Friday, September 21, 2012

game preview: TCU

Date/Time: Saturday, September 22; 12:00


Record against the Frogs: 1-1

Last meeting: TCU 30, UVA 14; 9/12/09; Charlottesville

Last weekend: GT 56, UVA 20; TCU 20, Kansas 6

Line: TCU by 19.5

Opposing blog: Frogs O' War

Nice Froggies, nice Froggies.  UVA's stretch of doom comes to an end after this weekend in Texas, where the Hoos will have all they can handle from 17th-ranked TCU.  This is the best team we've played so far, which is a depressing thought when you lost to the not-best team by five touchdowns.  A win here would be a big step for UVA's obvious recruiting aspirations in Texas, but...yeah.  They're ranked 17th.

It's a little bit weird that we set up a home-and-home three years apart, but there you go.  How long ago was that game?  James Johnson committed to UVA hoops the week after, which means his entire association with UVA came in between TCU games.  TCU was in the Mountain West, and their entire association with the Big East came in between UVA games.  We were running the Gregg Brandon spread (badly) and as a result the last meeting with these guys was one of the dreariest experiences of my life.  Jameel Sewell was still the quarterback.    Both teams are better now than they were then, but that's not saying much on our part, and TCU is legit.

-- UVA run offense vs. TCU run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 36 carries, 128 yards, 3.6 avg, 2 TDs
Perry Jones: 27 carries, 81 yards, 3.0 avg., 1 TD

UVA offense:
104.7 yards/game, 3.31 yards/attempt
101st of 124 (national), 8th of 12 (ACC)

TCU defense:
60.5 yards/game, 2.05 yards/attempt
9th of 124 (national), 1st of 10 (B12)

Again with it being still early, you can't read a whole lot into the above numbers, at least as far as TCU is concerned.  Half of that is from letting Grambling do nothing.  TCU's run defense probably isn't quite that good.

Then again, "not that good" is still "good enough" when it comes to stopping the UVA attack (and I use that word liberally.)  Mike London and Bill Lazor have both openly expressed frustration with the play of the interior line and their ability to open holes.  Conner Davis pretty much isn't ready for the starting job, but Cody Wallace is hurt and Davis is the only option unless you scoot Morgan Moses inside and start a redshirt freshman (Jay Whitmire) at tackle.

For TCU's part, they had a somewhat rocky offseason, losing some potential starters in the front six (TCU runs a 4-2-5 defense similar to Duke's) when it turned out a few of them were doubling as street pharmacists.  Their linebackers and rover safety, however, do a good job filling the run lanes.  LB Joel Hasley is leading the team so far with 17 tackles in the first two games, and the positions of the top four tacklers are LB, rover safety, LB, backup LB.  Besides Hasley, LB Kenny Cain and backup LB Paul Dawson have been leading the charge so far, and safety Jonathan Anderson has been a very promising player as well so far in his career.

In the past, Lazor has done a good job using playcalling to cover up personnel weaknesses.  He did a good job in his first year here setting Marc Verica up for success.  Attacking the TCU defense will probably involve the outside.  The TCU DEs are fairly undersized.  Senior leader Ross Forrest is out for the year, so the Frogs turned to freshman Devonte Fields.  Fields has done well getting into the backfield but can also be pushed off the line.  On the other side, Stansly Maponga hasn't yet been a major factor, though he earned a bunch of preseason accolades.  If TCU gets the production they expect from Maponga, he could close off the lanes on his side, but he's been quiet so far.

If Lazor and Mike Rocco are able to establish the pass, UVA should then be able to find some success with draws and traps.  And in any case, you'll probably see an emphasis on running to the edge in order to try and take advantage of potential mismatches, and get the linebackers moving side to side.  Simply butting our heads against the middle is not likely to work; our line isn't likely to be able to get any push and the TCU linebackers are too good at this for us to consistently have any success that way.

Kansas is not a great team, but they were able to eke out a respectable 4.1 yards a carry on the ground against TCU.  Can the Hoos reach that level?  Until they prove it, no.  There will probably be the occasional flirtation with success, but not sustainably.  TCU has a solid history of stopping the run, so they get the benefit of any doubt.  Besides, the way TCU moves the ball through the air we might be forced to give up on the run before the game is over.

-- UVA pass offense vs. TCU pass defense

Mike Rocco: 61/95, 64.2%; 712 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs; 7.5 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Darius Jennings: 13 rec., 172 yards, 1 TD
Kevin Parks: 10 rec., 80 yards, 0 TD

UVA offense:
274.3 yards/game, 7.3 yards/attempt
64th of 124 (national), 7th of 12 (ACC)

TCU defense:
164.5 yards/game, 6.2 yards/attempt
43rd of 124 (national), 5th of 10 (B12)

If we want to win the game, this is where it has to happen.  You can try and control the ball by running it (and we certainly have to limit the time Casey Pachall has to work with) but the way things have been, that's a great way to go three-and-out and not control the ball at all.

No, I expect Bill Lazor will put on his creative hat and try all sorts of passes.  Rocco will be given a lot of work this week, in the passing-as-ersatz-running-game department.  TCU has a respectable secondary, and they get a good pass rush, but that's not really in the calculation this week.  If they had the Philadelphia Eagles' secondary we'd still be passing, because that's the kind of game this is going to be.

A word about that pass rush - it's solid, and the 4-2-5 allows you to try some interesting blitzy stuff.  Joel Hasley has two sacks coming in on the blitz, another point of pressure on the interior line.  The aforementioned undersized defensive ends are that way because they can generate a good speed rush.  Fortunately, we have the ability to use the TCU aggressiveness against them.  The running backs and tight ends have been very active participants in the passing game, which gives us a chance to throw at a blitz for big yards.

Regardless, as I said: Lazor will probably call his plays with an eye toward establishing what he wants to do, not as a reaction to what the defense shows him.  Look for about a 60-40 or even 65-35 playcall split in favor of the pass, and for the TEs and RBs to get the majority of the receptions.  UVA has to have some semblance of ball control to win, and the way to do that will be to call a bunch of makable passes with an eye toward staying in bounds after the catch.

-- TCU run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Matthew Tucker: 19 carries, 100 yards, 5.3 avg., 0 TDs
B.J. Catalon: 13 carries, 63 yards, 4.8 avg., 0 TDs

TCU offense:
203.5 yards/game, 5.22 yards/attempt
33rd of 124 (national), 8th of 10 (B12)

UVA defense:
203.33 yards/game, 5.40 yards/attempt
109th of 124 (national), 12th of 12 (ACC)

Once again, the numbers lie: obviously those defensive stats are heavily influenced by the Georgia Tech game, and TCU, thank the stars, does not run the triple option.  Truth is, the best comparison so far is Penn State, albeit with better personnel here.

TCU appeared to take a major hit with the loss of top running back and home run threat Waymon James to a knee injury this week.  (Sounds like Elmer Fudd trying to pronounce the stadium where the Tampa Bay Bucs play.)  It might not matter though; Matthew Tucker has run pretty effectively too, these first couple games.  James was a lot better, but Tucker certainly was no slouch.

Our D-line will have their hands full with a TCU offensive line that doesn't include a single 200-pounder.  But the level of competition TCU has faced so far makes it tough to judge their abilities.  That said, Tucker has a very, very good body of work for his career, so ultimately I don't draw a lot of comfort from James's absence.  Tucker is a biggish, powerful back, and B.J. Catalon can be a nice change of pace, so TCU fans might notice James's absence, but we probably won't.

Still.  The truth is, every time TCU keeps it on the ground, that's a win for us, given the ugliness of the passing game matchups.  Even after last week's crimes against football, I still believe in the strength of our defense against a conventional run.  I very much expect Tucker to be held below his career average of 5.5 yards a carry, and better yet, a run play means they're not passing the ball.  For that latter reason, I don't think TCU will run the ball much more than we will.  A 60-40 split in favor of the pass is likely, until and unless TCU gets a lead big enough to run down the clock.

-- TCU pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Casey Pachall: 33/39, 84.6%; 536 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs; 13.74 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Josh Boyce: 9 rec., 168 yards, 2 TDs
Brandon Carter: 9 rec., 162 yards, 3 TDs

TCU offense:
305.5 yards/game, 13.0 yards/attempt
1st of 124 (national), 1st of 10 (B12)

UVA defense:
193.3 yards/game, 5.9 yards/attempt
29th of 124 (national), 4th of 12 (ACC)

DOOM.  Casey Pachall's stats might be a little pumped up by getting easy long plays against Grambling, but whatever the competition, you have to respect an 85% completion rate.  This is where we get to the part that people are looking at when they put an almost 20-point line on this game.

At wide receiver, Josh Boyce and Brandon Carter are very good players and Pachall's favorite targets.  Boyce was a hair shy of a 1,000-yard season last year.  Neither are very big, so a size matchup with our smaller corners isn't a problem, but they're tough covers regardless.  The matchup problem comes when 6'4" receiver LaDarius Brown comes on the field.

UVA may have to go nickel a lot in this game, since our linebackers aren't too likely to be able to consistently stay with a receiver like Brown.  TCU doesn't use the tight end in the passing game, so Maurice Canady is going to get a ton of work.  That'll complicate things; you know how brutally inexperienced the secondary is, and any time you're taking an experienced linebacker off the field for a true freshman corner, you're holding your breath.  Against TCU that's not going to be just a third-down thing.

I just hate our chances here.  Pass rush or die is the way it has to be, and that could use some real work, as we have three sacks this year and Steve Greer has two of them, both in the Penn State game against the cement-footed Matt McGloin.  There's no way Pachall doesn't rack up an easy 350 yards on Saturday, unless he snaps his leg in two during warmups.  Dude's got weapons and knows how to use 'em.  The prediction is death and destruction.

-- Outlook

This game starts at 11 AM Central time, so the main hope is that TCU fans and students are too hung over to bother showing up.  Otherwise, it's a road game, at a weird start time (worse for us because the TCU guys have had 11 AM starts before, and we haven't) against an offense well-equipped to take advantage of our weaknesses.  Yeah, that line of 20 or so looks about right.  I'll start to believe we can win if Mike Rocco is able to match Casey Pachall pass for pass.  I think that's doable, it's just not all that likely.  Fortunately, this is the last we gonna die game for a long time.  The next one might just be on Thanksgiving weekend.  (Or it might be a little earlier and I don't notice because we're coming off what I hope is a four-game win streak starting next weekend.)  At any rate, we gonna die.

-- Prediction summary

(Ed. Enjoying a scotch (or one of various other fine beverages) while watching Thursday night football and writing the game preview is one of my favorite things to do.  It has its downside, however.  With that in mind, here are the predictions that I forgot about last night.)

-- Not counting obvious attempts to mercifully run down the clock, the playcalling split for both teams will be higher than 60-40 in favor of the pass.

-- Both quarterbacks will complete better than 65% of their passes.

-- Casey Pachall will top 350 yards.

-- UVA's running game again fails to generate 4 yards a carry.

-- More of Rocco's passes are caught by TEs and RBs than WRs.

-- Final score: TCU 38, UVA 21

-- Rest of the ACC:

Boston College off.

Virginia Tech vs. Bowling Green, 12:00: Maroon and orange vs. brown and orange.  I think they're trolling everyone's fashion sense.

Maryland @ West Virginia, 12:00: The good news is, we're not the deadest ACC team this weekend.  Maryland is.

Wake Forest vs. Army, 12:30: Big-scoring game, this.  Army's defense is absolutely dreadful.

Miami @ Georgia Tech, 3:00: Miami gave up 52 points to Kansas State because they were positively owned in the trenches.  It wouldn't surprise to see a third-straight 50-pointer out of GT.

North Carolina vs. East Carolina, 3:30: It's not like UNC has a bowl trip to protect, what with sanctions and all, but if they did, this game would be a must-win for eligibility purposes, having lost two games in a row now.

Duke vs. Memphis, 6:00: Memphis is truly horrible, which makes them an ideal future Big East team.

NC State vs. The Citadel, 6:00: The Citadel is 3-0 and threatening to muster up what would be only their second winning season since 1998.  They're still not a threat to knock off the Pack, though.  One hopes.

Clemson @ Florida State, 8:00: ACC why u make all best matchups in September???

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