Friday, November 2, 2012

game preview: NC State

Date/Time: Sat., November 3; 12:30


Record against the Pack: 21-34-1

Last meeting: NCSt. 28, UVA 14; 10/22/11, Charlottesville

Last weekend: UVA bye; UNC 43, NCSt. 35

Line: NC State by 10.5

Injury report:

Virginia -

S Pablo Alvarez, DT Marco Jones, WR Mario Nixon

DE Diamonte Bailey, DE Billy Schautz


RB Clifton Richardson

DT David Dean, K Ian Frye, CB Drequan Hoskey

FB LoVante' Battle, LB Henry Coley, TE Jeremiah Mathis

NC State -

G Zach Allen, DT Jacob Kahut, LB Michael Peek, RB James Washington, DE Forrest West

CB Jarvis Byrd




If all had gone as it was supposed to, we'd either be bowl-eligible by now, or needing this one more to get there.  This has not happened.  The easier portion of the schedule has come and gone, and now the Hoos are staring down the barrel of a winless ACC season.  That would be something of a disaster, as it would also mean a 10-loss season, and regardless of whether you or I think it should, it would turn up the heat a notch on Mike London's seat.  The upcoming four-game stretch, therefore, is no longer about bowl eligibility and all about looking marginally respectable.  For a given definition of "respectable."

-- UVA run offense vs. NCSt run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 103 carries, 503 yards, 4.9 avg, 3 TDs
Perry Jones: 93 carries, 322 yards, 3.5 avg, 2 TDs

UVA offense:
128.13 yards/game, 3.74 yards/attempt
92nd of 124 (national), 7th of 12 (ACC)

NCSt defense:
138.0 yards/game, 3.74 yards/attempt
44th of 124 (national), 4th of 12 (ACC)

Guess there's no need to overanalyze this one.  Based on past performance I calculate that UVA will average exactly 3.74 yards per carry on Saturday.

Maybe you want something more in depth, though.  The thing about NC State's run defense is that it would be absolutely horrible if they didn't have a very good, veteran defensive backfield.  Senior safeties Earl Wolff and Brandan Bishop are the team's tackle leaders, and you have to go all the way down to ninth on the tackles list before you find any defensive linemen.  Juston Burris is the team's fifth defensive back (and no, the Pack don't run a 3-3-5) and even he is ahead of the D-linemen.

When you have to rely so much on your back seven, you're going to get a lot of inconsistency, and that's what's happened.  Furthermore they've given up some big games to opposing running backs in their last three contests.  Giovani Bernard, Wes Brown, and Chris Thompson all ran for over 100+ yards.  That streak will end on Saturday, because all three had workhorse-level workloads, and UVA splits the carries too much for anyone to have 100 yards, short of there being an 80-yard play somewhere, which there won't.

Still, I expect to find at least a little bit of running room.  With Parks averaging almost five yards a carry, that hasn't been too much of a problem lately, and when you don't have a good defensive line you lose the advantage you might have against UVA's O-line.  The main concern I have is linebackers shooting gaps; Wake found ways to do this with some consistency last game, and State's LB Rickey Dowdy has nine TFL this season from the weak side.  Plus, Wolff and Bishop know what they're doing and won't be fooled by Phillip Sims's not-good play-fakes, making it all the more likely they'll be able to crash the front lines and hold running plays to minimum yardage.  Parks will get his yards (Jones I'm increasingly less sure about) but he'll have to grind them out.  I don't expect anything longer than about 15 yards at the most.

-- UVA pass offense vs. NCSt pass defense

Phillip Sims: 84/155, 54.2%; 1,000 yards (exactly!), 7 TDs, 4 INTs; 6.45 avg.

Top receivers:
Darius Jennings: 29 rec., 407 yards, 1 TD
Perry Jones: 28 rec., 258 yards, 0 TDs

UVA offense:
279.8 yards/game, 7.0 yards/attempt
72nd of 124 (national), 10th of 12 (ACC)

NCSt defense:
278.1 yards/game, 8.4 yards/attempt
115th of 124 (national), 11th of 12 (ACC)

This was not what I expected to see out of the Pack.  Before the season I pegged them as the top secondary in the conference; obviously that ain't true.  And those numbers are even more astounding considering that they actually have a pretty effective pass rush.  If they didn't have 24 sacks those numbers might even be worse.  (Yes, sacks end up in the rushing totals.  Still, all that pressure, you'd think it'd help with the rest of the operation.)

Clearly, this pass rush is the #1 concern.  Oday Aboushi and Morgan Moses have been absolutely brutal lately.  DE Darryl Cato-Bishop is the primary pass rush threat, but State has 13 different players with a sack.  UVA barely has half that many sacks, period.  DT T.Y. McGill can also be disruptive, and the Pack like to blitz as well.  Phillip Sims has been under a lot of pressure lately and doesn't handle the rush especially well - sometimes fine, sometimes not - so it'd be awfully nice if UVA can find a way to keep the grass stains off his shirt.

The other problem is that Sims and timing routes haven't been a happy combination.  Combine that with an inability to pass block for longer than 1.7 seconds, meaning deepish downfield routes don't have time to develop, and you see why the pass offense has been leading the all-out charge to the basement.

Out in the secondary, David Amerson has recovered somewhat from an absolutely horrible nationally televised season opener against Tennessee, and has four interceptions.  He's still a top corner, but prone to inexplicable breakdowns, probably because of his gambling.  He has so many picks - this year and last - because he breaks very well on the ball, but he's susceptible as hell to stop-and-go routes, and safeties Wolff and Bishop can sometimes be overaggressive against the run.

You'd think, therefore, that play-action would be a great way to beat the Pack.  You'd be right.  That being the case, let's hope Sims's play fakes have improved, because he can be awfully lazy with them.  Things could be good if they have.  That said, I'm at a loss what to expect here.  Mostly I expect the pass rush to fluster Sims, because I haven't seen a lot of evidence that our tackles are the NFL-ready machines we thought they were.  Beyond that, though, this is a very boom-or-bust matchup.  I have a feeling Sims will either be horrible or awesome.

-- NCSt run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Tony Creecy: 95 carries, 385 yards, 4.1 avg, 3 TDs
Shadrach Thornton: 59 carries, 298 yards, 5.1 avg, 2 TDs

NCSt offense:
122.38 yards/game, 3.30 yards/attempt
109th of 124 (national), 9th of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
148.25 yards/game, 4.10 yards/attempt
63rd of 124 (national), 7th of 12 (ACC)

There are biblical names like David and Jacob which everyone knows and uses.  Then there's Shadrach Thornton, whose parents showed a very admirable attention to biblical detail.  I have no idea if his brothers are named Meshach and Abednego.

Thornton's presence on the field is the result of the Pack having to dig very deep to find some running backs.  James Washington missed a lot of time with an ankle injury, got back on the field against UNC, and promptly wrecked his knee.  And the Pack sat Mustafa Greene a while ago for being a twat and kicked him off the team a couple weeks ago for being a bigger twat.

That brings it down to Creecy and Thornton.  Thornton has the gaudier average, but a lot of that was racked up against The Citadel, and actual alive run defenses the last three weeks have shut him down.  Creecy will be the workback; he's a little bigger than Thornton, and the offense has been tilting in his direction lately, even when Washington was back.

NC State has a veteran interior line, which ought to be getting better results in the run game, but they're also not anyone's idea of all-conference players.  Not bad, not great, and the same holds true for the State backs, even before Washington and Greene left the scene.  The whole thing is straight vanilla: good enough to help supplement the pass game, and not much more.

Our own run defense will probably take a hit without Henry Coley.  I think there's a prevailing sentiment that we'll be OK, but I worry; Daquan Romero doesn't have half of Coley's experience.  I wouldn't be surprised to see State test Romero early, and run at his side to see what he's got.  Otherwise, we should be fine.  Believe it or not, this is a top-20 run defense in the country If You Take Out The Georgia Tech Game (a phrase I've used enough by now to officially deserve capitalization.)  As with most games this season, every time they run and don't pass, it's a tiny little win for us.

-- NCSt pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Mike Glennon: 191/330, 57.9%; 2,455 yards, 19 TDs, 9 INTs; 7.44 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Quintin Payton: 34 rec., 603 yards, 1 TD
Bryan Underwood: 28 rec., 460 yards, 10 TDs

NCSt offense:
306.9 yards/game, 7.4 yards/attempt
54th of 124 (national), 7th of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
208.6 yards/game, 6.8 yards/attempt
46th of 124 (national), 4th of 12 (ACC)

If I didn't know any better, I'd say those were some damn good numbers for a 2-6 team.  The conventional wisdom is that a senior quarterback like Glennon will carve us up.  He might just do that, as I'm not sure the pass defense passes the eye test just yet.  The cold hard stats are very nice, but the defense has gotten burned a bit at very bad times.

NC State presents a challenge.  Few teams in the country pass more than they do; they're 13th in total pass attempts.  And they spread the ball around very well.  Like UVA, they use their running backs extensively (a potential point in our favor since our defense ought to be well-practiced against that stuff.)  Tight ends Mario Carter and Asa Watson have 18 and 16 catches, respectively, another test for newly minted starter Romero on the strong side.  And they have a deep corps of receivers.  When I saw that someone had 10 TD catches - that was the first thing that jumped off the stats page, for obvious reasons - I thought, "oh, a tall dude or a tight end or something."  Nope, it's Bryan Underwood; he's a leetle guy.  He, plus Quintin Payton and Tobais Palmer (every time I write this guy's name I think "damn typos" but no, it's Tobais) are all frequent targets of Glennon.  Payton is huge; the other two are small.

Glennon is coming off of a 467-yard performance against UNC, and he did it completing only 29 of 52 passes.  He might've topped 500, but this happened.  I wouldn't count on that as a defensive strategy, but it's nice to know we're not the only team in the ACC with that issue.

Not many teams we've played are willing to include so many players in the passing game.  That'll be the toughest test for this secondary of ours, plus Romero.  But the interesting part is this: the Pack are not very good at protecting Glennon (in fairness, a lot of pass attempts means a lot of sacks, so it's not a complete indictment of their O-line that they're near the bottom of the country in sacks allowed) and our coaches have been committing more playing time on the D-line to younger players with more explosiveness.  Eli Harold is listed as a starter, and Chris Brathwaite and David Dean (who got his first career sack against Wake Forest) have been making more appearances.  Pressure on Glennon is a must, obviously, or he'll pick us apart.  Probably he will at intervals here and there anyway, but there's a chance here to limit the damage.

-- Outlook

What I've just typed makes the game look winnable.  That is until you take into account our very special teams.  If we could get into a fair fight with our opponents we might at least be 4-4.  The offense isn't too functional, but if special teams didn't piss away half our games, the defense wouldn't always be given short fields to work with.  You'd like to hope the bye week was used to sharpen up the special teams focus and erase some of the physical and stupid mental mistakes, but evidence must be seen before we can declare it to be true.  Until then, it's safest to assume that unit will continue to shit the bed with the lights on.

-- Prediction summary

-- Phillip Sims completes either less than 50% or more than 60% of his passes.
-- UVA doesn't have a run play of more than 15 yards.
-- Sims is sacked at least three times.
-- Our running backs average at least half a yard per carry more than State's.
-- At least twice during this game, something happens on special teams that makes me try and reach through the monitor to strangle someone.

Final score: NCSt 26, UVA 13

-- Rest of the ACC

Florida State, North Carolina byes

Miami 30, Virginia Tech 12 (Thursday) - There's a very, very good chance VT will be fighting for bowl eligibility in our Thanksgiving matchup.

Georgia Tech at Maryland, 12:30 - Maryland's QB situation is like if we had to start Demeitre Brim at QB with Jake McGee as backup.  Only they had tried to redshirt the freshman linebacker they're putting under center, and would like, if possible, to redshirt the freshman tight end acting as backup.  And he'll still probably rack up 35 on GT's defense.

Boston College at Wake Forest, 3:30 - BC's win over Maryland last week, in which they killed off (no, not literally) the last surviving Maryland quarterback, put UVA right on the inside track for the ACC basement.

Clemson at Duke, 7:00 - Duke has never played in a prime time game because the last time they were good nobody had yet conceived of the idea that you could use electricity to light up the outdoors.  Both teams are attempting to keep pace in their respective division races, but Clemson actually needs the game more I cannot believe I just wrote that.


Anonymous said...

Excellent first quarter.

Tough 2nd quarter. That said, hard to blame either QB for the 2nd quarter, although the switching probably doesn't help them get in rhythm. First drive 2nd quarter, penalty put them in 3rd and long. 2nd drive was a 3rd and long as well, due to the negative yards on the first run. The Sims drive was just ... well, the timing wasn't there, to put it nicely. Rocco's next two drives were 3rd and mediums (4 and 6), situations he does need to complete as we depend on him to be the smarter, timing QB.

Brandon said...

OBVIOUSLY the answer was to give up all hope and switch QBs every other series...

Anonymous said...

Haha well this was unexpected. Also, nice guess on the score - you had the overall number of points scored by both teams combined correct!