Friday, October 5, 2012

game preview: Duke

Date/Time: Saturday, October 6; 3:00


Record against the Blue Devils: 33-30

Last meeting: UVA 31, Duke 21

Last weekend: LTech 44, UVA 38; Duke 34, WF 27

Line: Duke by 1.5

Opposing blog: Duke Sports Blog

Injury report:

Virginia -

SS Pablo Alvarez
DT Marco Jones
WR Mario Nixon

SS Darius Lee
DT Buddy Ruff
DE Billy Schautz

WR Tim Smith


OT Oday Aboushi
DT Will Hill
SS Brandon Phelps

Duke -

TE Jack Farrell
WR Blair Holliday
DE Allen Jackson
S Corbin McCarthy
S Taylor Sowell

CB Jared Boyd
S Brandon Braxton
LB Kelby Brown
NT Jamal Bruce
TE Braxton Deaver
DE Justin Foxx
S Chris Tavarez


CB Lee Butler
QB Sean Renfree
DT Jamal Wallace

LB David Helton

The primary villain from last year's game - douchebag extraordinaire Tyree Watkins - is gone from the Duke team (kicked off for beating up a woman, as if that should surprise you from one of the biggest pieces of shit it's ever been our pleasure to play against) but it doesn't mean the animosity's gone.  The game was too chippy, even between the coaches, to forget about.  Now the series shifts to Wallace Wade Stadium, where the Hoos haven't won since 2006, and Duke students will probably show their disdain for UVA by waving their spirit fingers - which looks admittedly impressive on a two-page magazine spread in Cameron, and really stupid when the opposition is eighty yards away.

-- UVA run offense vs. Duke run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 67 carries, 272 yards, 4.1 avg, 2 TDs
Perry Jones: 57 carries, 195 yards, 3.4 avg, 1 TD

UVA offense:
124.6 yards/game, 3.78 yards/attempt
91st of 124 (national), 8th of 12 (ACC)

Duke defense:
118.6 yards/game, 3.43 yards/attempt
37th of 124 (national), 5th of 12 (ACC)

The good news here is that Duke's very solid-looking defensive numbers have come mostly against some of the worst rushing offenses in the country.  The bad news is that most of those offenses have numbers that look a lot like.....ours.

Duke's 4-2-5 ought to be familiar by now, as we've already played a few teams that run something similar.  And the injury report is full of bad news for Duke, with players in all units out for the game.  Jamal Wallace, Brandon Braxton, Kelby Brown, Justin Foxx - all starters.  Braxton is their third-leading tackler.  Wallace and Braxton are new to the injury list, so their absence thins out the Duke defense even more than what they've dealt with so far.

I observed last week that I thought maybe the running game had been improving slightly each week.  The offensive line seems to think so too, as they've been giving interviews to that effect.  It's a slow push, but it's seen Kevin Parks's average creep above 4 yards and stay there.  Perry Jones, on the other hand, has been dancing a little too much and it shows.  There was a lot more one-cut-and-go out of Jones last year, although it was Jones who improved his average against Louisiana Tech and not Parks.  Two steps forward, one step back.

There's a decent chance the O-line grades out reasonably well this week; Duke's defensive line is generally pedestrian and unproductive.  They have some playmakers on the edges: Kenny Anunike and Dezmond Johnson can get after it.  I'm less impressed by the middle, though, and it got a lot softer without Wallace. 

The working theory is that now that Phillip Sims is starting, the run game will open up thanks to the deep threat.  We'll see about that; teams have been able to stop UVA with seven in the box.  Chances are there's a kernel of truth to it, but if we have any success this week, it's probably going to be due more to Duke's injuries and, you know, it being Duke.  Bill Lazor will still have to dig deep into the run-game playbook in order to get anything moving.

-- UVA pass offense vs. Duke pass defense

Phillip Sims: 28/46, 60.9%; 340 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs; 7.39 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Darius Jennings: 21 rec., 319 yards, 1 TD
Perry Jones: 18 rec., 193 yards, 0 TDs

UVA offense:
298.4 yards/game, 7.6 yards/attempt
48th of 124 (national), 7th of 12 (ACC)

Duke defense:
235.8 yards/game, 6.9 yards/attempt
64th of 124 (national), 7th of 12 (ACC)

It's that time.  The Sims era starts this week; Mike London has sort of left the door open for Rocco, if you're the kind of person that takes what you read absolutely literally.  This is a good starting test for Sims; Duke has some pretty good cornerbacks, especially Ross Cockrell and his three interceptions.  Cockrell will no doubt match up on Darius Jennings most of the time.  Safety Jordon Byas has been solid in pass defense as well, and has a pick of his own.

However, the other reason this is a good starter game for Sims is because Duke is prone to giving up the big play.  Stanford's Josh Nunes was only 16-for-30, but he averaged 17 yards a completion.  Duke has allowed 12 pass plays of 30+ yards this season, which puts them at the very bottom nationally, tied for 117th.  Sims probably won't have a ruthlessly efficient monster game, but he won't need to.

He'll probably have to work without Tim Smith, though - again.  Smith hasn't been real healthy all season.  It's part of the reason why E.J. Scott is stepping up.  With Cockrell covering Jennings, a big day out of Scott would be a big deal.  I think we'll get a good showing out of him and Jake McGee, but I worry about Dominique Terrell.  Mike Rocco threw what his supporters called a catchable ball and his detractors called a dead-duck floater, and Terrell had trouble keeping his hands on it.  Sims throws lasers and is still learning the art of the touch pass, so it'll be interesting (although hopefully not interesting at all) to see what happens when Terrell is targeted.

This will be Sims's first real brush with having the weight of the game on his shoulders.  No more security blanket; it's his to win or lose.  As such I don't expect his perfect interception record to remain unblemished.  But he should also be able to find a way to outdo his season long pass of 47 yards, and if Josh Nunes can average 17 yards a completion, on a defense that's giving up more than 12, Sims should be able to get 14.  Dunno how many passes he'll complete - he's a lot more likely than Rocco to try and make the first read work even if it looks kinda covered (which is to say, less likely to check down) but the ones he does will be big.

-- Duke run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Jela Duncan: 31 carries, 209 yards, 6.7 avg., 1 TD
Juwan Thompson: 35 carres, 123 yards, 3.5 avg, 0 TDs

Duke offense:
114.8 yards/game, 3.54 yards/attempt
103rd of 124 (national), 10th of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
182 yards/game, 4.95 yards/attempt
104th of 124 (national), 11th of 12 (ACC)

We're slowly but surely getting the stink of that Georgia Tech game out of our stats, but it's a long process and it'll never fully disappear from the stat sheet.  But we finally got the yards-per-carry average down below five.  Take that game out and we're looking at more like a 3.3 average, which is more than acceptable.

Duke is slowly discovering Jela Duncan.  His carries have increased every game since the Stanford game (in which the rest of their rushing game was totally demolished) and if Duke is smart they'll increase again.  Duncan has a combination of speed and power that their other backs don't have.  So far Duke has split their carries more or less three ways between Duncan, Josh Snead, and Juwan Thompson; Thompson is a big, powerful back with the speed of a sleepy ox.  Snead is smaller and scattier.  Duncan is better than either, and the only one that worries me much.

Duke does like to add the wildcat wrinkle, using quarterback Brandon Connette in this role.  It's not scary.  It's a red zone thing; Connette has five rushing touchdowns.  But until he can come into a game with better passing stats than 2-for-7, nobody will much respect the pass, and the run won't go far.

I wouldn't expect us to be able to match Stanford's performance; they have a damn good defense that held USC to two touchdowns and stuffed their big new acquisition, Silas Redd, for 17 yards on 13 carries.  Duke was never going to run on them.  That said, Duke does have a fairly solid offensive line, but our expectations haven't dropped so far that we shouldn't be able to bottle them up.  I don't expect a huge performance by either team; this should once again turn out some pretty boring numbers.  The last two weeks I've said that any time the opponent runs the ball it's a win for us; the same holds true again, even more so if it's not Duncan taking the handoff.

-- Duke pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Sean Renfree: 121/168, 72.0%; 1282 yards, 9 TDs, 5 INTs; 7.63 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Conner Vernon: 34 rec., 462 yards, 3 TDs
Jamison Crowder: 34 rec., 377 yards, 2 TDs

Duke offense:
304.0 yards/game, 7.2 yards/attempt
73rd of 124 (national), 11th of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
220.6 yards/game, 6.6 yards/attempt
50th of 124 (national), 5th of 12 (ACC)

Obviously, the elephant here is that we have no idea if Sean Renfree is going to play or not.  He's a "game-time decision," the worst words in the universe next to "high-ankle sprain" if you're a fantasy football player.  Let's just assume Renfree will play.  If he doesn't, Anthony Boone will take over; Boone is a little bit more of a runner, a little bit less of a passer, but ultimately no Renfree.

Renfree has been awfully damn efficient, completing just under three-quarters of his passes.  That number combined with (very slightly) fewer yards per attempt than Mike Rocco is an astounding statement on the shortness of his passes.  Unless his throw is headed toward one of his top two receivers, it's highly, highly unlikely to gain more than 10 yards.

I say "top two," but Renfree has actually spread the ball around almost exactly evenly among a top three of Conner Vernon, Jamison Crowder, and Desmond Scott, the latter having made the position switch from running back (and a productive one at that.)  Vernon's first catch of the day will be an ACC record for career receptions, so we'll have to put up with that, but at least it'll be out of the way early.  (That said, I'm rooting for him to also get the yardage record, as it will knock thieving-ass Peter Warrick off that particular perch.)

It's awfully tough to get any pressure on Renfree, since Duke uses a lot of three and five step drops and Renfree gets rid of the ball quickly.  With Renfree working through an elbow issue, though, that pressure would come in awfully handy if we can get there.  Both Matt McGloin and Casey Pachall had exactly that problem - banged-up elbows thanks to our pass rush - but Louisiana Tech proved you can neutralize the UVA front four just by getting rid of the ball quickly, because we don't yet have the ability to beat anyone one-on-one more than occasionally.  And without Billy Schautz, the job gets harder.

The battle between Vernon and Demetrious Nicholson should be the best of the day.  If Nicholson can get the best of that battle, I expect to enjoy this game immensely.  Even though Renfree can find Crowder and Scott just as easily, there just isn't a lot of big-play danger here.  If Duke wins, it'll be death by a thousand paper cuts.

-- Outlook

The betting public must really like the Hoos this week.  The line opened up at about 3 points in favor of Duke, and in a lot of places it's dropped to 1.5 already.  Well, good.  I wouldn't call it a lock, though.  Not when Duke has the potential to hang up another 40-odd points the same way Louisiana Tech did.  And If you thought personal fouls were a problem last week, this game has ain't-seen-nuthin-yet potential if the discipline issues can't be worked through.

On the other hand, we got a secret weapon.  There's precious little film on Sims, and it's an unpredictable game thanks to that.  I feel less confident about predicting the outcome of this one than any game so far this season.  Except for one thing: it's still Duke, and you better not consider yourself a bowl team if you lose to Duke.

-- Prediction summary:

-- Sims throws at least one pick, probably early.
-- Sims averages 14 yards a completion.
-- Jela Duncan gets a plurality (if not a majority) of Duke's carries.
-- Whoever quarterbacks Duke completes 2/3 of his passes.

Final score: UVA 31, Duke 23

-- Rest of the ACC:

Boston College at Army, 12:00 - Could be the Eagles last win of the year.  If they win.

Virginia Tech at North Carolina, 12:30 - No flipping good reason whatsoever this game is not on national TV.

Wake Forest at Maryland, 3:30 - Especially when this stinker is.

Georgia Tech at Clemson, 3:30 - Could be Baylor-WVU redux if GT's offense were the quick-strike variety.

Miami at Notre Dame, 7:30 - Notre Dame calls these neutral-site games, "The Shamrock Series."  This is Irish for "we're going to wear the stupidest fucking uniforms you've ever seen, and we've double-dog-dared our uniform provider to try and outdo themselves every year."

Florida State at NC State, 8:00 - Does anyone really think FSU is going to face any real resistance for the rest of the year?


CMUHoo said...

I think it's safe to say that GT's offense has quick strike capabilities when they play us.

Anonymous said...

Well now ... had they figured out how to establish the run like they are today ... Rocco might have had a better shot. Playcalling seems a bit more conservative to me in regards to the passing schemes and route combinations that they are using so far.

Here's hoping the defense gives us a chance.

Anonymous said...

If this was Rocco doing this poorly, you'd already hear people crowing for Sims, and London would probably be thinking it. As it is Sims doing this poorly, I have my doubts we'll see Rocco. He's made his move ...

That said, with the way the run game has worked today, Rocco would really have a good chance to excel. Sure doesn't seem like Sims is making the right reads at times, and his touch isn't there.