Friday, September 7, 2012

game preview: Penn State

Date/Time: Saturday, September 8; 12:00


Record against the Lions: 2-5

Last meeting: PSU 35, UVA 14; 11/9/02; State College (PSU vacated the win)

Last weekend: UVA 43, UR 19; Ohio 24, PSU 14

Line: UVA by 10

Opposing blogs: Black Shoe Diaries

Injury report: none (ACC games only)

This year, UVA and Penn State renew the home-and-home series they played ten years ago.  The first game was fun; played on a sunny and warm December afternoon (postponed since it was originally scheduled for September 15, 2001) and bring back good memories.  Specifically, waving bye-bye to the formerly loud section of PSU fans, their bowl hopes dashed, as they trudged up the hill next to the student section.  All of which, in fact, was fondly waving bye-bye.  The return game never happened as far as the record books are concerned, which is probably for the best.

-- UVA run offense vs. PSU run defense

Top backs:
Perry Jones: 14 carries, 52 yards, 3.7 avg., 1 TD
Khalek Shepherd: 10 carries, 52 yards, 5.2 avg., 1 TD

UVA offense:
184 yards/game, 4.38 yards/attempt
54th of 117 (national); 5th of 12 (ACC)

PSU defense:
175 yards/game, 3.72 yards/attempt
57th of 117 (national); 6th of 12 (Big Ten)

I think we can all agree the run game against Richmond was a little disappointing.  I think Mike London thinks so too; the change at left guard reflects that, with Conner Davis moving into the starting lineup over Cody Wallace.  Penn State's defense didn't perform quite as expected last week, but the run defense held up relatively well; Ohio's Beau Blankenship ran for 109 yards but he needed 31 carries to do it.

This is big boy football now - literally.  No more undersized front four (that we can't run against anyway) - Penn State brings 324-pound DT Daquan Jones to the fight, and as if that weren't enough, he lines up next to 316-pound James Terry.  And then there's the a host of talented linebackers.  The defense wasn't hit especially hard by the offseason transfers, and the linebacker unit is led by seniors Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges.  These are the two outside linebackers, and their talent and experience means UVA will have a tougher time on the edges than last week.  Against Richmond, most of the success came on the edges; against Penn State, UVA will absolutely have to account for these two in order to duplicate that.

So there's a little bit of a warning sign here.  Where UVA struggled last week - on the interior - PSU is huge.  And where UVA did well, PSU is very strong.  The good news: Penn State's pass rush sucked last week.  What does that have to do with run defense?  It might be possible to account for that by saying Ohio used a short-ish passing game to limit the time Tyler Tettleton spent in the pocket, and there may be a stick of truth to that, but the other truth is, PSU spent no time at all in the Bobcat backfield.  Ohio may have had to grind out yards, but neither did they get pushed backwards; the Nittany Lions registered one TFL all game.  And that was a sack.

It's a little early in the season to be drawing positive conclusions about the opposition, but you can't discount that there's talent in this front seven we're facing.  I think the O-line will have its hands full, and the interior must step up its play.  With its woes in the pass defense, I don't expect PSU to load the box the way Richmond did, but they may not need to.  I look for a fairly similar performance to last week out of our backs.

-- UVA pass offense vs. PSU pass defense

Mike Rocco: 25/37, 67.6%; 311 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT; 8.41 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Tim Smith: 6 rec., 96 yards, 0 TD
Darius Jennings: 5 rec., 84 yards, 1 TD

UVA offense:
361 yards/game, 8.4 yards/attempt
29th of 117 (national); 5th of 12 (ACC)

PSU defense:
324 yards/game, 7.9 yards/attempt
89th of 117 (national); 11th of 12 (Big Ten)

Like UVA, Penn State has an inexperienced secondary that hasn't seen a lot of starting time, and unlike UVA last week, they had to play a good quarterback who could take advantage of it.  If the Ohio game is any lesson, UVA could find a lot of success through the air on Saturday.

The Bobcats stack up similarly to UVA in the passing game.  Tyler Tettleton is very similar to Rocco: a highly effective game manager who throws long just often enough to keep defenses honest.  Running back Beau Blankenship - who at 5'9", 202, is built similarly to UVA's primary backs, had seven receptions for 72 yards, and Bill Lazor likes to get his running backs involved in a similar way.

The only member of the secondary who made much of a dent on the box score was safety Malcolm Willis, who broke up a pair of passes.  Decent.  Cornerback Adrian Amos made 10 tackles, likely the result of being picked on and giving up his share of receptions.  As mentioned above, the pass rush was non-existent.  PSU will probably try and emphasize that this week, but it's a formidable task for anyone to go against UVA's outstanding offensive tackles, and pass protection as a whole against Richmond was excellent.

Therefore, expect a few blitzes.  PSU's new defensive coordinator is Ted Roof, and he's not above dialing up some of that blitzy goodness.  If he does, I do expect UVA to do a mostly solid job at picking it up (Perry Jones in particular is a good blocker when called upon to do so), and Rocco is good at throwing at the blitz and turning it against a defense.

The big difference, of course, between UVA and Ohio?  The Bobcats did their thing with mostly no-name receivers.  We have some dynamite that Ohio doesn't.  I have a good feeling about Darius Jennings this week, and Rocco should be able to carve up the PSU defense as efficiently as Tettleton did.  Look for a big day out of #6 - I think he'll find his way into the end zone again, and notch 100 yards receiving besides.  And another 300-yard day out of Rocco shouldn't come as any surprise.

-- PSU run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Bill Belton: 13 carries, 51 yards, 4.1 avg., 0 TD
Derek Day: 8 carries, 36 yards, 4.5 avg., 0 TD

PSU offense:
92 yards/game, 4.18 yards/attempt
62nd of 117 (national), 5th of 12 (Big Ten)

UVA defense:
28 yards/game, 1.33 yards/attempt
11th of 117 (national); 3rd of 12 (ACC)

First, the bad news for Penn State; Bill Belton sprained an ankle in the Ohio game, and his duties in the UVA game are going to be significantly reduced.  Derek Day gets the start on Saturday, and reading between the lines it sounds like the PSU staff isn't especially confident in Belton's ankle.

Day had a respectable outing against Ohio, but a home run threat he is not.  Truth is, PSU probably abandoned the run too early against the Bobcats and tried to put everything on Matt McGloin's shoulders, and he's not a consistent enough quarterback for that.  PSU was generally able to move the ball last week, but got nothing longer than 14 yards, and Belton's longest was just eight.  In their favor, you know I always say the run game has a big asset if the team has a good center, and PSU has a good one in Matt Stankiewitch.  But much of the rest of the O-line is still finding their feet, and the unit has some gelling to do as most of them were not starters last year.

Level-of-competition caveats certainly apply, but you can't be anything but pleased with the results from last week.  Henry Coley did a very solid job.  Kick it up a notch this week, but the fact that UVA took care of business and PSU, ultimately, did not, and against MAC competition (OK, one of the MAC favorites, but still the MAC) has to give you a good feeling about the upcoming matchup.  PSU doesn't have anyone especially scary toting the rock - they were supposed to have Silas Redd, and he would have given us fits, but it'll be hard to do that in a USC uniform.  Belton's ankle will probably keep him out of any meaningful action, if any at all.

That leaves Day - not a game-changer - and large bruiser Curtis Dukes, who'll play and probably split carries as Day is also not a workhorse.  Dukes weighs in at 245 pounds, so our linebackers will definitely have their hands full there, but the best PSU will likely be able to muster is a slow-and-steady march rather than a big-play machine.  I think the Hoos will have success here, holding PSU to about 2.5 yards a carry, even though I expect the PSU staff to try and balance the playcalling better than they did last week.

Also, in light of recent events I think it's only right to try and get PSU's ninth-string center Frank "Frankie Figs" Figueroa some playing time this week.  RIP MCD. 

-- PSU pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Matt McGloin: 27/48, 56.3%; 260 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT; 5.42 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Allen Robinson: 9 rec., 97 yards, 0 TDs
Kyle Carter: 6 rec., 74 yards, 0 TDs

PSU offense:
260 yards/game, 5.4 yards/attempt
96th of 117 (national); 11th of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
238 yards/game, 5.5 yards/attempt
36th of 117 (national); 5th of 12 (ACC)

I wish I had any idea what to expect here.  You know what our secondary is like, and that our pass rush isn't great.  And on the other side, Matt McGloin - is kind of a putz.  A step up from last week in that he actually can hit open receivers, but McGloin is also wildly inconsistent.  Ask him to win the game, as the PSU staff did last week, and he likely can't do it.

However, there's at least one matchup issue with 6'3" Allen Robinson at receiver.  No doubt he'll be Tre Nicholson's assignment, and he could be a tough one.  PSU is as thin at receiver as they are at RB and DB, but last week, Robinson looked ready to step up and be a reliable target for McGloin.  PSU lists Garry Gilliam as the starting tight end, but he's a blocker first, and it was reserve Kyle Carter being targeted last week, and that's likely to continue.

If Nicholson can neutralize Robinson, though, there's nothing all that scary on the PSU side of the ball.  The scary part is our own secondary, but PSU doesn't have the weapons to take advantage of it consistently.  McGloin will have his moments, but he'll also find ways to miss, and this could be another game where our secondary's weaknesses are again disguised by poor QB play.

-- Outlook

Penn State obviously has a little bit of a shadow on them these days.  And the intangibles for this game are as out-of-whack as you'd expect.  Normally you think maybe a team coming off a bad loss would be motivated to take it out on the next guy, which is us.  But then, if they weren't motivated by the show of support and emotion from last week's game, how can they be up for this one?  But maybe getting away from all the extracurriculars and being able to just focus on football will be good for them?  I don't know.  Playing amateur shrink is hard.  Let's focus on the tangibles.  I don't think our run game will be much better than last week, and I think PSU may be able to expose some weaknesses there.  But the passing - oy could they not defend the pass last week.  UVA is very similar to Ohio, only with better receivers, so there's a chance to have a fun little field day here.  And Penn State's offense just isn't that impressive.  Here's expecting a good start to the season.

-- Prediction summary

-- UVA's run game isn't any better than last week's.
-- On the flip side, Penn State is held to about 2.5 yards a carry.
-- Mike Rocco tops 300 yards again.
-- Darius Jennings goes for 100 yards and a touchdown.
-- McGloin completes 60% of his passes.
-- But doesn't top 7 yards per attempt.

-- Final score

UVA 27, PSU 17

-- Rest of the ACC

-- NC State @ Connecticut, 12:00 (The Pack looked awful last week, and this week we might find out if they were pretenders after all.)

-- Maryland @ Temple, 12:00 (There's talk that Temple may be the best team in the state of Pennsylvania this year.  Bad sign for the godawful Terps.)

-- Miami @ Kansas State, 12:00 (The highest-ranked opponent for an ACC team this week. Please do not embarrass us, Miami.)

-- Clemson vs. Ball State, 12:30 (Whatever.)

-- Boston College vs. Maine, 1:00 (No, this is not a hockey game.)

-- Virginia Tech vs. Austin Peay, 1:30 (A perfect week to break out one of the best cheers in sports: Let's Go Peay!)

-- North Carolina @ Wake Forest, 3:00 (The only ACC game of the week.)

-- Florida State vs. Savannah State, 6:00 (I say this with every ounce of seriousness I can muster: FSU should be ashamed of themselves for scheduling this.)

-- Georgia Tech vs. Presbyterian, 7:00 (The Jackets take on an entire religion.)

-- Duke @ Stanford, 10:30 (Duke looked remarkably competent last week, and Stanford looked just the opposite.  Do not be surprised to see this one look closer than it did last year.)


P.S. - Public Service Announcement forthcoming here.  It should occur to you, by the way, that this is the first "new era" road game for Penn State - that is, the first time Penn State will appear in a road stadium after all the, um, events of the offseason have had a chance to sink in.  This would seem like a perfect opportunity to put on your Dookie hat and break out all your best shower and pedophile jokes with which to heckle the vulnerable opposition.  DON'T FUCKING DO THAT.  Not to a player or to a visiting fan.  OK?  I don't care if they do want to start an argument about Joe Paterno.  No doubt the Nittany Lions will appear in more uncouth venues later on down the road, so let's preemptively show the world that it's possible to leave certain subjects out of one's vocabulary for the day.


Daniel A said...

In FSU's defense WVU backed out of this game in May? Which is beyond last minute.

Anonymous said...

Going to be disappointing if we can't win this. If we can get 3 wins in the first 4, that would really set us up because the middle of the season, before the bye week, is pretty soft (granted, have said that before and seen us stink it up in other seasons).

Anonymous said...

A win's a win ... but that was horrible.

Some thoughts:

a) Mike Rocco didn't play great ... BUT what the heck was Phillip Sims doing in there at that point in the game? Makes zero sense. Later on in the season, fine. But this is Rocco's team for the time being (and personally, I believe in him)

b) Mike Rocco didn't play a great game ... but his teammates sure didn't help. Well, Jake McGee did. I'm not sure what to do about the interior OL. Admittedly, PSU is good inside, but still ... they busted plays up a ton. There were a lot of missed blocking assignments. For a brief moment, I thought ... I wonder how Henson might look at center.

I'm not sure what can be done about the interior, though.

c) Mike Rocco didn't play a great game ... but what the heck was up with the playcalling. Very disappointed.

Other thoughts:

I hope Clifton Richardson gets healthy soon. I'd like to see a big back roll in there.

Um ... nice job not using Perry Jones enough.

Jake McGee should be in there a lot more now. Beautiful one-handed catch. It should be Freedman or Phillips AND McGee when they go two tight end.

Was it me, or did Dominique Terrell just look ... off? I thought Scott looked like the better WR.

Anonymous said...

Okay, reading the post-game comments ... I'm starting to be a bit bothered with London. It seems like Lazor wanted Rocco in there. Rocco is the better fit for the offense right now. LIke Watford last year, Sims simply isn't ready. One wonders, like last year, how much recruiting is factoring into why London keeps on giving guys looks when he simply has a better QB for the situation right now.

Maybe sometime later this year, Sims will be ready to take over, but he simply isn't ready right now.