Thursday, November 15, 2012

game preview: North Carolina

Date/Time: Thursday, November 15; 7:30


Record against the Heels: 54-58-4, depending on how you view their history of cheating

Last meeting: UNC 28, UVA 17; 9/17/11, Charlottesville

Last weekend: UVA 41, Miami 40; GT 68, UNC 50

Line: UNC by 3

Injury report:

Virginia -

S Pablo Alvarez, DT Marco Jones, WR Mario Nixon


CB Maurice Canady


K Ian Frye, DE Billy Schautz, S Anthony Harris

North Carolina -

- doesn't like to play nice, and doesn't release injury reports.  But they won't have their kicker, in case you're wondering.

RedemptionQuest continues as the Hoos try to salvage their season.  Now UVA's two oldest rivals stand in the way of the postseason, and only the fact that this is at home and the VT game is in Blacksburg is keeping me from outright declaring this the toughest of the two remaining games.  You know what's at stake here.

-- UVA run offense vs. UNC run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 140 carries, 660 yards, 4.7 avg., 5 TDs
Perry Jones: 114 carries, 395 yards, 3.5 avg., 2 TDs

UVA offense:
136.7 yards/game, 3.85 yards/attempt
88th of 124 (national), 7th of 12 (ACC)

UNC defense:
137.9 yards/game, 3.49 yards/attempt
25th of 124 (national), 3rd of 12 (ACC)

Before you ask, yes, UNC's own personal GT nightmare has a little bit of an effect on their numbers, to the tune of a little less than half a yard per carry.  So what we're looking at really is one of the best run defenses we've seen all year.

UNC runs a 4-2-5, kinda.  UVA has seen some 4-2-5's this season, with limited success against them, but trying to run on a 4-2-5 isn't that different than trying it against a basic 4-3.  UNC employs a safety, Gene Robinson, in a position they call the Ram, and his primary responsibility is run defense.  This way they can go into a nickel, if they like, without changing personnel, but when UVA shows run, Robinson is no more a safety than Laroy Reynolds.

The other neat difference is that Robinson, in playing further back than a regular linebacker, can see more of the field and thus can be used as a hedge against counters and other misdirection.  That leaves the regular linebackers free to crash the first thing they see, instead of taking a split second to hesitate and diagnose.  This they do quite well.  UNC's two linebackers are a pair of playmakers, especially Kevin Reddick, who's got 14.5 TFL this season.

Not much relief on the D-line, either.  DT Sylvester Williams is an absolute load.  DE Kareem Martin is too.  Between them they combine for 24.5 TFL, and in case you're wondering, only three teams in the country have more TFL than UNC.

Against Maryland we were facing statistically one of the best run defenses in the country, and we gashed 'em.  I don't see that happening here.  UNC has more playmakers than Maryland does; a lot more.  And no, using the GT game for optimism is a bad idea, and I think you know why that is.    Once you nullify Joe Vellano, you've more or less dealt with Maryland; UNC can bring them from every angle.  With an offensive line that's still finding itself, I'm awfully pessimistic about this part of the game.  It's such an ugly matchup that I'm getting a glass of rum, right now, to make the rest of the preview easier to write.  The rest of this post is brought to you by Sailor Jerry.

-- UVA pass offense vs. UNC pass defense

Michael Rocco: 136/221, 61.5%; 1,585 yards, 12 TDs, 8 INTs; 7.17 yards/attempt
Phillip Sims: 103/179, 57.5%; 1,203 yards, 8 TDs, 4 INTs; 6.72 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Darius Jennings: 42 rec., 521 yards, 4 TDs
Perry Jones: 41 rec., 341 yards, 0 TDs

UVA offense:
282.4 yards/game, 7.0 yards/attempt
80th of 124 (national), 9th of 12 (ACC)

UNC defense:
254.2 yards/game, 7.2 yards/attempt
68th of 124 (national), 7th of 12 (ACC)

I don't like quarterback platoons.  What do I like even less?  Screwing around with what's working.  And I hate to admit it but the platoon is working.  It shouldn't, but it is.  It shouldn't work because Rocco is a quarterback that needs to not be looking over his shoulder in order to produce.  And Sims needs experience, not half-games, to learn to make the touch and timing throws.  And yet here we are, 4-6 instead of 2-8.

UNC has a very good pass rush, and it's going to come from the interior because Sylvester Williams and Kevin Reddick (the linebacker) have 10.5 of UNC's 24 sacks.  Kareem Martin will also be a problem.  Pass rush aside, though, UNC can be thrown on.  Lots of quarterbacks this year have had very good days against UNC's defense.  I suspect we may see something similar to what we saw against Miami, with the middle available for use.  UNC has better safeties than Miami does, but Gene Robinson isn't a pass defender and neither is linebacker Tommy Heffernan.

UNC's corners, Jabari Price and Tim Scott, are solid.  But one thing that's been key to UVA's aerial assualt these past two games is that we're finally getting the contributions we've been expecting from all sides of the receiving corps.  I think Jake McGee will be a matchup nightmare for UNC.  Of the three linebacker-types on the field (Robinson, Reddick, Heffernan) the best-equipped to handle McGee is Reddick, who has by far the best combination of size and athleticism.  As you might imagine this means opportunity.  If this is executed well, UNC can be forced to pick a poison: risk McGee being open for big chunks of yardage, or take Reddick out of the run defense.

This is not to mention the effectiveness of the newfound three-headed monster at WR.  What it means to the offense to have Dominique Terrell playing at a high level is now as plain as it could ever have been.  Terrell, Jennings, and Tim Smith can give secondaries nightmares if they all play to the level they've each demonstrated.  Then it's all on the quarterback just to get the ball there.

That's not really as easy as it might sound, given that Sims and Rocco have now alternated being the star of the game.  It seems that one reason the platoon has worked is that both are prone to awful games, but both of them having the same bad game is less likely.  And this game is going to be on them, because the run game won't serve much of a purpose except to hopefully keep the Heels honest.

-- UNC run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Giovani Bernard: 142 carries, 1,008 yards, 7.1 avg., 11 TDs
A.J. Blue: 73 carries, 393 yards, 5.4 avg, 8 TDs

UNC offense:
201.0 yards/game, 5.19 yards/attempt
18th of 124 (national), 3rd of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
143.8 yards/game, 4.16 yards/attempt
66th of 124 (national), 8th of 12 (ACC)

Scary.  Dude: this guy is averaging 7 yards a carry!  We have a pretty good run defense.  And I'm legitimately concerned what this guy Bernard is gonna do to it, especially if we break out the same tackling performance we did last Saturday.  Yes, Duke Johnson is pretty good himself, but it wasn't just on him that the tackling effort was crummy.

UNC brings a complete set of weapons to the fight.  Gio Bernard would be getting Heisman consideration if he hadn't missed a couple games with a knee injury.  A 262-yard performance against Virginia Tech inflates his numbers a little bit, but still.  There's your workhorse.  A.J. Blue is the bulldozing short-yardage brute; at 6'2", 225, he's a very effective goal-line and fourth-down hammer.  Romar Morris is the change-of-pace scatback.  All three average better than five yards a carry.

There's a very solid offensive line, too.  It's missing one piece: RT Brennan Williams went down in the Duke game and is lost for the season.  The rest of the line is there, and it's good.

UVA has its work cut out for it.  The matchup between lines will be huge.  Either side has the capability to claim ownership of the trenches.  The tackling must be much better than it was against Miami, or all is lost.  I think if Heel fans are looking for Bernard to roll with 7 yards a carry, they'll be disappointed; he has, in fact, been trending gradually downwards ever since the VT game, to the point where GT's horrible defense actually held him under five yards a carry.  If the Hoos can do that, it would neutralize a massive piece of UNC's attack.  Not sure they will, but there has to be a correlation between losing Williams and the downward trend in Bernard's numbers, hasn't there?

-- UNC pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Bryn Renner: 219/347, 63.1%; 2,736 yards, 20 TDs, 7 INTs; 7.89 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Erik Highsmith: 46 rec., 511 yards, 2 TDs
Giovani Bernard: 38 rec., 411 yards, 4 TDs

UNC offense:
287.7 yards/game, 7.9 yards/attempt
33rd of 124 (national), 4th of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
205.3 yards/game, 6.4 yards/attempt
29th of 124 (national), 2nd of 12 (ACC)

Quietly, sneakily, UVA has brought to bear one of the best pass defenses in the country.  That's without a lot of sacks and with a super-young secondary.  (I think that the lack of sacks has, in a perverse way, made our pass defense look better.  Most teams' pass rush is good enough to get to the quarterback.  Ours is not, but it's good enough to almost get there, and to bat down low-thrown passes.  That means that most teams get their sacks included in their run defense stats, while our pass rush that almost gets there has those plays turn into incomplete passes instead.)

Anyway, that's the good news.  The bad news is that our defense had no answer whatsoever for Larry Fedora's spread attack last year when he was employing it at Southern Miss.  Maurice Canady is doubtful for this game, but let's hope that's premature the way Eli Harold was "out" last week and then was not.  UVA will need to employ its full depth chart in the secondary, because Fedora is a spread coach and likes three-wide formations.  Like UVA, he uses the full range of options in pass-catching.  Gio Bernard gets a lot of receptions, and why wouldn't he?  I would get that guy the ball too.  Tight end Eric Ebron actually leads the team in receiving yards.  Erik Highsmith, at 6'3", will be a difficult cover for UVA's smallish corners, as will Quinshad Davis (36 catches, 463 yards) at 6'4".

You'll recall that Southern Miss just killed us last year with shortish completions delivered with deadly accuracy.  When Renner is really firing, he can do the same thing.  But he's prone to the occasional off day, which he had in a loss to Wake Forest and a narrow win over Miami.  Neither are good pass defenses.

Renner is a right-hander, but UVA might be well-advised to put pass rushers Ausar Walcott and Eli Harold on his throwing side, so as to avoid LT James Hurst and run them at Travis Bond instead, who's slid over from guard to fill Williams's spot at tackle.  Don't expect much, though.  UNC has only allowed 10 sacks all year.  This one's on the secondary; they must be effective, or they'll allow UNC's offense to be multidimensional and exceedingly difficult to stop.

-- Outlook

They have a good run defense, Giovani Bernard, an efficient passing attack, and one of the better O-lines in the conference.  Why are the Heels only 6-4, with losses to two of their instate rivals?  Search me.  I believe Heels fans would chalk it up to a defense that's not as good as it looks on paper, and perhaps the growing pains of learning a new system on both sides of the ball.

All I can go by is what my own eyes tell me, though.  UNC looked pretty good in the VT game, and on paper, they're tough as well.  Plus, by the looks of things, they didn't spend one second of their bye week prepping for Georgia Tech, and just went all-in on Virginia prep.  I suspect the loss of placekicker Casey Barth will be worse on paper than in real life; replacement Thomas Moore has kicked in games before (most of last season) and isn't a disaster.  UVA will have to force UNC into a worse game than their on-paper averages have shown this season, and play better than they did last week.  It's a tough hill to climb.

-- Prediction summary

-- UVA's backs average about 2.5 yards a carry.
-- Jake McGee has a big game, with a per-catch average of about 15 yards and at least 3 receptions.
-- UVA's quarterbacks combine for at least a 300-yard passing game.
-- Giovani Bernard reverses his downward trend and averages about 5.5 yards a carry.
-- One of UNC's receivers has a six-catch day, or better.

Final score: UNC 31, UVA 21

-- Rest of the ACC

-- Florida State at Maryland, 12:00: Should be fun to see what happens when a freshman linebacker tries to throw against Florida State's defense.  FSU clinches the Atlantic with a win.

-- Virginia Tech at Boston College, 12:30: I'm not sure whether to root for VT, in case it sets up the Bowl Eligibility Bowl, or against them for obviousness.  Guess we'll know by late Thursday night.

-- Miami vs. South Florida, 3:00: The very real chance exists that the ACC could have just four bowl-eligible teams.  To avoid that, let's hope the 5-5 Canes don't biff this one.

-- Duke at Georgia Tech, 3:30: Will greatly simplify the Coastal race.

-- Wake Forest at Notre Dame, 3:30: I don't know about you but I already consider this an in-conference game.

-- NC State at Clemson, 3:30: Clemson will know by game time whether or not they can win the Coastal, and probably they can't.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think that Rocco is the best bet in this game, operating a spread, WCO short passing game. That should be able to neutralize their line enough, and whichever safety we get matched up on our slot WR should be an advantage for us.

Defensively, I think the name of the game is bend, but don't break that badly. UNC is likely going to move the ball at ease against us, but we need to make them work for it. The pass rush won't be as important as disciplined rushes that contain their run game in the right alleys and keep Renner in the pocket. We really need Canady in the game to matchup on their edge guys.

I want to believe that there's some magic and that we can win, but the head says that this is UNC's game to lose. But here's hoping.