Thursday, November 22, 2012

game preview: Virginia Tech

Date/Time: Saturday, November 24; 12:00


Record against the Hokies: 37-51-5

Last game: VT 38, UVA 0; 11/26/11, Charlottesville

Last week: UNC 37, UVA 13; VT 30, BC 23

Injury report: (pending)

In three days football season will be over.  Therefore nothing else is at stake, except for one thing: Screw these guys.

-- UVA run offense vs. VT run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 152 carries, 713 yards, 4.7 avg., 5 TDs
Perry Jones: 130 carries, 445 yards, 3.4 avg., 2 TDs

UVA offense:
137.45 yards/game, 3.81 yards/attempt
93rd of 124 (national), 7th of 12 (ACC)

VT defense:
149.64 yards/game, 3.86 yards/attempt
40th of 124 (national), 4th of 12 (ACC)

Let's start off with this right now: There is very little that's logical or rational about VT's performance against the run.  UNC absolutely gashed them.  OK, that happens.  Gio Bernard is good.  Pittsburgh also gashed them.  That does not happen.  They held FSU to -15 yards on 25 carries (non-sack-adjusted) and had a similarly good performance against Duke, and turned around a week after the FSU game and let Boston College move the ball on them.  That's "118th in the country with 2.8 yards a carry" Boston College.

Tech has very little rotation of their linebackers, unlike in previous years, with only Ronny Vandyke getting much time off the bench.  It's not a deep group, but Jack Tyler has emerged as a very solid player, and can make plays nearly anywhere on the field, including behind the line.  Bruce Taylor is also solid, and has been around a long time.  Up front, the best player on the line is DT Derrick Hopkins.  Hopkins is huge and strong, and exactly the kind of player that gives UVA quite a bit of trouble, much like Sylvester Williams last week.  Bill Lazor would be well advised not to run at him.  On running downs, Corey Marshall and James Gayle man the ends, and both are big run-stoppers, although Marshall hasn't been especially effective.

If UVA can get a hat on Alonzo Tweedy, they'll go places.  Tweedy plays outside linebacker and weighs a paltry 193 pounds.  Naturally, with that kind of size, he's got speed, but that's the direction UVA will want to run.  Tweedy probably won't have much trouble dealing with it if Perry Jones dances too much, but he won't be able to handle any pulling guards or any aspect of a power running game.

Because of Hopkins, and because Tech can go pretty large on the defensive line and rotate defensive tackles effectively, I don't expect UVA to be able to line it up and run right at 'em.  But they can pull off a worthwhile running game with the right playcalls; namely, finding a way to get to the edges with momentum.  I like pitchouts for this purpose, and off-tackle sweeps.  This would be a good day to not set off my pet peeve, which is wide running plays to the short side of the field.  I don't see Jones being too effective in a basic running game; he hasn't really been all season, with Parks being the clear best option.  If the Hoos can get Parks on the edge, running downhill, they'll move the ball.  If not, it'll be a long day.

-- UVA pass offense vs. VT pass defense

Mike Rocco: 147/237, 62.0%; 1,740 yards, 12 TDs, 9 INTs; 7.34 yards/attempt
Phillip Sims: 111/196, 56.6%; 1,253 yards, 9 TDs, 4 INTs; 6.39 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Perry Jones: 46 rec., 379 yards, 0 TDs
Darius Jennings: 45 rec., 545 yards, 5 TDs

UVA offense:
275.4 yards/game, 6.9 yards/attempt
82nd of 124 (national), 10th of 12 (ACC)

VT defense:
206.5 yards/game, 6.6 yards/attempt
33rd of 124 (national), 2nd of 12 (ACC)

There's an inconsistency of a different kind here.  Virginia Tech is actually difficult to pass on.  Usually.  They're allowing a completion percentage of just 51.3%, which is just outside top five in the country.  That's not against schmo quarterbacks, either; Bryn Renner, Sean Renfree, and Tajh Boyd all had trouble moving the ball.

I would feel better if we had a truly mobile quarterback.  Boyd didn't have a great day, but the top two passing days Tech has allowed are to E.J. Manuel and Cincy's Munchie Legaux.  Legaux is inaccurate as hell, but rolled up nearly 400 passing yards on Tech's defense.  The Hokies gamble, and it burns them if the quarterback scrambles.  They make it hard to complete passes, but will also break down and allow a big play.

That gambling mentality is perfectly embodied in CB Antone Exum, who's got 15 PBUs and three picks (and flaps his mouth incessantly whenever he racks up another one of each), but also is prone to allowing big plays and isn't a great cover corner.  He makes his living baiting QBs into throwing at him and then using his size to make a play on the ball.  Kyle Fuller is better on coverage and doesn't get beat as often, but doesn't pile up the flashy plays.  Much steadier.

At free safety, Detrick Bonner is good in pass coverage, but the Hokies will miss Michael Cole, who's likely to miss the game with the neck injury (no, not the paralyzing kind) suffered against Florida State.  Kyshoen Jarrett plays "rover" which is Bud Foster's fancy-pants name for a strong safety, and does so in a run-stopping role.  Without Cole there is no real depth at safety besides those two.  Desmond Frye is a true freshman and very lightly used, more of a special teams player, and Jeron Gouveia-Winslow is a senior that's never been able to hold onto a starting role.  Gouveia-Winslow is more of a liability than anything, so Tech will have to run with Jarrett and Bonner, and depend on their corners to hold it down in man coverage.  Tech's linebackers are not pass defenders.

Tech has the kind of out-of-everywhere pass rush that gives UVA fits.  Pass rush specialist Tyrel Wilson, DT Luther Maddy, and DE James Gayle all have four-plus sacks, and Tech likes to blitz Bruce Taylor as well, who has four sacks of his own.  None are especially terrifying on their own, but you can't focus attention in any one place or you'll pay for it.

It will be worth testing VT deep early to see if we can make it click.  A stop-and-go route with a pump fake on Exum's side would be the way to go.  But let's be warned, too: Exum is exactly the kind of cornerback that can really burn Mike Rocco.  He's a big guy for a cornerback, too (224 pounds) with good athleticism, and one of the biggest worries should be Rocco tossing a pick-six his way.  Get behind Exum, though, and you're in good shape if you connect.  Fuller will likely do a solid job holding down his side, and UVA's passing game is likely to work best when connecting with someone like Jake McGee or E.J. Scott as a third receiver.  And yes, expect a full dose of the platoon again.

-- VT run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Logan Thomas: 137 carries, 442 yards, 3.2 avg., 8 TDs
J.C. Coleman: 89 carries, 450 yards, 5.1 avg., 2 TDs

VT offense:
156.27 yards/game, 4.11 yards/attempt
74th of 124 (national), 6th of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
142.27 yards/game, 4.13 yards/attempt
67th of 124 (national), 8th of 12 (ACC)

This is really not an effective rushing attack.  Don't be too taken in by J.C. Coleman's 5.1 ypc average; it drops a full yard when you take out the 86-yarder he broke against Duke, one of the worst run defenses in the conference.  Coleman is a good running back, but he's simply been swarmed most of the season because VT is starting to feel the effects of poor O-line recruiting.

That 86-yard run, in fact, is Coleman's only run longer than 20 yards this season.  Partially that's due to the splitting of carries; David Wilson isn't walking through that door, and the Hokies have turned to a rotation that includes Tony Gregory and Michael Holmes.  The ineffective run-blocking, however, has made it awfully hard to distinguish among the three.

Of course, Logan Thomas is also an option; in fact, their primary one.  Tech runs a lot of read-option, and Thomas has a propensity to keep on that play.  He's got that tight-end size that makes him hard to bring down, but like the running backs, if you swarm, you win.  Defending the read option will be the primary wrinkle that UVA has not yet seen this season, and if Billy Schautz can be healthy and ready to go, it'll be a big help in that department because defensive end positioning is one of the major keys to both running and defending the read option.

Otherwise, UVA should not fear the Hokie run game.  We flat-out have a better defensive line than they have an O-line; not to the levels of domination that we saw against NC State, but the Hoos should be able to win most of the battles.  Not to mention Marcus Davis's Superman blocking skills.

-- VT pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Logan Thomas: 187/352, 53.1%; 2,654, 16 TDs, 14 INTs; 7.54 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Marcus Davis: 43 rec., 858 yards, 5 TDs
Corey Fuller: 38 rec., 743 yards, 5 TDs

VT offense:
243.6 yards/game, 7.5 yards/attempt
60th of 124 (national), 6th of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
215.6 yards/game, 6.6 yards/attempt
37th of 124 (national), 3rd of 12 (ACC)

Chances are, by now, you've formed your opinion of Logan Thomas as a quarterback.  And chances are that opinion is that he'd make a fine tight end.  You're probably right.  Thomas can move the ball, and is, in fact, dangerous because he can do it in big chunks.  But those are interspersed among stretches of inaccuracy and just plain bad decision-making.

When he's on his game, the Hokies are very dangerous.  Marcus Davis and Corey Fuller make for a very, very good pair of receivers that can get deep and get Tech down the field in a hurry.  Both have excellent size for receivers, particularly Davis at 6'4", 232.  (Seriously, if that dude would ever block he might be good at it just because of that.)  Those two are Thomas's primary targets, and he leans on them heavily.  Tech's offense depends on them getting open downfield; they do it well.

Other than that, they'll use Dyrell Roberts, but mainly as a possession receiver, and Demetri Knowles and TE Ryan Malleck get occasional looks.  Tech hardly bothers with the running backs; maybe twice a game.  The story here is Davis and Fuller.

Which leads me to something you probably don't want to hear: the way to win this matchup is to play that soft man-coverage that so infuriated people against UNC.  Let the safeties focus on watching the deep routes, and try and force Logan Thomas to dink and dunk his way downfield.  Bryn Renner is adept at that; Logan Thomas isn't.  Sooner or later, Thomas will make a mistake if you make him get yards 7 at a time.

At some point, maybe a couple some points, I expect things will break down.  Thomas knows how to create a big play and frustratingly can keep plays alive with his feet.  The key is to limit that, and try and get some turnovers.  Thomas has thrown 10 TDs and 2 picks in Tech's wins; 6 TDs and 12 picks in their losses.

-- Outlook

The big picture is that Tech's defense is good, if not the smothering juggernaut it has been in the past, and their offense is precisely why they need this win to get bowl eligible.  I didn't really want that latter situation; we didn't need to give them any extra reason to get up for the game.  But the fact is they do need this win, or they don't go bowling.  That's a far cry from the Tech of the past decade and gives us one of our best chances at a win in years.

It's a question, then, of which teams show up.  The fact that it's at home is a huge plus for Tech; all their losses but one have been on the road, and that one was Florida State and they gave FSU all they could handle.  UVA was dominant against NC State and played awfully well against Miami, too (mostly) and then turned around and fell flat on their faces on the big Thursday night stage.  Special teams, obviously, are going to be the same dealbreaker they have been all season.  Tech will be up for this game; if UVA is not, they'll get their doors blown off again.  If not, it'll be a major, major dogfight.

-- Prediction summary:

-- Tech is held to less than 70 yards rushing.
-- Logan Thomas completes at least one pass of 50+ yards.
-- Minus the largest play, Thomas's per-completion average falls well shy of his 14.2 average on the season.
-- Perry Jones gets five or six pass catches (or more) but is totally ineffective carrying the ball.
-- We lose, and a special teams play is easily pointed to as a major culprit.

Final score: VT 17, UVA 14

-- Rest of the ACC:

Georgia Tech at Georgia, 12:00: Clean, old-fashioned hate.

Miami at Duke, 12:30: Stripped of any meaning when Miami self-banned again.

Boston College at NC State, 3:00: Stripped of any meaning when BC started blowing chunks.

Maryland at North Carolina, 3:00: Somebody will be left grumbling about basketball season.

Florida State vs. Florida, 3:30: UF doesn't have a great offense, and with the game in Tallahassee, the ACC has a chance to score a nice upset.

Wake Forest vs. Vanderbilt, 3:30: Wake is also trying to get bowl-eligible.

Clemson vs. South Carolina, 7:00: A little bit of luck and the ACC could get a clean sweep against the SEC.


Anonymous said...

Well, that was a crappy way to end the season - brief glimmer of hope of a positive ending.

I've defended the coaching staff most of the year (well, not London), but I've got to find some fault with Lazor in that final drive. I've defended Rocco, but he doesn't have a big arm, and I have no idea why Lazor didn't try to get some crossing routes in the mix, instead of going with the out patterns that were going to be tough for Rocco in this weather. Of course, that looked not only like a bad throw, but it looked like a bad read by Rocco.

What the heck was London thinking at the end of the game? I can almost understand not using the timeouts earlier, but with 15 seconds left, 2 timeouts, and a 3rd down (I might have the time wrong), you use the timeout and buy yourself a few seconds and hope you can get lucky on a kick return. Instead, icing the kicker on a chip shot up the middle ... twice? WTF? Almost feels like London phoned it in ...

Going to be a big "offseason". Ideally, Phillip Sims starts to well ... understand the offense and takes the reins next year, but honestly, the competition should be opened to include Watford. I have no idea how we can have 7 QB's on the team next year, but barring a move by Cutler/Marshall, or a surprise transfer ... we're going to have 7.

Anonymous said...

Fire Mike London.

Anonymous said...

Much as I'm not a believer in Mike London as of right now, I think he gets another year. Now, I've seen elsewhere where UVA fans seem to suggest that if he doesn't win next year, he'll be on the hot seat in 2014. I tend to think he's on the hot seat entering 2013, and a bowl game is a must. Furthermore, I'm not sold that he can get away with just a bowl game. I think a winning season, a 7 or 8 win season, is needed, but that may be frustration talking.

There's a lot of things right with the program. He looks like a good steward for the program as it relates to outreach. Clearly, he, and his staff, have a message that works enough. Al Groh used to alternate good and bad years with his recruiting classes. Unless some odd things happen down the stretch, we are looking at 3 solid years of recruiting. There seems to be better raw talent.

That said, the coaching just doesn't seem to be there right now. London is in charge of the staff, and the ST's were awful. The coaches didn't seem to show much awareness or know how to adapt. Lazor took time to realize the run problems the OL had, and Reid and the defensive staff didn't get the youngsters cycling in there until mid-season. The QB situation is a mess, as Sims looks bad and Rocco has his flaws.

Of course, if we settle the QB situation, there's a lot of reasons to be optimistic in 2013. The DL should be strong, with Brathwaite and Harold poised for breakout seasons. The depth should be solid. The development of Canady potentially gives us a good secondary. It wouldn't surprise me if Canady became our top cornerback next year. There's raw talent at LB, and in this scheme, athleticism is a premium for what the LB's are asked to do.

Offensively, they've got a good RB depth chart (in all honesty, Mizzell should be redshirted, but he won't ... that said, Parks/Richardson/Sheperd/Morgan is a capable foursome. McGee's development gives a good weapon at TE, something we haven't had since Tom Santi (Torchia always had potential, but the offense had issues). You hope the WR's can take the next step, and you hope some young OL guys develop and that you can replace Aboushi.