Date/Time: Saturday, September 1; 3:00
Record against the Spiders: 26-2-2
Last matchup: UVA 34, UR 13; 9/4/10; Charlottesville
Last weekend: N/A
Opposing blogs: none
Injury report: none (only for ACC games)
It's easy to see why teams usually schedule pattycake games for the first week of the season. I'm pretty excited for the Michigan-Alabama game, but then again I'm just as excited for this one, even though most other weeks of the year I'll tell you I don't like playing I-AA teams. It's GIMME FOOTBALL time.
-- UVA run offense vs. UR run defense
(all stats 2011)
Perry Jones: 184 carries, 915 yards, 5.0 avg., 5 TDs
Kevin Parks: 152 carries, 709 yards, 4.7 avg., 9 TDs
162.08 yards/game, 4.25 yards/attempt
52nd of 120 (national); 5th of 12 (ACC)
174.55 yards/game, 4.56 yards/attempt
93rd of 120 (national); 10th of 11 (CAA)
I don't know why I insist on calling attention to Heather Dinich, as she consistently holds a low opinion of UVA. This week, her prediction is UVA by three. This area of the game is why she's a fool.
Those are not good stats above, and they're one of the biggest reasons Richmond sputtered to a 3-8 record last season. (Really, Heather? A three-point win for an 8-4 FBS team against a 3-8 FCS one? You must really hate you some UVA.) UVA's offensive line will have a huge size advantage against Richmond's defensive front. Among the starters, only sophomore DT Evan Kelly has the size to compete regularly, at 280 pounds - the rest fall in the 255-260 range. In order to compensate, Richmond might use 315-pound Adam Farley next to Kelly, but it would mean taking their best D-lineman, DT Kerry Wynn, off the field. Wynn is 260 pounds but is probably the most talented of Richmond's front four. Obvious running downs such as 3rd and short will probably see Farley inserted in favor of Wynn.
At linebacker, the player to keep an eye on is MLB Darius McMillan, who's earned various all-American and all-conference honors during his career, and piled up 133 tackles (in just 11 games, remember) last season. Richmond will also run safety Cooper Taylor up in run support.
It all matters little, though. UVA should be able to do what it likes on the ground. The size advantage will see to that, as will some relative inexperience on Richmond's side of the ball. At linebacker they did a good job of getting this year's new starters some snaps in the past, but two new bodies on the D-line and two at linebacker make this a real challenge for the Spiders. Somebody is running for 100 yards, maybe two somebodies, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Khalek Shepherd equal or surpass his 2011 season total for carries in just this one game. Good game to rack up the rushing attempts and spread the ball around.
-- UVA pass offense vs. UR pass defense
(all stats 2011)
Mike Rocco: 222/366, 60.7%; 2,671 yards, 13 TD, 12 INT; 7.3 yards/attempt
Perry Jones: 48 rec., 506 yards, 3 TDs
Tim Smith: 33 rec., 565 yards, 3 TDs
237.7 yards/game, 7.0 yards/attempt
62nd of 120 (national); 8th of 12 (ACC)
194.5 yards/game, 6.6 yards/attempt
41st of 120 (national); 3rd of 12 (CAA)
As a team, Richmond is better in this department. Looking at individual stats, you wonder how that ever happened. They picked off just six passes all of last year, and defended only 36 (compared to 14 and 61 for their opponents.) DT Kerry Wynn is a good pass-rusher, with four sacks in eight games last year, but that was one-third of the team's measly total of 12.
They will have some experienced cover players in the secondary, and the 4-2-5 Richmond runs allows them to switch easily to a nickel look without having to substitute personnel. (That may help explain why Richmond's pass defense was better than their run defense.) However, the starting cornerbacks are midgets; Wayne Pettus is 5'8" and Darryl Hamilton, 5'9". Hamilton is the #1 CB and will probably draw Tim Smith as his assignment, who'll have three inches on him.
I don't expect a conservative game plan from the coaches, though. In fact I half expect Rocco to unleash the dragon and go deep on the first drive, maybe on the first play from scrimmage. That's as much for the benefit of our future film-watching opponents as anything. The run game will be heavily utilized and I don't see Rocco getting, like, 30 pass attempts, but what passes there are will be fairly audacious compared to what you're used to seeing. I think Rocco ends up averaging about 10 yards per attempt.
And let's not forget about Phillip Sims. Are we going to see a scripted exchange like we did last year? I don't think so. But as long as the game goes as it should, I think the coaches will have an itchy trigger finger on Sims and we should see him take over in the fourth quarter, maybe for all of it.
-- UR run offense vs. UVA run defense
(all stats 2011)
Kendall Gaskins: 168 carries, 688 yards, 3.9 avg., 10 TDs
Jovan Smith: 58 carries, 266 yards, 4.6 avg., 1 TD (2010 stats)
76.82 yards/game, 2.58 yards/attempt
110th of 120 (national); 12th of 12 (CAA)
139.46 yards/game, 3.94 yards/attempt
50th of 120 (national); 5th of 12 (ACC) (nice symmetry, there)
This has to get better for the Spiders, you would think. Lord knows what their offensive line looked like from week to week last year, but it wasn't pretty; injuries hamstrung the unit and the list of reliable running backs was short. The latter problem isn't fixed, either. Fullback Kendall Gaskins is the only player returning from 2011 who had any meaningful amount of carries, and he's about what you expect out of a fullback: bruising and hard to take down, and not likely to break any big ones nor run for a spectacular average. (Except, of course, for the 70-yarder he had against us two years ago. Oops.)
Outside of Gaskins, who is a quality lead blocker as well as ballcarrier, experience is really light at running back. Jovan Smith was a reserve ballcarrier in 2010 but missed all of 2011 with an injury. If he can simply average 4.5, 4.6 yards again, it would be a vast improvement over the Spiders' 2011 efforts. Richmond will also break out scatback Jacobi Green, a true freshman who rose up the depth chart in fall camp.
The interior line should be at least respectable. The Spiders like center Austin Gund; he was given the starting center job as a true freshman last year, but got hurt and missed the second half of the season. 325-pound redshirt freshman Sedale Young is at LG, and RG Mark Speir is far and away their most experienced lineman. Truthfully, though, it's a pretty green line overall; Speir is the only upperclassman starter.
So, UVA's relatively veteran D-line should have an upper hand in that regard. Ultimately, Richmond has a lot of potential to be better than they were last season, but there's no reason to expect that we can't stop them consistently.
-- UR pass offense vs. UVA pass defense
(all stats 2011)
John Laub: 8/17, 47.1%; 116 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT; 6.8 yards/attempt
Ben Edwards: 44 rec., 509 yards, 6 TDs
Stephen Barnette: 32 rec., 440 yards, 5 TDs
256.6 yards/game, 6.88 yards/attempt
60th of 120 (national); 6th of 11 (CAA)
212.2 yards/game, 6.8 yards/attempt
45th of 120 (national); 4th of 12 (ACC)
I really shouldn't bother with these stats. Richmond breaks in a new quarterback and graduated their top receiver by far last year, the dangerous Tre Gray. Our secondary... you know. Let's see if we can make heads or tails of this anyway.
John Laub beat out UVA transfer Michael Strauss for the starting job, but don't shed any tears for Strauss just yet; Laub is a 5th-year senior, so Strauss is the likely heir apparent. Hopefully for the Spiders, Laub has developed a lot since his last meaningful playing time: in 2010 when Aaron Corp was injured, Laub started the final three games and threw nine picks. He's a sub-50% thrower for his career.
The receivers are a decent first test for this secondary of ours, though. Tre Gray gobbled up most of the opportunities last season, but Ben Edwards and Stephen Barnette were good enough second options to keep defenses honest. Tight end Kevin Finney is another weapon that the Spiders will try to find, so there's a quality trio of players for Laub to aim for. Freshman receiver Reggie Diggs stands 6'4", and is likely to be at least a red-zone target if not a regular all-day possession receiver; he presents something of a matchup problem since we're not running with particularly tall cornerbacks.
I'd expect a heavy does of early play-action from the Richmond play-callers to try and take advantage of the inexperience in our secondary. Physically our guys are more than a match, but it doesn't take a BCS team to coach circles around freshman safeties. Laub doesn't strike fear in anyone, and Richmond allowed a ton of sacks last year (32) so if our pass rush can't get to the relatively immobile Laub, it won't be able to get to anyone. I expect at least a couple wide-open receivers to be missed on Saturday. I also expect Richmond to be able to move the ball some, enough at least to prevent the game from being an early slaughter.
All the press goes to the relationship between our quarterback and their new coach (kind of a nephew-uncle thing) but the UVA connection is strong at Richmond - Wayne Lineburg, Bob Trott, and Levern Belin all coached under Al Groh at some point, and you ought to remember the names of their LB and WR coaches: Byron Thweatt and Fontel Mines. So there'll be some guys on the coaching staff who want to win this game.
Fortunately for us, Richmond isn't that good. Are they better than the 3-8 team that took the field last year? Probably. They started 3-0 and got smacked hard with injuries. But they don't resemble London's old national championship squads, either. UVA should be able to have its way on offense, particularly when running the ball, and Laub isn't good enough to take advantage of our biggest weakness. We'll start the season on a high note.
-- One of our runners gets 100 yards.
-- Khalek Shepherd gets at least five carries to meet or surpass his 2011 total.
-- Mike Rocco averages around 10 yards per attempt.
-- Phillip Sims plays most of the fourth quarter, but not before.
-- Bill Lazor tries a deep bomb on the first drive. I get double points** if it's the first play.
Final score: UVA 31, UR 10
**I'll be keeping track of these predictions all season. How many other blabbermouth writers do you know that do that?
Rest of the ACC:
NC State vs. Tennessee - Fri., 7:30 (I wish we scheduled SEC teams as often as NC State does.)
North Carolina vs. Elon - 12:30 (Still the Fightin' Christians as far as I'm concerned.)
Maryland vs. William & Mary - 3:00 (Heather picked 2-10 Maryland with a freshman QB to win by 10, and 8-4 UVA to win by 3. No, I'm not letting this go.)
Miami @ Boston College - 3:30 (ACC schedulin' all the good games early in the season.)
Florida State vs. Murray State - 6:00 (FSU thinks having to play Florida every year is an excuse to schedule two I-AA teams.)
Wake Forest vs. Liberty - 6:30 (I can think of nothing clever to say about this.)
Clemson vs. Auburn - 7:00 (Tigerfight! Which Clemson will win even without Sammy Watkins, by the way.)
Duke vs. Florida Int'l - 7:00 (It's possible Duke picked the wrong wimpy Florida I-A newbie to mess with. FIU doesn't totally suck any more.)
Georgia Tech @ Virginia Tech - Mon., 8:00 (Monday?? Are you effin' serious with this shit?)