Friday, September 14, 2012

game preview: Georgia Tech

Date/Time: Saturday, September 15; 3:30


Record against the Jackets: 17-16-1

Last meeting: UVA 24, GT 21; 10/15/11; Charlottesville

Last weekend: UVA 17, PSU 16; GT 59, Presb. 3

Line: Georgia Tech by 10

Opposing blog: From The Rumble Seat

Injury report:

Virginia -

G Cody Wallace

WR Tim Smith

DE Billy Schautz

TE Paul Freedman

Georgia Tech -

LB Daniel Drummond
S Fred Holton
RB Charles Perkins

RB David Sims

The first road game of the season is a tough one: a trip to Atlanta to play a difficult Yellow Jackets team.  As usual, the main storyline will be Al Groh and his defense against his old team, and it'll be tough sledding because Georgia Tech's D is coming together nicely.  In fact it's threatening to become GT's calling card this season. The offense is still looking for a working combination: Paul Johnson is talking about his quarterbacks in a way that suggests he's not fully onboard with the one he's got, and the running back position has been a veritable merry-go-round.  It's still that wackity triple-option, though, and as ever it presents a tremendous challenge.

-- UVA run offense vs. GT run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 23 carries, 75 yards, 3.3 avg., 2 TDs
Perry Jones: 22 carries, 66 yards, 3.0 avg., 1 TD

UVA offense:
108 yards/game, 3.22 yards/attempt
100th of 124 (national), 8th of 12 (ACC)

GT defense:
120.5 yards/game, 3.71 yards/attempt
66th of 124 (national), 9th of 12 (ACC)

Who's excited to see how the run game looks on Saturday?  Not this guy!  Let's be fair: Penn State has one of the better front sevens that we'll see this season.  But then, so does Georgia Tech.  The interior line got zero push against PSU's 300-pound defensive tackles last week, and this week they face the mother of all 300-pounders: GT's T.J. Barnes checks in at 6'7", 345.  This guy is a boulder and a half.

The plus side there is that Barnes has been doing exactly what Groh's defense calls for: occupy a lot of space and not much else.  Barnes only has four assisted tackles this year, which means he's probably getting the double-teams he ought to be.  In the end, though, I don't care if he's a 345-pound lump of mud; he'd still be a 345-pound lump of mud, and until our offensive line proves they can handle guys that size, it's safe to assume they can't.

GT has been missing starting linebacker Daniel Drummond all season, and they'll be without him again this game, opening the door for redshirt freshman Jabari Hunt-Days to start at ILB.  They don't seem to be missing Drummond; Hunt-Days is second on the team in tackles with thirteen.  This is basically a classic Groh linebacking corps.  Jeremiah Attaochu on the outside is more or less living up to the preseason hype, and fellow outside backer Brandon Watts has been all over the field too.  The four starting linebackers are four of the top six tacklers on the team, which means that Groh's defense is doing what it's supposed to.

GT's two previous games this season don't hold a lot of useful data.  Virginia Tech's running game is still a work in progress with two new running backs and a revamped offensive line.  It was OK, not great, against GT, but whether that's because GT's defense is good or because VT's running game is OK-not-great is kind of up in the air right now.  For what it's worth, GT fans aren't totally convinced in the efficacy of their run defense, and Presbyterian's Lance Byrd did reach 80 yards and a 4.4 YPC average for the game.

Regardless, I'm even less convinced about our offensive line.  Cody Wallace's absence won't be crippling but does rob us of some playable depth.  But these guys have to get better.  Conner Davis got by and large no push at all against Penn State, and Luke Bowanko is still getting used to blocking after snapping the ball.

Outside of LoVante' Battle's 22-yarder in garbage time against Richmond, we don't have a 20-yard run this year; the longest is a 17-yarder by Perry Jones.  Call it a weird premonition, but I expect that to change this weekend.  Maybe it's the 3-4 defense, which is prone at times to giving up plays when the linebackers make the wrong read.  I think someone, probably Jones, is good for a big play at some point, but outside of that, I have a problem seeing us over 3.5 yards a carry.  The GT defense is too talented and our O-line too unproven to get much more than that.

-- UVA pass offense vs. GT pass defense

Michael Rocco: 46/70, 65.7%; 569 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT; 8.13 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Darius Jennings: 10 rec., 152 yards, 1 TD
Tim Smith: 7 rec., 108 yards, 0 TDs

UVA offense:
312 yards/game, 7.9 yards/attempt
41st of 124 (national), 5th of 12 (ACC)

GT defense:
164 yards/game, 4.5 yards/attempt
9th of 124 (national), 4th of 12 (ACC)

Again the stats aren't all that useful here.  Presbyterian, you know.  GT smothered their passing game, but they should.  Logan Thomas only completed about 55% against GT, so that's a pretty good thing going for them, but then, 55% isn't especially far off his career rate.

The challenge will be for our interior line to pick up on whatever wackiness Groh has up his sleeve in re: blitzes.  The man's a solid defensive coordinator overall but if there's one single thing he does well, it's design blitz packages.  That's going to be on the interior line to recognize and block the right guys.  Pass protection will also improve if Morgan Moses fixes his footwork from the Penn State game.  It looked like he was shuffling around in cement at times, particularly on the play where Phillip Sims was stripped and fumbled.  Can't have any of that this week as Moses will more often than not be assigned to deal with a speed-rushing linebacker.

Being likely without Tim Smith, I think we'll see E.J. Scott and Dominique Terrell split his time.  But I don't think they'll get all his catches.  After two weeks of seeing Jake McGee do a bunch of really cool shit, I'm betting the coaches look at each other and think, "gee, maybe we should use this guy."  Darius Jennings is quickly becoming the go-to receiver, and will probably lead the Hoos in catches by a big margin, but McGee is becoming a weapon.  So far he's done little besides line up in the slot and run deepish routes, and I think he'll keep doing that, and I think Rocco will keep finding him.  He's got the largest per-catch yardage average on the team, and that continues on Saturday.

But Jennings is going to be key.  Scott has been a decent hey-don't-forget-about-me kind of receiver, good at keeping defenses honest.  Terrell has flashed some talent but also some jitters.  Jennings has already put his best foot forward as the go-to guy this season, and without Smith, even more so.  You know I'm pretty pessimistic about the running game, so if the Hoos are going to move the ball, it's on Rocco's shoulders.  He's capable of doing so, and the GT secondary is solid but not shutdown.  They're aggressive and can be burned.  If the UVA game plan is allowed to work to perfection, it'll probably call for establishing Jennings early, and trying a bunch of screen passes early as well to discourage blitzing and keep the linebackers reacting rather than reading.  Rocco will have blitz-read options on most of his plays that let him throw at the blitz, which could mean big yardage for a tight end or RB at one point.  Make no mistake, though: whatever the game plan, if we win, Rocco will have had a big, big day.

-- GT run offense against UVA run defense

Top backs:
Tevin Washington: 28 carries, 160 yards, 5.7 avg., 1 TD
Zach Laskey: 19 carries, 144 yards, 7.6 avg., 1 TD

GT offense:
330.5 yards/game, 5.85 yards/attempt
21st of 124 (national), 2nd of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
74.5 yards/game, 2.37 yards/attempt
18th of 124 (national), 4th of 12 (ACC)

Hooray so much for experienced linebackers.  This will be our biggest weapon against the ruthless ground assault that is the Paul Johnson playbook.  The job of the defensive line will basically be to try and hold the line and keep their knees healthy from all the cut-blocking.

(A slight digression.  There are a couple schools of thought on how to defeat a cut block.  One is to step back and try and keep the blocker at arm's length, so that when he goes down for the block, your feet are still free and he only succeeds in taking himself out of the play.  The downside is that it requires going backwards.  The other school of thought is to say "screw it" and try and fall elbow-first on a pressure point.)

At any rate.  Linebackers.  Hopefully one day, Kwontie Moore will be as good as Steve Greer is at reading plays, and his side-to-side speed will be a huge asset in filling the running lanes.  Right now we have Greer, and a couple other guys who've done a nice job at finding the ball and getting there.  Henry Coley had a very good game against Penn State, and Greer, of course, was everywhere.  They'll be absolutely crucial in stopping the option.  They've seen it before, and if they're in the zone and reading plays correctly, it'll keep the frustration to a minimum.

GT, for their part, has been extremely experimental.  Tevin Washington is doing a decent job running the show, but the running back situation is unsettled.  The playing time has been spread out among so many players, it's astouding.  And it's not just Presbyterian garbage time.  Running back David Sims has a stress fracture and missed the Presby game, and GT has been replacing him by committee so far.  Zach Laskey looks like at least part of the answer.  Robert Godhigh and veteran holdover Orwin Smith are the listed A-back starters, but Smith is a little banged-up, too.

We might also see a little quarterback rotation; Paul Johnson has talked about getting some of them on the field.  GT fans get all tingly about redshirt freshman Vad Lee the way a lot of UVA fans do about Phillip Sims, and Johnson might also be looking at two on the field at once; Synjyn Days is both the backup QB and a backup A-back, and will probably be worked in as well.

This is likely to be the usual frustrating nine-minute parade down the field, four yards at a time.  That always happens when you play Georgia Tech.  The question is letting that happen only once.  GT has a good offensive line, easily the best we've seen all year, and they'll challenge the defensive line.  (If we can get Billy Schautz back, it'll be a big help, as he's the most technically sound lineman we have, a real asset in defending this bunch.  (His injury is "lower extremity" though, probably meaning knee or ankle, and if I were the coaches I'd be really, really wary about risking his health against the multitude of cut blocks a DE must deal with.)  The linebackers will likely have some success containing this ground game, but having just the one week of practice makes me nervous.

-- GT pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Tevin Washington: 17/26, 65.4%; 257 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; 9.89 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Jeff Greene: 3 rec., 94 yards, 1 TD
Jeremy Moore: 3 rec., 64 yards, 0 TD

GT offense:
169.5 yards/game, 11.3 yards/attempt
3rd of 124 (national), 1st of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
223.5 yards/game, 5.2 yards/attempt
21st of 124 (national), 5th of 12 (ACC)

We were spoiled as hell last year.  Tevin Washington went 2-for-8, in part because our very veteran secondary did a near-perfect job in coverage, using only exactly the manpower needed to deny the pass and helping out with the run otherwise.  And one of those completions was to a running back, Orwin Smith; the other was a pitiful little three yard catch by Tyler Melton.

We're not going to get that kind of performance this year.  The experience is gone, replaced with a bunch of guys who've basically never played against this defense.  50/50 chance we see one of those horrifying plays where some guy in the wrong colors is the only one on the screen because one of the safeties got the run-support itch just a little too hard.

GT has been rather more successful passing the ball this year than in years past.  Washington's completion percentage of 65.4 is quite good for most QBs, but it's much higher than the GT offense usually generates.  Shorter throws are part of the deal there.  Jeff Greene and Jeremy Moore are in a knockdown, drag-out battle to be the featured receiver, and both have one loooong catch and two very short ones.

Defending the pass here involves informing one of our safeties that under no circumstances is he to venture closer than 20 yards from the line of scrimmage, putting the burden of making reads on one guy only.  Receivers who go out on a pattern must always be respected.  They'll have a cornerback on them, but still.  If the linebackers can't make the plays, they can't make the plays, but the free safety should not be helping out.  It's when the free safety goes, "ooo, Elmo help!" that all hell breaks loose.  It's a simple assignment and was executed to perfection last year by Corey Mosley, allowing Rodney McLeod to be aggressive in run support.

It's a good formula.  Can we make it happen this year?  I guess I'm cautiously semi-optimistic.  On the one hand, the secondary played well against Penn State and showed admirable discipline; I'm thinking here of the flea-flicker that Drequan Hoskey covered perfectly.  On the other hand, they're still freshmen and sophomores who've had one week to prepare for this thing they've never seen.  Georgia Tech purposely makes this realm of the game wildly unpredictable, and inexperienced safeties are by their nature equally hard to pin down.

-- Outlook

Georgia Tech is at home and carrying in their back pocket the knowledge that if they lose, the division championship is bye-bye, and only three weeks into the season.  A tough combination for the Hoos.  Also, we're in our all-blue getup, which is ugly.  (I haven't once liked the uniform combos this year.  The lesser of all evils has been the orange-blue-orange from the Penn State game, which is kind of cool-looking but also kind of Syracuse-looking, and includes the orange helmet which I can easily do without.)

At any rate, the environment will be tough.  Very tough.  We probably won't see a tougher one this season until the trip to Blacksburg, and yes, I'm aware the TCU trip is next week.  This is a better UVA team than it's being given credit for, but it has flaws, and this is a likely week to see them exposed.

-- Prediction summary

-- One of UVA's backs has a run of at least 20 yards.
-- Other than that, UVA averages less than 3.5 yards a carry.
-- Darius Jennings has at least three more catches than the next UVA receiver.
-- Jake McGee has the highest per-catch average, again.
-- Georgia Tech puts together at least one drive of eight minutes or more.

Final score: GT 24, UVA 17

-- Rest of the ACC

Wake Forest @ Florida State, 12:00 - Revenge game for the Noles, who'll probably get it in a big, big way.

Virginia Tech @ Pittsburgh, 12:00 - The Hokies get a head start on next year's new divisional matchup.

Miami vs. Bethune-Cookman, 12:00 - Whatever.

Maryland vs. Connecticut, 12:30 - The Terps try to top last season's win total.  Are they the team that almost lost to W&M, or the one that raced to a big lead over Temple?

Clemson vs. Furman, 3:00 - Taking this opportunity to point out that Furman's hypocycloid logo is one of the best in all of college sports, and easily the most underrated.

Boston College @ Northwestern, 3:30 - The Wildcats have put together an interesting nonconference slate consisting of the worst BCS teams they could find.

North Carolina @ Louisville, 3:30 - Dangerous game for the Heels; shredded by Tanner Price last week, they now must deal with the very impressive Teddy Bridgewater.

NC State vs. South Alabama, 6:00 - Whatever and ever again.

Duke vs. NC Central, 7:00 - The city of Durham championship.


Anonymous said...

I like the matchup of our defense against their offense. Now, I may feel a bit differently if Schautz is out, as I have high doubts that Harold and Walcott could hold the point/set the edge, and I'm not sure how much play Mike Moore will get.

A tiny part of me wonders if they would be better off, in this game, if Schautz is out, to kick Hill or Urban out to end. The key against Tech, IMO, is to set the edges and maintain gap integrity. Stop the run game as much as possible, and if they beat you in the passing game, you tip your cap to them and move on. I doubt they do it (kick Hill or Urban out to DE), but we really don't have a strong, run-stopping backup DE.

Our offense against their defense, though, is quite worrisome, particularly if Tim Smith is out. What I'd like to see is McGee used to attack the seams, which could open up the underneath stuff for Terrell/Scott/Jennings. But ... at the end of the day, if we can't get a run game going of some sorts, we'll be in a fair amount of trouble

TBS said...

Excellent analysis as always. I hope you're right about the result. :)

So far, the defense has appeared improved but that's not saying much, considering how poorly they've played the past several years. The front 7 does look stronger and not as easily pushed around as usual, but it's still early to know for sure. This game will give another data point on their progression.

The offense has been quite underwhelming to date, especially the play of the OL (quite disappointing considering the expectations) but also the playcalling and overall execution. Not sure why this is the case but hopefully they'll improve considerably.

Hope it's a well-played game tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes guys simply have to make a play. On Tevin Washington's run, Anthony Harris had him in his sights, and Tevin made a nifty juke and Harris was grasping for air. The RDE on that play also collapsed down and didn't maintain gap integrity. Guys need to trust their teammates.

I gotta give Tech credit on the Laskey touchdown. A well-designed play against the youngest member of the linebacking core. Coley was probably so focused on the run that the half-fake by Tevin led him to bite, and once that happened, he just didn't have the angle to track down Laskey. They also had a fly route down that side with the WR, thus setting up a blocker for Laskey. Did not know Laskey was that fast.

I'd like to fault the back 7 on the Orwin Smith run, but it all starts up front. The DL bit on the inside run fake, and Tevin kept it. That isolated matchups out on the perimeter, and they had a blocker ready to take out, I believe, Anthony Harris. A good WR block down the side sealed things.

This is just an ugly, ugly start to the game, and a lot of these plays are "standard" Yellow Jackets plays that they've used in the past. The DL, IMO, just isn't playing well right now and the back 7 is getting isolated too much. They need to maintain more discipline and gap integrity.

Here's hoping things turn around the final 3 quarters.

Anonymous said...

oy, this is getting ugly. That Laskey run in the early 2nd ... up front, looks like a case of Georgia Tech just blowing us off the ball, predictably considering our undersized line. That said, on the back end, the deep safety giving a, what looked to be a Cover-1 look, either misread the play or something, because he took a couple steps to the right, which was all Laskey needed.

Just a bad, bad performance by the defense right now. They, Tech, is simply "manning" up and destroying us.

Anonymous said...

Watching this game is painful. Jake Snyder should've been able to help contain that Orwin Smith run in the mid-late 2nd quarter. The right tackle slanted in, Tevin didn't even make a fake, and Snyder, instead of maintaining the edge, collapsed in enough that the pitchout left Smith a lot of running room with a blocker to take out the CB. If Snyder maintains the edge, perhaps that strings the play out long enough, or forces Orwin Smith to attempt to make a cutback.

When things are this bad ... there's a part of me that blames the coaches. The UVA defense, young as they are, just looks unprepared for this game.

Brandon said...

Can't remember the last time I turned a game off in the middle, but... ouch.

Anonymous said...

So ... the interior of the OL is that ... ineffective. I'm just not sure there's a better option. I guess Brendan has suggested keeping the idea of Moses going into guard in the back pocket, with Johnson likely taking over at RT. That might help, but we still need Bowanko to improve a lot at the pivot.

A day later, and that game yesterday still sucks. The coaches better reflect a lot on what happened and what went wrong, because when a team of kids performs that badly, the coaches didn't do a great job of getting them ready. Sure, at the end of the day, the players are the key, but something went drastically wrong.

The worst part is, a lot of that was on the defense. They just weren't disciplined ... and it wasn't as much the secondary, where we need we had issues, but up front, as guys kept on misreading the option attack, leaving gaps open or not sealing the edges.