Friday, November 9, 2012

game preview: Miami

Date/Time: Saturday, November 10; 12:00


Record against the Canes: 4-5

Last meeting: UVA 28, Miami 21; 10/27/11, Miami, FL

Last weekend: UVA 33, NC State 6; Miami 30, VT 12

Line: UVA by 1

Injury report:

Virginia -

S Pablo Alvarez, DT Marco Jones, WR Mario Nixon

DE Diamonte Bailey, DE Eli Harold


K Ian Frye, DE Billy Schautz

DT Chris Brathwaite, DT Vincent Croce

Miami -

LB Ramon Buchanan, RB Eduardo Clements, OL Ben Jones, WR Malcolm Lewis, WR Robert Lockhart

DB Deon Bush

LB Denzel Perryman

Redemption November continues.....hopefully.  Last week's game was evidence the Hoos have a pulse, and maybe more.  It was proof of what happens when things go right instead of all wrong.  Now we'll see if it was a mirage or a trend.  Miami comes to town fresh off a big win of their own, and they have their eyes on a division title.

-- UVA run offense vs. Miami run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 128 carries, 618 yards, 4.8 avg., 4 TDs
Perry Jones: 104 carries, 389 yards, 3.7 avg., 2 TDs

UVA offense:
141.44 yards/game, 3.95 yards/attempt
80th of 124 (national), 7th of 12 (ACC)

Miami defense:
246.22 yards/game, 5.13 yards/attempt
109th of 124 (national), 12th of 12 (ACC)

Those are some awful numbers there on the Miami side of things.  They're no accident.  It's not like a couple of really good teams got in there and screwed up the stats.  Miami gave up only 96 yards to Boston College in their season opener, and then everyone else has been able to do whatever the shit they want.  Nobody since has run for less than 200 yards.  Even Bethune-Cookman.

They've had some key injuries this year.  LB Ramon Buchanan suffered yet another knee injury, ending his season after two games.  LB Denzel Perryman is their third-leading tackler, has been playing most of the year on a high ankle sprain, and will probably miss this one.  That leaves the Canes awfully thin at linebacker.  The only steady presence they've had all season is OLB Eddie Johnson, a redshirt freshman who makes his share of plays.  The rest have been in and out of the lineup and not especially effective.

The UVA coaches have started to tilt the carries in favor of Kevin Parks, which is some proper sense-making because Parks has clearly been the more effective running back.  A new wrinkle came online last week: Mike Rocco as a running QB.  There might be something to exploit here; Collin Klein at K-State ran for 71 yards, and despite the rout of the Hokies, Logan Thomas racked up 124.  Rocco won't be flirting with either number, but a couple QB draws appeared on the play sheet last week and they'll probably stay there this week.

I would expect Bill Lazor to look at those stats and start thinking about ways to extend that 200-yard streak.  Scheming around Eddie Johnson and DE Shayon Green is probably the way to do it; these are Miami's top two tacklers, and it's decently impressive to see that out of a defensive end.  If Miami lines them up on the same side it'll make life much easier.  UVA ran for 248 yards against NC State's much better run defense last week, so I don't see why they can't hit 200 again this week.

-- UVA pass offense vs. Miami pass defense

Phillip Sims: 92/165, 55.8%; 1,115 yards, 8 TDs, 4 INTs; 6.76 yards/attempt
Mike Rocco: 107/184, 58.2%; 1,285 yards, 8 TDs, 8 INTs; 6.98 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Darius Jennings: 35 rec., 464 yards, 2 TDs
Perry Jones: 34 rec., 304 yards, 0 TDs

UVA offense:
270.7 yards/game, 6.9 yards/attempt
83rd of 124 (national), 10th of 12 (ACC)

Miami defense:
244.2 yards/game, 8.1 yards/attempt
108th of 124 (national), 10th of 12 (ACC)

Also crazy underperformance in this aspect of the game.  Unlike the run game, however, where Miami just bends over for any ol' body, you have to have a good, efficient passing game to take advantage of the Canes pass defense.  They held Logan Thomas in check, and UNC's Bryn Renner too, the latter of which goes to show that even good quarterbacks can have a bad day against this defense.

Sometimes, though, they get torched.  Boston College and NC State each passed for well over 400 yards.  E.J. Manuel had a nice, efficient day.  The problem is, we don't have the air game these teams do.  You know I don't like the quarterback platoon, but Mike London has promised to stick with it at least for one more game, which probably means two series and switch, just like last week.

Injuries have hit the Miami secondary too, as promising freshman Deon Bush is out for this game.  Miami will go with Kacy Rodgers in his stead.  At cornerback, Ladarius Gunter is one of the bigger corners in the conference at 6'2", but neither he nor Brandon McGee is any threat to pick up any conference honors.  Gunter has only broken up three passes this year; McGee has five, which is decent, but compare to Tre Nicholson's 11.  And Bush was a better pass defender than Rodgers.

At defensive end, Anthony Chickillo was supposed to be one of the league's top pass-rushing threats, but he's only got two sacks on the season and is slowly giving up playing time to Jalen Grimble.  Shayon Green is a run-stopping DE and will come out of the game on passing downs for Tyriq McCord, a freshman pass-rusher who the Canes really like.  He's not a big guy at all, checking in at 236 pounds similarly to Eli Harold, and could give our underperforming tackles some trouble.

That said, Miami's pass rush isn't real scary overall.  With just 10 sacks this year they're near the bottom of the standings in that regard.  Very little threat is posed by the interior line; Chickillo and McCord and the occasional blitz are all that worry me, and we've dealt with better.  If the bye week fixed a lot of problems, it's fair to hope the pass protection is included, as the line only gave up one sack to NC State's quality pass rush.

I don't know what the heck is going to go down with this rotation.  I think it saps the effectiveness of both QBs, myself.  But there's a reason I've been light on the Bill Lazor criticism this year.  Lazor found a way to effectively manage Marc Verica and set him up for success, and Verica had more than a few limitations on his talent.  I think he did a similarly good job against NC State, and you have to at least admit that right now, we've got two quarterbacks that do different things well.  Maybe, just maybe, Lazor knows what the hell he's doing here.  Just because I don't think it works great doesn't mean it can't, and Miami certainly has a defense ripe for exploitation.  At worst, we'll see the old UVA that could move the ball but not score, and after that, just find the end zone, right?

-- Miami run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Duke Johnson: 94 carries, 555 yards, 5.9 avg., 6 TDs
Mike James: 110 carries, 477 yards, 4.3 avg., 5 TDs

Miami offense:
130.11 yards/game, 4.37 yards/attempt
62nd of 124 (national), 6th of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
133.89 yards/game, 3.85 yards/attempt
48th of 124 (national), 5th of 12 (ACC)

Here is the challenge for UVA's defense.  Its name is Duke Johnson.  Johnson's health and durability are the only thing keeping Miami in the realm of mediocrity in the run game.  (That and they have an inexplicably pass-heavy offense.)  He's a small back with decent power and scary moves.  Johnson and Mike James are a very solid big/small combination; James weighs 220 pounds and is a very capable workhorse.

Additionally, the Miami O-line is solid and has a lot of continuity.  Four of them have started every game this season, and one-time super-recruit Seantrel Henderson has finally, to the relief of Miami fans, locked down the fifth spot at right tackle.  He and left tackle Malcolm Bunche are simply enormous, giving Miami an advantage on the edge.

So it's a heck of a test.  Florida State and Kansas State both shut down the Miami defense, but those are BCS teams.  Of course, your weekly Georgia Tech game reminder goes here: we have a top-ten-in-the-country run defense without it.  We'll have to get it done without some of our depth, though; Eli Harold will miss the game, and Billy Schautz is slowly working his way up the injury report, but I wouldn't test his ankle against those big-ass tackles; Henderson is 340 pounds and Bunche is 325.

Still, this is strength on strength.  Of the four game areas, this one is where both teams are at their best.  Whoever comes out on top here is most likely going to win this game.  UVA must keep Duke Johnson in front and well-contained; space to operate is a bad thing and once he gets you sideways, he's got you beat.  James I'm not worried about; the main concern is not giving up any big plays, which means a lot of gap discipline on Johnson and balancing the need to contain and corral with the need to avoid sitting on one's heels and waiting for him to make a move.  I think at some point we'll get burned, as we don't have FSU's athletes.

-- Miami pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Stephen Morris: 192/339, 56.6%; 2,382 yards, 12 TDs, 7 INTs; 7.03 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Phillip Dorsett: 36 rec., 545 yards, 3 TDs
Rashawn Scott: 35 rec., 512 yards, 3 TDs

Miami offense:
277.4 yards/game, 7.0 yards/attempt
77th of 124 (national), 9th of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
207.3 yards/game, 6.4 yards/attempt
30th of 124 (national), 2nd of 12 (ACC)

Remember how in the past I've been saying "everytime our opponent runs the ball it's a tiny little win for UVA"?  This looks like the opposite.  Miami has a pass offense that reminds me a lot of NC State.  They pass more than they should, they spread the ball around, and heavily include the tight end and running backs.  Differences: much better pass protection, a (slightly) worse quarterback, and more of a willingness to go deep.

Miami will probably test the defense with three-wide sets.  They have good size on the outside with Rashawn Scott at 6'2" and Allen Hurns at 6'3".  Slot receiver Phillip Dorset is the team leader in most categories, though.  As for Morris, he's OK.... I guess.  He started off the year much better than he's finishing it, and though he's thrown 12 touchdowns, five of them came in one game, against NC State.

The difficulty will be establishing the same kind of synergy that led to last week's dominant performance, and doing it against a much better offensive line.  Miami has kept Morris clean this year, allowing only 12 sacks.  Will the secondary look as good in coverage if the line isn't able to generate the same kind of pressure?  If they can get to Morris as consistently as they got to Glennon, we'll have just as easy a day, but that's a tall order, particularly without Harold.

-- Outlook

You want to know the truth here?  I have no idea what the hell about anything.  Should I assume UVA is the team that stank up October, or the one that just went out last weekend and set up a traveling carnival in NC State's backfield?  Can we call the special teams fixed-ish after one game?  (Actually, I think I know that one.  No.)  Is optimism the result of seeing the world through the lens of the last game, which everyone always does?  What about pessimism - that could be the same thing, given Miami's demolition of the Hokies last week, and they had a real shot at knocking off Florida State, too.  Can their defense really be that bad?

The fairy tale is this: Challenged by their coaches and captains, UVA really is on a resurgence.  They're on a mission to reclaim their season, and, being not yet mathematically eliminated from a bowl, they're moving toward one full speed.  They'll meet hated rival Tech with both teams at 5-6, in a mini-playoff where the winner gets a bowl game and the loser goes home, and the game will be in hostile territory but UVA will come in fired up and on a hot streak, while Tech will be deflated and miserable from a terrible season and wishing they were anywhere else but a football field.  That's the story.  And it's lingering on the edges of plausibility, not because the Hoos beat NC State, but because of the dominating, trench-owning way they did it.

But I can't help my nature.  I like evidence and realism.  I'm optimistic, but rarely a believer in fairy tales until they start looking real.  And this season I'm once bitten, twice shy; I talked a lot of optimism early on and was rewarded with uninspired play on offense and pathetic special teams.  I'm keeping it sober until shown otherwise.  Come on over here and toss me in that ol' briar patch again.

-- Prediction summary

-- UVA extends Miami's streak of allowing 200 rushing yards one more game.
-- Mike Rocco runs for at least 25 yards.
-- For the second game in a row, Phillip Sims is the more effective passer.  (Subjective, I know, but I'll judge this one strictly.)
-- Duke Johnson breaks off at least one big run or YAC reception.

Final score: Miami 27, UVA 21

-- Rest of the ACC

Bye week: Duke

Florida State 28, Virginia Tech 22: This absolutely ensures that Tech doesn't go to a bowl game unless they beat UVA.

Georgia Tech at North Carolina, 12:30: GT really needs to win both this and the Duke game next week in order to go bowling, because their annual UGA game looms very large and unwinnable.

Wake Forest at NC State, 3:00: Winner is bowl-eligible.  Loser might not get there, especially if it's Wake.

Maryland at Clemson, 3:30: The only way this one is interesting is if they revert back to playground rules and Tajh Boyd gets to be all-time QB.

Boston College vs. Notre Dame, 8:00: Who the hell put 9-0 ND vs. 2-7 BC in prime time???


Anonymous said...

Pretty awesome. Unless we beat VPI, the TD pass to McGee is easily the most memorable moment of the season.

Still -- the heroics wouldn't have been necessary if we could cover a damn kickoff. Something drastic must be done about special teams. (At least Khalik took a knee in the endzone on one occasion. It's a start.)

Anonymous said...

Correction: the catch was what was memorable, not the pass. Rocco put the ball in reach but that was a spectacular grab.

Anonymous said...

Can I be pissed after such a great win? It's been clear all season that Rocco is the better fit for this offense. Sure, the turnovers hurt early in the year, and a lot of that was on Rocco, but some of that was on the receivers and the plays (that said, I've defended Lazor before, and I'll continue - the offense yesterday was fairly similar to what's been run most of the year ... the difference was that either the pass coverage of Miami was weaker, or the receivers are simply improving, running better routes, and in Terrell's case, showing better hands ... let's hope it's the latter).

Sims needs time, and for all the talk about the developing for the future with him, winning was more important to our future (maintaining our recruiting). Rocco is very good on the short-intermediate stuff, particularly when he is given the opportunity to get in a rhythm.

A lot went wrong this year, ranging from the yearlong mess that is our special teams, to the piss-poor offensive line play early (and it really wasn't all that great yesterday), to a mediocre pass rush, and the expected coverage problems. Lazor could've been better in reacting to the offense's woes early. With two games left, it's still a tough climb to get to .500 and be bowl eligible. We might do it, but at the end of the day, I still think the biggest problem this year lies with Mike London and his inability to commit to the better QB for the team. We should be a bowl team this year. Let's hope we get there (and if we do, that 6-game losing streak will really hurt), but London has to do some thinking on his mismanagement of the QB situation the last two years.

Anonymous said...

Btw, that was an excellent catch ... but a great throw. Rocco put that in the only spot he could. That's a throw Sims just can't do right now - a good touch throw, good enough arc on the ball, high enough above the defenders that the only person that could make the play was McGee.

Yes, it was an excellent catch, but let's give credit to Rocco - that was a damn good throw.