostile Seminole crowd - it is never any different in Tallahassee - UVA had played an outstanding game on defense but only had a 13-7 deficit to show for it.  The offense had been largely motionless, other than a second-quarter drive capped by a gorgeous Rocco-to-Jones TD toss.  With 1:53 to go, the Hoos needed another comeback drive and a touchdown, or the game would simply go down as a moral-victory-but-there's-no-such-thing.

UVA started at their own 25, but the speed in which Rocco marched the team downfield was stunning.  On 2nd-and-1 on the second play of the drive, he found Tim Smith open downfield for a 34-yard pickup, the longest Rocco pass play of the night.  That hushed the crowd and changed the dynamic of the drive - UVA still had a minute and a half to score and now had the ball on the Florida State 32.  The rest was too easy; Kevin Parks would punch it in three plays later with entirely too much time on the clock, giving UVA a 14-13 lead and setting up one of the wildest finishes to any college football game in recent memory.


-- Chase Minnifield pick-six

Against Duke, UVA was having a very chippy game; it was turning out nastier than anyone had expected, and the score was (controversially) tied, 14-14, at halftime, and Duke would receive the second-half kick.  On the fourth play of the half's opening drive, however, Cam Johnson cam roaring around the edge, abusing Duke's Takoby Cofield for the umpteenth time that day, and forced Sean Renfree into a poor read and a hurried pass.  It was too far ahead of the receiver, and it settled easily into Minnifield's hands, who ran untouched into the end zone to give UVA a 21-14 lead.

Duke would soon tie it up, aided by an out-of-bounds kickoff and a 51-yard pass to the red zone, but the pick-six energized the Hoos, and when the offense finally got a hold of the ball, they would answer the Duke TD with one of their own for a lead they'd never relinquish.


-- Rodney McLeod picks off Danny O'Brien

Playing for bowl eligibility in College Park, UVA had just scored a 3rd-quarter touchdown to take a 21-13 lead, after trailing in the second quarter.  Maryland was trying to respond, and they began their drive with a 39-yard pass play to set themselves up in Virginia territory.  But on second down following that, Rodney McLeod picked off Danny O'Brien to end the threat.

There is often a turning point in a football game, or rather, in this case, a screw-it point.  Maryland's season was already in the toilet, and in fact, they were smack in the middle of a season-ending eight-game losing streak.  UVA scored relatively easily after McLeod's interception, and the game's only other tally was a score-padding field goal early in the fourth.  Psychologically, the Terps were done after McLeod's pick, his first of three, and UVA would have that coveted sixth win for bowl eligibility.


-- Matt Conrath destroys the handoff

It was a dead heat, for me, between this and Conrath's field-goal block that came a few plays later.  I chose this one because it's the single awesomest thing a defensive lineman can do: tackle the quarterback as he's handing the ball off, or even before.  Nobody expects it.  Nobody coaches with that in mind.  Even with a field goal block, teams are trained up on 1) how to avoid it in the first place and 2) what to do if they occur.  It's a waste of practice time to say, OK guys, here's what you must do if the quarterback fails to execute the handoff because there's a bad man in the backfield.

Yet that is precisely what happened against Duke.  The setup: It's a scoreless game, and it's Duke, and much to everyone's chagrin, Duke is only one of two teams that have beaten us all three of the previous losing seasons.  I mean, you hate that VT does it but they're really good.  Duke is Duke.  So it chafes that Duke has been on our case.  UNC, Maryland, Miami, GT - we've beaten them at least once, but not Duke.  So here we are in a scoreless game, the defense has just made a big third-down stop, and Duke punts - and our returner makes a really nutty, boneheaded decision, muffs the punt, and hands Duke the ball in awesome field position.  And they start moving the ball.

Then, on first down, Matt Conrath makes a mess.  He completely disregards his blocker and roars into the backfield, slamming into Sean Renfree as he tries to execute a basic handoff.  Renfree fumbles, Duke recovers - but 2nd and 15 is too much to overcome, and Duke tries a field goal.  Which Conrath also destroys.

The UVA offense then marched smartly down the field, and instead of Duke taking a 7-0 lead, it's UVA with the opening salvo.  Instead of "here we go again" it's "get off my lawn."  The entire sequence, by the way, convinced the Duke coaches that it was Conrath, not Cam Johnson, who needed to be double-teamed, and Johnson spent the rest of the day proving that yes, he needed to be double-teamed too.


-- Perry Jones and the slant-six

Against Miami on Thursday night, UVA was trying to get out of a rut.  In an attempt to salvage the season, Mike London had announced that the QB platoon was no more, and the results thus far into the game had been very positive.  But Miami had just turned a short pass to Tommy Streeter into a 51-yard touchdown, and was threatening to move into the lead, with the score 20-14, UVA.  On the subsequent drive, Virginia faced a critical third down deep in its territory, and the Miami crowd was sensing punt.  So was the Miami defense; and not only that, they were sensing run.  Miami loaded the box to stop what it thought would be a handoff.

But UVA had no intention of running.  UVA's pre-snap motion telegraphed the defense to Rocco, and with a linebacker - Miami's James Gaines - trying to cover Perry Jones in the slot, the read was easy.  Rocco threw the slant on a dart, and the target found bullseye - a beautiful throw.  Gaines gambled on the knockdown and lost, and with no safety help over the top, Jones was free to sprint the final 75 yards to the end zone.  UVA scored on the 2PC to earn a 28-14 lead, and every one of those points later came in handy....


-- Laroy Reynolds on fourth and ballgame

Course, that touchdown was looking awfully fragile by this time.  Miami sliced the deficit in half on the ensuing drive, and a three-and-out drive that started on our own eight-yard-line resulted in fantastic field position for the Canes.  They started just the other side of the 50, and churned their way to the UVA 15, eating up time as they went.  I'm pretty sure 90% of the UVA fanbase was dreading the very idea of overtime; you hate to go when it's you that's blown the lead.

The defense put Miami in its second fourth-down of the drive at the 15-yard-line, and with about two minutes to go, it was basically fourth-and-ballgame.  With two minutes and change left in the game, it was obvious that if Miami failed to convert, even if they got the ball back they'd have precious little time and no timeouts to work with.  If they did convert, they'd be just 13 yards or less from the end zone and able to work at whatever leisurely pace they desired.

Miami called a second straight handoff to Mike James, pulling their right guard and intending to power-run off-tackle to pick up the first.  But Laroy Reynolds was either blitzing that very spot, or read the play quick enough to look like it.  He blew past the tight end assigned to block him and smothered James in the backfield with a perfect tackle.  Miami did indeed get another chance at the ball after UVA picked up only one first down, but Reynolds's play put all the pressure back on the Canes, and essentially preserved the win for UVA.  It would be the first win of a season-making four-game win streak.


-- FSU's Bert Reed doesn't quite haul it in

I'm not going to cheat and call a whole series of plays one for the purposes of this list.  Otherwise the whole FSU drive could go here.  In picking the catch that wasn't, the most disservice is done to Bill Schautz and Drequan Hoskey, whose picture-perfect, textbook defense was responsible for two pass breakups.

But in the wildest finish of the season, how can we pick any other play but the one we stared at for ten minutes?  The circumstances of the play put everyone on opposite sides of sanity; UVA coaches were insisting that the Florida State receiver had made a perfectly good catch, and FSU wanted the catch by their own player overturned and ruled incomplete.  The entire drive had been a Chinese fire drill from the start and generally an example of poor clock-management by the FSU sideline.  Left with no timeouts, and on the edge of field goal range, the Seminole coaches called for a sideline pass.  A quick strike that would see the receiver catch the ball, gain a couple of cheap yards, and his momentum carry him out of bounds, stopping the clock and allowing kicked Dustin Hopkins plenty of time to set up his game-winning field goal.

Bert Reed was the target, and unfortunately for the Noles, Reed wasn't close enough to the sideline.  He dove for the ball with Laroy Reynolds providing quality coverage, and appeared - to the side judge anyway - to have successfully hauled it in.  Inbounds.  The clock ticked on, and expired before FSU could get their FG unit on.  Except - an excruciatingly long review concluded Reed didn't have control of the ball, and called the play incomplete.

The later events - an obscure penalty call on Virginia and a wide-left kick anyway - only served to add to the absurdery that was the final minute-and-six of that game.  But it's the overturned completion, with UVA's coaches herding their players back to the sideline and insisting it was a good catch by the other team, and the three thousand replays over four hours (in football-fan time) before any decision was made, is what really leaves the most indelible imprint.


-- Cam Johnson eats Edward Wright-Baker for dinner

As results go, beating eventual 1-11 Indiana by three doesn't rank too well.  But simply earning that win gave UVA several firsts - first road win for Mike London, first 2-0 start in however long - and had UVA not beaten the Hoosiers after starting the game so strongly, this, like Idaho also, could have been a psyche-killer.

UVA had had a 23-3 lead and then blown the whole thing and then some, finding itself down 31-23 in front of a suddenly delighted Hoosier crowd.  But Mike Rocco had put together a drive that still ranks as one of the season's finest, and capped it with a 2PC to tie the game at 31 - still, 96 seconds remained, and Indiana had driven the ball well enough in the second half that the crowd was plenty confident that they could work their way to field-goal range and seal it up.  Wright-Baker would eventually be replaced later in the season as IU's starting QB, but on this day he was a thorn, and in the second half had discovered how to make plays with his legs.  This latter skill was killing the Hoos.

Cam Johnson, therefore, decided he wouldn't get the chance.  Johnson roared past the left tackle and pounced on the unsuspecting Wright-Baker.  The sack was one thing - it would've forced Indiana to punt and given UVA a shot at winning.  But Johnson didn't only sack Wright-Baker, he ripped the ball free, and didn't even allow it the courtesy of bouncing on the ground.  Johnson landed on the IU 14-yard-line, ball in hand, with the referee emphatically gesturing the change of possession.  It was too fast for normal human eyes to register - first there was a beast in the backfield, and then it was UVA's ball.  Just like that.  Rarely does one single individual play directly lead to a win if it's not accompanied by the clock expiring, but this was the perfect example of such an individual effort.


-- Chase Minnifield hauls ass

This one goes here for sheer hustle.  Kids, this is why you hustle.  It matters.  It really does.

The setup: Bert Reed has just caught a pass from E.J. Manuel that traveled 15-ish yards in the air, and he's busting his butt to travel the rest of them between catch and end zone.  He's beaten his coverage, broken one tackle, and nobody is near him.  End zone is in sight, and Florida State will take a 17-7 lead.  That's not much, but in the context of a defensive struggle, yes it is.  It's like when a pitchers' duel is 1-0 and then suddenly it's 3-0.  It feels like game over.

Chase Minnifield is a hair faster than Bert Reed, though, and he was having none of this.  Minnifield sprinted for dear life after Reed, and caught up to him I mean literally just in time.  Any fraction of a second later and it wouldn't have mattered, but Minnifield was able to trip Reed up, and he came to earth at the 1-yard line.

Three plays later, FSU was two yards further back and kicking a field goal to stretch the lead to 13-7.  At the time, it felt like small consolation.  But the final score of the biggest win of London's UVA career was, as you'll recall, 14-13.  Turns out Chase Minnifield's hustle was the difference between winning and losing after all.