Friday, September 28, 2012

game preview: Louisiana Tech

Date/Time: Saturday, September 29; 3:30


Record against the Bulldogs: First meeting

Last meeting: N/A

Last week: TCU 27, UVA 7; LT 52, Illinois 24

Line: LTech by 3

Funny how things work.  No doubt when this game was schedule, the Bulldogs were supposed to be the tomato can after two straight big-game opponents.  Now you've got Louisiana Tech at 3-0, averaging 50-some points a game, and even before the season there were some suggesting Penn State would be an easier game than this.  Even stranger, it's really a pivotal game.  It's one of those rare ones that could be a blowout either way, and will go a long way toward determining UVA's fate this season.

-- UVA run offense vs. LT run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 48 carries, 212 yards, 4.4 avg, 2 TDs
Perry Jones: 39 carries, 113, yards, 2.9 avg., 1 TD

UVA offense:
119.5 yards/game, 3.79 yards/attempt
88th of 124 (national), 7th of 12 (ACC)

LT defense:
168.0 yards/game, 3.76 yards/attempt
53rd of 124 (national), 4th of 7 (WAC)

I may be imagining this, or I may be thinking very wishfully, but has our run game slowly improved?  Or at least, it looked semi-functional at times against TCU?  The struggles on the offensive line have clearly not escaped the notice of the coaches, and Bill Lazor appeared to adjust accordingly against TCU, calling run plays that help to circumvent the weakness.  Several pitches, for example - one of my favorite running plays because it gives the ball to the running back with momentum.  This works well with a guy like Kevin Parks because even though he's not all that quick, momentum is a great thing for a powerfully-built guy like him.  We'll see more of that stuff this week - traps, pitches, counters - and less of the straight-ahead stuff.

The idea is to keep it away from 330-pound DT Justin Ellis.  Our O-line can't block anyone that big.  On the edges, you've got a similar deal as TCU: defensive ends built to rush the pass, not take on a 300-pound tackle.  DE Vontarrius Dora is a redshirt freshman, and Lazor may test his side early to see if there's something there to take advantage of.

I don't want to say "if we can't run on these guys, we can't run on anyone" because the Bulldogs have done a decent job corralling the run and it's possible we'll see worse run defenses in the ACC (Wake.) But then, Houston (their first opponent) is decidedly a passing team, and only runs so that you don't drop 10 into coverage.  Illinois is just poor in general and they managed at least a respectable running game.  The running game this week will be a little extra important because of Louisiana Tech's no-huddle, hurry-up offense, so I expect an attempt to control the clock as well.  Last week's effort of 116 yards is the best we've gotten from our running backs against I-A competition this year; expect to exceed that this weekend.

-- UVA pass offense vs. LT pass defense

Mike Rocco: 74/123, 60.2%; 838 yards, 4 TDs, 5 INTs; 6.81 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Darius Jennings: 15 rec., 183 yards, 1 TD
Kevin Parks: 12 rec., 95 yards, 0 TDs

UVA offense:
253.0 yards/game, 6.7 yards/attempt
87th of 124 (national), 12th of 12 (ACC)

LT defense:
330.0 yards/game, 6.7 yards/attempt
52nd of 124 (national), 3rd of 7 (WAC)

If ever there were a game tailor-made for the UVA approach to the passing game, it's right here.  You're tired, you say, of Mike Rocco trying to dink and dunk down the field?  You might not want to watch this one.  Louisiana Tech employs a nickel defense nearly exclusively, and plays a bend-don't-break zone.

The result is that LTech is 119th out of 124 in completion percentage allowed at 67.6%.  Houston's David Piland was 53-for-77(!!).  Illinois's Nathan Scheelhaase was 8-for-11 on a bum ankle, got pulled because of the nagging injury, and watched his backup go 19-for-25.  Mike Rocco was born for this game, man.  If he can't succeed against this defense, then yeah, maybe it's Sims time.

A couple players are to be watched for.  CB Le'Vander Liggins has 6 PBUs this season, although no interceptions.  (The only player with a pick for LTech is linebacker Solomon Randle; this lack of INTs is a result of the combination of the soft-zone defense and playing a couple teams in Rice and Houston who run a short-game pass offense that takes perfect advantage.)  LTech has also had a pretty effective pass rush, averaging three sacks a game with seven different players getting in on that action.

However.  This is Rocco's thing right here.  Starting Sims would actually be a fairly big mistake, because Sims has a ways to go to match Rocco's precision when Rocco is on, and good precision passing teams will eat this defense alive.  If Rocco is the Rocco we know he can be, you can expect a lot of YAC out of his receivers, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him complete 75% of his passes.  Two-thirds is a more realistic number, but still.  This is Rocco's big chance at redemption this season.

-- LT run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Kenneth Dixon: 43 carries, 244 yards, 5.7 avg., 4 TDs
Hunter Lee: 8 carries, 36 yards, 4.5 avg., 1 TD

LT offense:
232.33 yards/game, 5.49 yards/attempt
23rd of 124 (national), 1st of 7 (WAC)

UVA defense:
185.75 yards/game, 5.16 yards/attempt
108th of 124 (national), 10th of 12 (ACC)

For the second straight week, UVA catches a break with a season-ending injury to the opponent's star running back.  Freshman running back Tevin King was having a really nice season, averaging 8 yards a carry, but tore his ACL against Illinois, and that's that.

That means Kenneth Dixon will get the bulk of the carries, with former walk-on Hunter Lee most likely to spell him.  Dixon and King had been splitting the work almost evenly in the past.  Dixon has some not-too-shabby stats himself, averaging 5.7 yards a carry.  That said - most of that was against Rice and Houston, two teams you'd expect to give up a bunch of yards.  Rice, in fact, has the worst run defense in the country, giving up over 7 yards an attempt.  Illinois, on the other hand, did a solid job containing the Bulldog rushing game, and Dixon had just 41 yards against the Illini.

At the same time, TCU was also, for the most part, bottled up on the ground.  Yes, five yards a carry for our defense and all that.  That's that Georgia Tech game screwing with the stats.  Penn State and TCU combined for less than 3.5 yards a carry against the Hoos.  Combine that with Illinois's results against Louisiana Tech and you get a pretty good, optimistic outlook.

LTech has a very veteran, experienced offensive line, so you can't count on complete and total dominance.  Four of them are seniors, with RG Matt Shepperd being the only junior.  In the end, though, I don't expect the Bulldogs to be able to rely on the running game.  Against Houston and Rice they could use it as a weapon; against BCS-level teams it's more of a constraint to prevent defenses from totally sitting on the pass.  This is basically the exact same deal as TCU: every time the Bulldogs go to the run, it's a small win for UVA.

-- LT pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Colby Cameron: 68/98, 69.4%; 913 yards, 11 TDs, 0 INTs; 9.32 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Quinton Patton: 17 rec., 319 yards., 4 TDs
Myles White: 9 rec., 143 yards, 2 TDs

LT offense:
304.3 yards/game, 9.3 yards/attempt
11th of 124 (national), 1st of 7 (WAC)

UVA defense:
221.3 yards/game, 6.8 yards/attempt
56th of 124 (national), 5th of 12 (ACC)

Slowly - painfully slowly, but surely - the UVA pass defense is evolving into a workable strength.  Really.  It might not look that way after Casey Pachall dropped 300 yards on us, but we're getting there.  The next step is getting some interceptions.  Maurice Canady had a very nice one against TCU, which is a good sign.

This is a tough quarterback against whom to find your way into the plus side of the turnover margin, though, considering Colby Cameron hasn't thrown any this year.  Cameron has been ruthlessly efficient this year no matter what defense he's throwing against.  His favorite target: Quinton Patton, who has 17 catches already and is on pace for a 1,200-yard season.  In the defense-free zone that is the WAC, don't bet against him getting there.

But we're concerned about whether Scott Stadium will be a defense-free zone.  It's a worrisome thought.  The Bulldogs like a no-huddle offense, which obviously puts extra pressure on.  Patton is a burner with big-play capability, with touchdowns this year already of 78 and 65 yards.  Cameron likes to spread the ball around a lot, too; five other players have at least seven catches, but none besides Patton have more than nine.  The linebackers will probably find themselves heavily involved in pass coverage; LTech will line up three and four wide.  They don't use tight ends, but do throw to the running backs a lot.  (This is where the loss of Tevin King will also hurt.  Kenneth Dixon isn't a passcatching threat.)

It's the kind of attack you might think twice about blitzing against.  UVA will probably find itself in a nickel package more than it would like to, and if the corners are up to the task, great, but you don't want to leave holes on the field if you can help it, nor do you want to accidentally blitz a screen pass, which is a risk here.  Cameron is a little on the shorter side at 6'2", so this is a perfect game to emphasize hands in the passing lanes, and hopefully the defensive line will be good and active all day.  Sacks have not come easy for the Hoos this year, but pressure has been better than expected; the pass rushers have already sent two quarterbacks off the field grimacing in pain.  I don't need to point out the need to keep helping out the secondary this way.

The TCU game helped move me back from the "worst nightmare" ledge, but there are times where this still isn't gonna be any fun.  If Cameron doesn't get to 300 yards I'll be surprised.  We'll win easily if he doesn't, but more likely the game will hinge on just how many passes it takes him to reach 300.

-- Outlook

It's tempting to look at that Illinois game and think "we are SO dead."  But let's keep in mind: Illinois lost five fumbles.  LTech leads the country in recovered fumbles thanks to those five, and four more total in the other two games.  There's probably something to the idea that they try and get fumbles on purpose, but at some point that's a luck train that runs out.  The Bulldogs returned one of those fumbles for a touchdown and scored two more TDs and a field goal by landing in Illinois territory off of more turnovers.  Illinois lost by four touchdowns, but it's likely they actually win if they don't hand so many points to Louisiana Tech and kill their own drives at the same time.

No doubt about it: there'll be some frustrating times in this game.  But this is a better matchup than it looks like on the surface.  And who knows; maybe those sharp-looking retro uniforms will be a motivator too.  Plus it's nice to get back to friendly territory.  It's easy to overreact to a couple not-so-good weeks, but the final word is this: this is still more or less the same team that bounced back from a slow start last year as well, and finished with eight wins.  No reason it can't show up again this week.

-- Prediction summary:

-- UVA's running backs total more than 116 yards.
-- Mike Rocco gets back to completing more than two-thirds of his passes.
-- Colby Cameron throws for over 300 yards.
-- Louisiana Tech is held under 3.5 yards a carry.
-- If UVA holds the turnovers to no more than one, they'll win by double digits.

Final score: UVA 31, LT 27

-- Rest of the ACC:

Maryland off.

Georgia Tech vs. Middle Tennessee, 12:00: Whatever.

NC State @ Miami, 12:00: Thanks to last week, Miami, not Georgia Tech, has emerged as the primary threat to VT's Coastal hegemony.

Duke @ Wake Forest, 12:30: Slapfight.

Clemson @ Boston College, 3:30: Either going to be a blowout or a shocking upset (or very nearly one) but not in between.

North Carolina vs. Idaho, 3:30: Two straight losses will have UNC in a foul mood, and the Vandals look like the perfect punching bag to take it out on.

Virginia Tech @ Cincinnati, 3:30: Please don't lose to the Big East again, Hokies.  Wait, actually, please do.

Florida State @ South Florida, 6:00: A few years ago, USF put up a billboard welcoming themselves to the big time in Florida.  This game will probably show why that was a bad idea.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

the recruit: Jack English

Name: Jack English
Position: DE(?)
Hometown: Richmond
School: St. Christopher's
Height: 6'6"
Weight: 250

24/7: 78, two stars; #82 SDE, VA #47
ESPN: 73, three stars; #79 DT, VA #35, Atlantic #158
Rivals: 5.5, three stars; VA #27
Scout: two stars

Other offers: Virginia Tech

You've figured out what Mike London likes to do on the recruiting trail by now, right?  If he's gonna go out of state for a player, he's already got a pretty good idea (if not a rock-solid one) where that guy will slot.  Instate, he wants all the best players, but he'll also offer a guy if he's just kind of athletey, looks good at camp, and work out a position later.  Hence, Jack English (among others.)  I don't think the coaches have any idea where he'll play when he gets here.  I don't think they particularly care; the idea is that English can be useful at any number of positions.

English has drawn a lot of comparisons to Thompson Brown, who projected similarly and came from the same school.  Multiple recruiting sites can't help but mention Brown when they're talking about English.  As ESPN points out, English is bigger than Brown - Brown was almost as tall, but not as bulky, and could never have been imagined as a defensive tackle.  But Brown was a better athlete.  Really, it's almost a perfect illustration of a weakside defensive end (Brown) vs. strongside (English.)  Brown had more of that explosiveness you want in a pass-rusher, but English projects better as far as adding bulk.

It's easy to see English as a tight end; he's big enough now.  I'd even say there's an outside chance he could grow into offensive tackle territory, but I don't see it.  Much more likely is seeing him at strongside defensive end or defensive tackle.  Jake Snyder or Brent Urban are your models, though English doesn't quite have Urban's size, and Urban weighs 280 pounds and could probably go for 10 more if he had to; English probably tops out around 280 when all's said and done.  Ultimately I'd guess English will end up playing SDE in the role filled by Jake Snyder right now: run-stopper and obnoxious Gojira when quarterbacks are trying to throw bubble screens.  Almost like a defensive tackle playing on the end.

Let's be clear, though: this role isn't in the near future.  English needs a healthy dose of good weight before he's ready for defensive line duty in college.  And you don't recruit a guy like English with the idea he'll be an immediate contributor.  English had to hit the summer camps before he earned any offers, his first one coming from Virginia Tech the weekend before he camped in Charlottesville.  (Which is where he also earned his UVA offer, and committed to it very shortly thereafter.)  The scouting services all have some pretty consistent low rankings, and the offer list corroborates.  Even though SDE looks like English's best position, keep in mind that Michael Moore is currently awaiting Jake Snyder's graduation, and will be occupying the starting role for a while if things work out like they should.

The more likely scenario is that the coaches pick a spot for English when he arrives next fall - probably defensive end but you never know, they pulled a surprise and put Andre Miles-Redmond at DT so they can be tricky like that.  After that, though, they'll bury him on the depth chart for such time as is necessary to get him good and ready, and then put him wherever he's needed most.  That could be tight end, similar to how Jeremiah Mathis and Rob Burns ended up there.  That could be DE, or DT.  At this point English is probably three years from seeing the field in a non-special teams role, minimum, and projecting that far when you don't know what position you're projecting is awfully tough.  It's not the most exciting thing for fans, since it sort of requires us to forget about a guy for a while.  Coaches love that kind of flexibility, though: English represents, among other things, a protective security blanket against surprise attrition.

quarterback to the future

Would I be much of a writer if I thoroughly ignored the one all-consuming topic surrounding UVA football?  I would not.  I don't have to like it, though.  I seem to remember a short but blissful age when there was no quarterback controversy and we could all just argue over whether Morgan Moses should be a tackle or a guard.  Those were simpler times.  Although truthfully, they were little more than the eye of a hurricane, since of the last ten to twelve seasons of UVA football, perhaps two, maybe three, have been drama-free in that department.

But here we are four games in with a full-blown controversy on our hands.  Battle lines are drawn and it seems everyone must take sides.  Mike Rocco or Phillip Sims?  If you must label me, I'm a Rocco guy.  This is for several reasons as outlined below.  It's also because I've always been slow to cast aside the present for the future.  Take that little nugget of info for what it's worth, but I figure you can't properly judge my arguments without knowing that.  It's helped me to be spectacularly right, and it's led me astray.

Anyway.  I'll tell you right up front something that will disappoint you if you're desperately hoping to see Phillip Sims play every snap from here on out: this is a much bigger issue in the eyes of the fans than for the coaches.  Mike Rocco is starting against Louisiana Tech.  It was never going to be any different, and that was evident in the fourth quarter at TCU.  How so?  If the coaches thought Sims was ready for the top dog treatment, they wouldn't have plodded through the final drive as if winning by three scores instead of losing.  Sims got the ball with about 9:30 to go (actually he got it sooner, but his first "drive" was a total mess) and used over five minutes to score.  Could he have done it in three?  I don't know, but apparently the coaches didn't think so.  (And it bugged me that they evidently gave up on the game with so much time left.)

On the flip side, of course, they clearly didn't think Rocco could win it either, or he'd have stayed in.  So while the fans are blowing the issue up much more than the coaches are, it's not a complete nothing, either.  I've long had a high opinion of Rocco's short-throw accuracy, but it's down from last year.  Is it the result of (figuratively) looking over his shoulder?  Possibly.  Is it because he's getting less time to throw than he had last year with a better line?  Maybe.  But the offense is moving in fits and starts, and would move better if Rocco were playing better.  Hence the controversy.

Now, that said, the better choice right now is obviously Rocco.  It can't be any other.  Several reasons for this:

-- Rocco knows the playbook.  A hackneyed phrase from those of us who've been beating this particular drum, but true.  Sims told Michael Phillips he has "85-90% of the playbook" down, but I'm skeptical of the number.  His failure to throw to the correct receiver was transparent to the announcers on Saturday on at least one play, with Brian Griese pointing out he threw to a clearing route (that wasn't open) instead of the primary receiver, who was wide open and would have earned a first down.

Knowledge of the playbook, by the way, is generally underrated.  Remember: a playbook isn't just a collection of plays like in Tecmo Super Bowl.  The usual response to "Rocco knows the playbook" is "what's the difference if Sims only knows half of it but Rocco can only execute half of it?"  (The implication being, the deep plays aren't open to him.)  For one, chucking it deep Sexy Rexy style is probably three percent of the playbook.  Rocco can make the twenty, thirty yard throws, and hit Darius Jennings right on the helmet on a hitch-and-go fly pattern, and the helmet only because Jennings failed to use his hands in the recommended manner.  But the larger point is this: a playbook is a system, with plays designed to feed off of each other.  Hucking it deep to the covered receiver running a clearing route is a great way to show a lack of understanding of that concept.  An unready quarterback without proper knowledge of the system is a great way to stunt the development of the rest of the offense.  I'm almost positive I made that exact same argument when calling for Marc Verica to keep starting two years ago and for Rocco to sit.

-- The coaches are starting Rocco, therefore I think we should probably start Rocco.  There's a certain egomaniacal hubris in thinking you know who should start based on what you see on one day of the week....better than the guys who see the principals seven days of the week.  Even more so when you're judging based on performances in garbage time, against second-string defenses and/or prevent defenses.

-- But the main point is this: There is still a LOT left to lose this season!  It's an age-old UVA fan thing: give up early and "develop for the future."  Besides the fact that there's nothing automatic about development, anybody willing to throw in the towel for this season (and those people exist, whether or not they'll admit it) has a twisted view on life if they think the future will be improved by a losing season.  If you think Sims will do a better job than Rocco this year - well, fine.  I disagree, but fine.  If you think it's OK if we don't go to a bowl game as long as Sims "develops," I question your grasp on cause and effect.

I think on Saturday we got our best look yet at where Sims stands in his development.  That ball comes out of his hands gorgeously, doesn't it?  Wherever it's going, it looks stunning in the process of getting there.  If it's a complete pass, it's a lot of fun to watch.  The problem is that five-for-twelve, when stretched over 60 minutes of football, isn't a winning formula, and neither is hoping the other team's DBs drop the easiest interception of their life.  If Sims had been on his game, it's very possible I'd find myself drawn mesmerized toward the light.

Well, we shall see, this weekend.  Six turnovers against Illinois notwithstanding (five were fumbles, which the defense has considerably less actual impact on than interceptions) Louisiana Tech has one of the worst defenses we'll see this season.  If you're already convinced we need Sims right now, then this game won't do anything to change your mind regardless of what Rocco does, but nevertheless it's a great chance for Rocco to put a little bit of a firmer grip on the job.  Win and he starts against Duke the following week.  Lose and I don't know what happens - it all depends.  It might change Mike London's mind.  It might even be enough to change mine.


Now for the usual and highly belated look at this week's high school results.

Good Counsel 45, Gonzaga 24: Kirk Garner had an 81-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the win.  OLGC is 4-1.

A.L. Brown 39, Central Cabarrus 7: I link this just to point out that Keeon Johnson missed his second week of play with turf toe.

Ocean Lakes 50, First Colonial 14: Corwin Cutler threw three touchdowns, but this week's game is overshadowed by next week's: Cutler and unbeaten Ocean Lakes vs. Bucky Hodges and unbeaten Salem.  Ocean Lakes is 5-0.

Bayside 53, Kempsville 6: Smoke Mizzell ran for four touchdowns and returned a punt for one more.  Bayside is 3-2.

Hermitage 20, Varina 17: Tim Harris caught three passes in this week's only loss for any of our recruits.  Varina is 2-1.

Salisbury 10, Hotchkiss 6 (Sadiq Olanrewaju) - Salisbury is 1-0
Damascus 35, Einstein 0 (Zach Bradshaw) - Damascus is 4-0
Potomac 32, Freedom 0 (Donta Wilkins) - Potomac is 2-2
BC High 31, Dartmouth 0 (Jack McDonald) - BC High is 2-0
Monsignor Donovan 24, Barnegat Twp. 21 (Brad Henson) - Donovan is 1-1
South Iredell 51, Bunker Hill 7 (LaChaston Smith) - South Iredell is 5-1
Houston Westside 48, Fort Bend Kempner 21 (Hipolito Corporan) - Westside is 2-2
Oscar Smith 49, Nansemond River 0 (Zack Jones) - Oscar Smith is 3-1
St. Christopher's 40, Norfolk Academy 14 (Jack English) - St. Chris is 2-1
Fork Union 21, Christchurch 7 (Malcolm Cook) - FUMA is 4-1

A couple bonus links along these lines; first, a Washington Post interview with Zach Bradshaw on his switch from Penn State to UVA.  Good news on the injury front as LaChaston Smith is out of his walking boot, though he won't play this weekend.  Lots of strengthening and rehab to do.  And one link that has nothing to do with recruiting at all: an article from Scout's Seattle Mariners affiliate(yeah, they do pro teams too) about the UVA pipeline to the Pacific Northwest.  The best part:
(Mariners scout Mike) Moriarty continued, "That whole staff there -- from O'Connor to (Kevin) McMullan to (Karl) Kuhn, everyone -- they do things the right way. They practice the right way and they play the right way. They teach kids the fundamentals and they develop players with good instincts - and that's a credit to them. And all of these guys here (that the M's have picked in the last several seasons), they have it."

Dear superstar baseball recruits who want a college education and a good path to the pros: hint hint.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

weekend review

Funny thing.  We lost on Saturday.  I know that, you know that.  The scoreboard says so, the articles say so, and the fanbase is certainly acting like it.  So why don't I feel like we lost?

For one, it's not like we were supposed to win.  And it never felt like we were out of it.  At least not to me.  Mike London is right when he says there are a lot of positives to take away.  At the risk of sounding like Pete Hughes, a couple plays here and there and suddenly it's a whole new ballgame.  It's a huge week-to-week improvement to be able to point to a few plays instead of, like, all of them.

And that improvement has got me as optimistic as if we were coming off a win.  I wrote on just such a topic for InsideTheACC this week.  This is supposed to be a rebuilding year, right?  Last year was a fun little surprise.  This year is supposed to be a step back for reasons largely already detailed.  And the Hoos are 2-2 anyway, which I said is right where we want to be.

Now take a look at the schedule ahead and tell me that doesn't look like fun.  UVA can come out of the next four games with a 6-2 record.  That would probably make people too happy, but it's not like I'm gonna wish for 5-3 just for the sake of level heads.  The great thing about the potential four-game winning streak staring us in the face is that it would bring that coveted bowl eligibility nice and early.

Now that I've done everything humanly possible to jinx the pants off of the whole season, let's get into the game itself in more detail here.

-- After the Penn State game I took a look at what Penn State fans were saying about the game at their various Internet gathering places.  One of the themes was "argh why does UVA have all these Godzilla defensive linemen knocking everything down??"  (Lots of capital letters and bad language were added to the theme after the blocked extra point.)  This week, in the game recap, TCU's Casey Pachall specifically said he was throwing the ball higher to avoid swatdowns by defensive linemen, something that was probably emphasized in film sessions and hammered home when Jake Snyder batted down an early Pachall throw.  Casey Pachall is six foot five!  That makes it official: this is an asset going forward.  Several of the quarterbacks we face in the remainder of the season, including Louisiana Tech's Colby Cameron, are more like 6'2".  We might have to get a count going of rejected pass attempts.

-- I almost made it this far without saying the word "quarterback," though I wasn't talking about ours.  In a development that's likely to get me throttled by one of my legion of adoring yet frustrated fans, you'll have to wait til tomorrow to get a full rundown of that.  The situation has gotten to the point where it's worth a full post.  I'll leave it at this for a teaser: Phillip Sims throws one of the nicest damn spirals you'll ever see in college, so it's understandable that there's a clamor to see him play more.  It looks purty whether it's headed directly for the intended receiver's hands or the turf ten yards in front of him.

-- I was asstacular once again on my predictions this week, but I do deserve credit for one thing: I said Bill Lazor should attack the edges on the running game and damn if that didn't work.  Every running play that was worth a damn went outside, and every one that went inside got stuffed.

-- The most underrated reason we lost?  Maybe the actual biggest reason?  TCU's secret kickoff weapon.  You know it's not a good day in the field position game when it's the fourth quarter and the announcer says, "UVA starts this drive on their own 22, which is their best field position of the day."  That's awful.  It takes a really, really good, big-play-driven offense to consistently score when it has to go more than 83 yards on average to get to the end zone.

-- Several things were done well on Saturday.  Many things need to get better.  One thing has to get a lot better: Luke Bowanko's shotgun snaps.  We were lucky that one of them didn't end up rolling the wrong way downfield with the quarterback frantically chasing it.  It's obvious Bowanko isn't comfortable with the concept.  I'm no O-line coach but I would guess it means he's rushing the snap and trying to get to his blocking assignment quickly, and not following through correctly as a result.  Most of the snaps were high and required a little hop from the quarterback to snag them, and all of them floated in at half speed.  That throws the timing off, badly.  The even worse part is, the offense looked and felt more effective from the shotgun than from under center, meaning you can see the potential that's there if the snaps improve.

-- More on this and what it means tomorrow, but the most disappointing thing was this: Being three scores from the lead with nine and a half minutes to go is not an insurmountable obstacle.  Obviously TCU didn't think it was, because they put together a quick insurance drive to get the points back that Phillip Sims put on the board.  But our coaches treated it like one.  That was very telling as it regards to the quarterback situation, but, again: tomorrow.

Oh well.  Prediction review:

-- Not counting obvious attempts to mercifully run down the clock, the playcalling split for both teams will be higher than 60-40 in favor of the pass.  A quick look at the stats would seem to prove me wrong, here, but a closer look is required.  Two of TCU's "run plays" were kneeldowns, and five of them were Pachall scrambles.  That pushes them up to at least 64-36.  The same holds true for UVA; when you move sacks and scrambles into the passing category, the balance tips way, way over toward the pass.  More like 65-35.

-- Both quarterbacks will complete better than 65% of their passes.  Well, Pachall held up his end of the bargain.  I can think of three outright drops by UVA receivers that would've gotten Rocco closer, but as the stats will show he fell short by a wide margin.

-- Casey Pachall will top 350 yards.  I really thought our secondary did at least a decent job, and maybe holding Pachall to 305 yards is proof?  Especially since over 100 of them came on two plays.  Like I said: much better to be able to point to a couple plays instead of the whole game when you're looking for ways to improve.

-- UVA's running game again fails to generate 4 yards a carry.  No, Mike Rocco scrambling for 27 yards does not count as "UVA's running game."  However, Parks's big play does.  Take out that and I get it right.....but it's not fair to do that.

-- More of Rocco's passes are caught by TEs and RBs than WRs.  Should've said "Sims and Rocco" but either way, I am thoroughly right here.

A 2-for-5 showing moves me to 7-for-21.  Also damn you TCU for scoring that last touchdown; if I'd put money on this game the way I did on the Michigan game I'd be even more pissed, but as it is the only consequence is me dropping to 0-2-2 against the spread, but moving to 4-0 overall on game predictions.


You get this week's Blogpoll ballot and that'll be it for today.  I have a lot to go over re: the ballot, so once again, Senior Seasons gets moved to another day.  It'll probably be at the bottom of tomorrow's quarterback manifesto.  Das balloten:

SB Nation BlogPoll Top 25 College Football Rankings

From Old Virginia Ballot - Week 4

Rank Team Delta
1 Alabama Crimson Tide --
2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish Arrow_up 1
3 Florida St. Seminoles Arrow_up 2
4 LSU Tigers Arrow_up 2
5 Georgia Bulldogs Arrow_up 4
6 South Carolina Gamecocks Arrow_up 7
7 Florida Gators Arrow_down -5
8 Oregon Ducks Arrow_up 2
9 Kansas St. Wildcats Arrow_up 8
10 TCU Horned Frogs Arrow_up 5
11 UCLA Bruins Arrow_up 9
12 Texas Longhorns --
13 Oregon St. Beavers --
14 Ohio St. Buckeyes Arrow_down -7
15 Arizona St. Sun Devils --
16 Clemson Tigers Arrow_down -8
17 Northwestern Wildcats Arrow_up 6
18 USC Trojans Arrow_up 4
19 Louisville Cardinals Arrow_down -1
20 Stanford Cardinal Arrow_down -9
21 Arizona Wildcats Arrow_down -2
22 Ohio Bobcats Arrow_up 3
23 Miami Hurricanes --
24 Iowa St. Cyclones Arrow_down -3
25 Virginia Tech Hokies --
Dropouts: Oklahoma Sooners, Michigan St. Spartans, West Virginia Mountaineers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
SB Nation BlogPoll College Football Top 25 Rankings »
So this week I move to the system that'll determine the ballot from here on out.  (Hence the large number of weird-looking changes.  If you want to suggest a change, I'm all ears, but it has to be based on somebody having a better or worse resume than I gave them credit for, not "why did so-and-so drop so far?")  I'm a long-winded ol' bastard who enjoys hearing himself talk (type) and am also fully onboard with the spirit of transparency that the Blogpoll operates on, so this is how it works:

-- Step 1: Determine an eligible pool of teams.  This is done by selecting a record that teams under consideration must have, or be better than.  This week, that's 2-1.  You had to be 2-1 or better (3-1, 3-0, 4-0, whatever) in order to be under consideration.  To further narrow things down, unless a team was 4-0, they had to have a win over a Big Five team (the Big East is no longer a power conference) in order to be considered.  (And if a team was 4-0, they had to not be named "UTSA" and have two of their wins be over Division II teams.)  This put 37 teams into contention (and removed a couple stalwarts like Oklahoma and Michigan State.  They'll be back though).  That's a little bit on the large side, but well within a normal range regardless.

-- Step 2: Each team's slate of games is ranked from 1 to whatever.  Step 2 guidelines:
  • Wins are always ranked above losses, no matter how competitive the loss or ugly the win.  This minimizes later juxtapositions of Team A's wins to Team B's losses and allows for an apples to apples comparison.
  • If a team has had a bye week, the bye is placed exactly in the middle, or if we're in an even-numbered week, one below the middle.  This week, byes are #3 of 4.  Again allowing an apples to apples comparison, and giving all teams with fewer games than weeks the same amount of "credit" for their byes.
  • Generally, of course, beating a Big Five team is better than beating a mid-major is better than beating a I-AA team, but I also look at it in terms of what you should and should not do.  For example, let's say you're Mississippi State (who came in 30th this week.)  You should beat Jackson State by 47; you should not beat Troy by only 6.  (Not if you want to be ranked, that is.  Therefore the Jackson State game is Miss State's third-best, and the Troy game is their worst.  These get looked at fresh each week, so if Troy goes on a Sun Belt rampage and ends up 10-2, that game will move up.
-- Step 3: Each team's best game is ranked against all the other best games, the second-best against the second-best, and so on all the way to the bottom.  The team with the best game in each category gets one point, the team with the worst gets 37 (or however many teams are there that week) and so on up and down.  Guidelines here:
  • It's better to beat a good team by a little than a mediocre or bad team by a lot.
  • If margins of victory and opponent strength are similar, it's better to have a low-scoring game than a high-scoring game.  Example: in considering two 21-point wins, 24-3 is better than 35-14 is better than 49-28.
  • When I get to the point where I have to compare wins to losses, I break it up into four categories, in order from best to worst: good wins, good losses, bad wins, bad losses.
  • In the section where byes are involved, byes are ranked just like a game.  For example, it's probably better to have had a bye than to have beaten Army by one lousy point.  Seven of the 37 teams have had byes so far, and they stretch from #25 to #31 in the ranking.  Those teams get the average of that, which is 28.  Yes, this punishes byes.  It should.  4-0 is better than 3-0, 3-1 is better than 2-1.
-- Step 4: All the points are tallied up - the fewer the better - and that determines the ranking.  Ties are broken by who had the best "best game."

-- Step 5: Fudge factor is applied if I think the system gave me a stupid result.  Most often this happens when two teams are very close, but the lower-ranked team beat the higher-ranked one.  (Yes, I'm aware there's at least two instances of this in this week's ballot.  I'm OK with those.  Stanford is being punished for beating San Jose State by three and Oregon State only has two games on their resume.)

So that is how the ballot is arrived at.  And that's why the Blogpoll is better than any of the "real" ranking polls; nobody in those polls will ever tell you their rationale behind their ballot.  Particularly not the coaches' poll.  I like this system because it fully considers every team's entire resume.

Friday, September 21, 2012

game preview: TCU

Date/Time: Saturday, September 22; 12:00


Record against the Frogs: 1-1

Last meeting: TCU 30, UVA 14; 9/12/09; Charlottesville

Last weekend: GT 56, UVA 20; TCU 20, Kansas 6

Line: TCU by 19.5

Opposing blog: Frogs O' War

Nice Froggies, nice Froggies.  UVA's stretch of doom comes to an end after this weekend in Texas, where the Hoos will have all they can handle from 17th-ranked TCU.  This is the best team we've played so far, which is a depressing thought when you lost to the not-best team by five touchdowns.  A win here would be a big step for UVA's obvious recruiting aspirations in Texas, but...yeah.  They're ranked 17th.

It's a little bit weird that we set up a home-and-home three years apart, but there you go.  How long ago was that game?  James Johnson committed to UVA hoops the week after, which means his entire association with UVA came in between TCU games.  TCU was in the Mountain West, and their entire association with the Big East came in between UVA games.  We were running the Gregg Brandon spread (badly) and as a result the last meeting with these guys was one of the dreariest experiences of my life.  Jameel Sewell was still the quarterback.    Both teams are better now than they were then, but that's not saying much on our part, and TCU is legit.

-- UVA run offense vs. TCU run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 36 carries, 128 yards, 3.6 avg, 2 TDs
Perry Jones: 27 carries, 81 yards, 3.0 avg., 1 TD

UVA offense:
104.7 yards/game, 3.31 yards/attempt
101st of 124 (national), 8th of 12 (ACC)

TCU defense:
60.5 yards/game, 2.05 yards/attempt
9th of 124 (national), 1st of 10 (B12)

Again with it being still early, you can't read a whole lot into the above numbers, at least as far as TCU is concerned.  Half of that is from letting Grambling do nothing.  TCU's run defense probably isn't quite that good.

Then again, "not that good" is still "good enough" when it comes to stopping the UVA attack (and I use that word liberally.)  Mike London and Bill Lazor have both openly expressed frustration with the play of the interior line and their ability to open holes.  Conner Davis pretty much isn't ready for the starting job, but Cody Wallace is hurt and Davis is the only option unless you scoot Morgan Moses inside and start a redshirt freshman (Jay Whitmire) at tackle.

For TCU's part, they had a somewhat rocky offseason, losing some potential starters in the front six (TCU runs a 4-2-5 defense similar to Duke's) when it turned out a few of them were doubling as street pharmacists.  Their linebackers and rover safety, however, do a good job filling the run lanes.  LB Joel Hasley is leading the team so far with 17 tackles in the first two games, and the positions of the top four tacklers are LB, rover safety, LB, backup LB.  Besides Hasley, LB Kenny Cain and backup LB Paul Dawson have been leading the charge so far, and safety Jonathan Anderson has been a very promising player as well so far in his career.

In the past, Lazor has done a good job using playcalling to cover up personnel weaknesses.  He did a good job in his first year here setting Marc Verica up for success.  Attacking the TCU defense will probably involve the outside.  The TCU DEs are fairly undersized.  Senior leader Ross Forrest is out for the year, so the Frogs turned to freshman Devonte Fields.  Fields has done well getting into the backfield but can also be pushed off the line.  On the other side, Stansly Maponga hasn't yet been a major factor, though he earned a bunch of preseason accolades.  If TCU gets the production they expect from Maponga, he could close off the lanes on his side, but he's been quiet so far.

If Lazor and Mike Rocco are able to establish the pass, UVA should then be able to find some success with draws and traps.  And in any case, you'll probably see an emphasis on running to the edge in order to try and take advantage of potential mismatches, and get the linebackers moving side to side.  Simply butting our heads against the middle is not likely to work; our line isn't likely to be able to get any push and the TCU linebackers are too good at this for us to consistently have any success that way.

Kansas is not a great team, but they were able to eke out a respectable 4.1 yards a carry on the ground against TCU.  Can the Hoos reach that level?  Until they prove it, no.  There will probably be the occasional flirtation with success, but not sustainably.  TCU has a solid history of stopping the run, so they get the benefit of any doubt.  Besides, the way TCU moves the ball through the air we might be forced to give up on the run before the game is over.

-- UVA pass offense vs. TCU pass defense

Mike Rocco: 61/95, 64.2%; 712 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs; 7.5 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Darius Jennings: 13 rec., 172 yards, 1 TD
Kevin Parks: 10 rec., 80 yards, 0 TD

UVA offense:
274.3 yards/game, 7.3 yards/attempt
64th of 124 (national), 7th of 12 (ACC)

TCU defense:
164.5 yards/game, 6.2 yards/attempt
43rd of 124 (national), 5th of 10 (B12)

If we want to win the game, this is where it has to happen.  You can try and control the ball by running it (and we certainly have to limit the time Casey Pachall has to work with) but the way things have been, that's a great way to go three-and-out and not control the ball at all.

No, I expect Bill Lazor will put on his creative hat and try all sorts of passes.  Rocco will be given a lot of work this week, in the passing-as-ersatz-running-game department.  TCU has a respectable secondary, and they get a good pass rush, but that's not really in the calculation this week.  If they had the Philadelphia Eagles' secondary we'd still be passing, because that's the kind of game this is going to be.

A word about that pass rush - it's solid, and the 4-2-5 allows you to try some interesting blitzy stuff.  Joel Hasley has two sacks coming in on the blitz, another point of pressure on the interior line.  The aforementioned undersized defensive ends are that way because they can generate a good speed rush.  Fortunately, we have the ability to use the TCU aggressiveness against them.  The running backs and tight ends have been very active participants in the passing game, which gives us a chance to throw at a blitz for big yards.

Regardless, as I said: Lazor will probably call his plays with an eye toward establishing what he wants to do, not as a reaction to what the defense shows him.  Look for about a 60-40 or even 65-35 playcall split in favor of the pass, and for the TEs and RBs to get the majority of the receptions.  UVA has to have some semblance of ball control to win, and the way to do that will be to call a bunch of makable passes with an eye toward staying in bounds after the catch.

-- TCU run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Matthew Tucker: 19 carries, 100 yards, 5.3 avg., 0 TDs
B.J. Catalon: 13 carries, 63 yards, 4.8 avg., 0 TDs

TCU offense:
203.5 yards/game, 5.22 yards/attempt
33rd of 124 (national), 8th of 10 (B12)

UVA defense:
203.33 yards/game, 5.40 yards/attempt
109th of 124 (national), 12th of 12 (ACC)

Once again, the numbers lie: obviously those defensive stats are heavily influenced by the Georgia Tech game, and TCU, thank the stars, does not run the triple option.  Truth is, the best comparison so far is Penn State, albeit with better personnel here.

TCU appeared to take a major hit with the loss of top running back and home run threat Waymon James to a knee injury this week.  (Sounds like Elmer Fudd trying to pronounce the stadium where the Tampa Bay Bucs play.)  It might not matter though; Matthew Tucker has run pretty effectively too, these first couple games.  James was a lot better, but Tucker certainly was no slouch.

Our D-line will have their hands full with a TCU offensive line that doesn't include a single 200-pounder.  But the level of competition TCU has faced so far makes it tough to judge their abilities.  That said, Tucker has a very, very good body of work for his career, so ultimately I don't draw a lot of comfort from James's absence.  Tucker is a biggish, powerful back, and B.J. Catalon can be a nice change of pace, so TCU fans might notice James's absence, but we probably won't.

Still.  The truth is, every time TCU keeps it on the ground, that's a win for us, given the ugliness of the passing game matchups.  Even after last week's crimes against football, I still believe in the strength of our defense against a conventional run.  I very much expect Tucker to be held below his career average of 5.5 yards a carry, and better yet, a run play means they're not passing the ball.  For that latter reason, I don't think TCU will run the ball much more than we will.  A 60-40 split in favor of the pass is likely, until and unless TCU gets a lead big enough to run down the clock.

-- TCU pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Casey Pachall: 33/39, 84.6%; 536 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs; 13.74 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Josh Boyce: 9 rec., 168 yards, 2 TDs
Brandon Carter: 9 rec., 162 yards, 3 TDs

TCU offense:
305.5 yards/game, 13.0 yards/attempt
1st of 124 (national), 1st of 10 (B12)

UVA defense:
193.3 yards/game, 5.9 yards/attempt
29th of 124 (national), 4th of 12 (ACC)

DOOM.  Casey Pachall's stats might be a little pumped up by getting easy long plays against Grambling, but whatever the competition, you have to respect an 85% completion rate.  This is where we get to the part that people are looking at when they put an almost 20-point line on this game.

At wide receiver, Josh Boyce and Brandon Carter are very good players and Pachall's favorite targets.  Boyce was a hair shy of a 1,000-yard season last year.  Neither are very big, so a size matchup with our smaller corners isn't a problem, but they're tough covers regardless.  The matchup problem comes when 6'4" receiver LaDarius Brown comes on the field.

UVA may have to go nickel a lot in this game, since our linebackers aren't too likely to be able to consistently stay with a receiver like Brown.  TCU doesn't use the tight end in the passing game, so Maurice Canady is going to get a ton of work.  That'll complicate things; you know how brutally inexperienced the secondary is, and any time you're taking an experienced linebacker off the field for a true freshman corner, you're holding your breath.  Against TCU that's not going to be just a third-down thing.

I just hate our chances here.  Pass rush or die is the way it has to be, and that could use some real work, as we have three sacks this year and Steve Greer has two of them, both in the Penn State game against the cement-footed Matt McGloin.  There's no way Pachall doesn't rack up an easy 350 yards on Saturday, unless he snaps his leg in two during warmups.  Dude's got weapons and knows how to use 'em.  The prediction is death and destruction.

-- Outlook

This game starts at 11 AM Central time, so the main hope is that TCU fans and students are too hung over to bother showing up.  Otherwise, it's a road game, at a weird start time (worse for us because the TCU guys have had 11 AM starts before, and we haven't) against an offense well-equipped to take advantage of our weaknesses.  Yeah, that line of 20 or so looks about right.  I'll start to believe we can win if Mike Rocco is able to match Casey Pachall pass for pass.  I think that's doable, it's just not all that likely.  Fortunately, this is the last we gonna die game for a long time.  The next one might just be on Thanksgiving weekend.  (Or it might be a little earlier and I don't notice because we're coming off what I hope is a four-game win streak starting next weekend.)  At any rate, we gonna die.

-- Prediction summary

(Ed. Enjoying a scotch (or one of various other fine beverages) while watching Thursday night football and writing the game preview is one of my favorite things to do.  It has its downside, however.  With that in mind, here are the predictions that I forgot about last night.)

-- Not counting obvious attempts to mercifully run down the clock, the playcalling split for both teams will be higher than 60-40 in favor of the pass.

-- Both quarterbacks will complete better than 65% of their passes.

-- Casey Pachall will top 350 yards.

-- UVA's running game again fails to generate 4 yards a carry.

-- More of Rocco's passes are caught by TEs and RBs than WRs.

-- Final score: TCU 38, UVA 21

-- Rest of the ACC:

Boston College off.

Virginia Tech vs. Bowling Green, 12:00: Maroon and orange vs. brown and orange.  I think they're trolling everyone's fashion sense.

Maryland @ West Virginia, 12:00: The good news is, we're not the deadest ACC team this weekend.  Maryland is.

Wake Forest vs. Army, 12:30: Big-scoring game, this.  Army's defense is absolutely dreadful.

Miami @ Georgia Tech, 3:00: Miami gave up 52 points to Kansas State because they were positively owned in the trenches.  It wouldn't surprise to see a third-straight 50-pointer out of GT.

North Carolina vs. East Carolina, 3:30: It's not like UNC has a bowl trip to protect, what with sanctions and all, but if they did, this game would be a must-win for eligibility purposes, having lost two games in a row now.

Duke vs. Memphis, 6:00: Memphis is truly horrible, which makes them an ideal future Big East team.

NC State vs. The Citadel, 6:00: The Citadel is 3-0 and threatening to muster up what would be only their second winning season since 1998.  They're still not a threat to knock off the Pack, though.  One hopes.

Clemson @ Florida State, 8:00: ACC why u make all best matchups in September???

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

the last domino

That's Notre Dame, in case you haven't been paying attention to the news.  Conference realignment is slowly working its way toward some kind of equilibrium, and Notre Dame represented a major, major step in that department: the last unpredictable element.

It's become a very badly kept secret that Texas's AD DeLoss Dodds absolutely coveted Notre Dame for the Big 12, and was willing to do most anything to make it happen.  (It so happens that DeLoss Dodds not getting his way is one of the most beautiful and satisfying things about the ND/ACC matchup.  I'll bet you anything that if ND had struck the same agreement with the Big 12, and played five games a year against Big 12 teams, Dodds would've tried to engineer it so Texas never had to skip a year against Notre Dame.  But I digress.)  It's also a long-running badly-kept secret that the Big Ten had been working on Notre Dame for, like, decades.  With the impending obsolescence of Notre Dame's independent model, the Irish represented the one remaining really unpredictable piece of the conference realignment game.  Where they went and how they did it was going to have major implications.  Now that Notre Dame has found a home, the highest tier of college football (and sports in general) is just about set, and what isn't set is easy to see.

Mind you, I'm speaking only of the upper tier, of which the Big East is no longer part.  The next level down, which includes the MWC, CUSA, and Biggish Eastish, probably has a lot of shuffling left.  It's open season on jumping to I-A again, and that's going to continue to make a mess of things.  Basketball conferences like the CAA, A-10, and the like, face uncertain futures.  There are still a few odd pieces, like the leftover WAC teams forced into football independence.  But the big five?  (Which we might as well capitalize: Big Five.)  They're settling in for the long haul.

A few items do remain, namely:

-- What happens when Notre Dame becomes a full football member of the ACC?  This is largely inevitable, by the way.  I'm not the only one who thinks this.  In fact, folks who think the arrangement as it stands now is the long-term, definite solution....I think they're in the clear minority.  ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski figures ND will be ACC-for-real by 2024.  I give it less time than that.  2020 is what I reckon.  That'll be fun when that happens, because we'll have a 16th slot to give out to whoever says "please" the nicest.  UConn?  Rutgers?  Navy?  Louisville?  Here's a crazy thought: ODU.  They're going I-A, and being as they sit plop in the middle of Talentville, it's not nuts to think they'll be good enough by 2020 for the ACC to at least give them a look.  Regardless, the ACC will grow by one sometime in the next ten years.

-- Does the Big 12 want to get back to 12 teams?  I imagine it does.  Louisville would be a prime candidate - the prime candidate, really - and WVU would probably push for it.  Who else?  One of the Texas schools, maybe.  I would look in the direction of Brigham Young myself.  I don't think BYU's experiment with football independency will work out so hot.  Boise State is another idea, if they can stay relevant long enough.  Regardless, once again, the candidate will be someone from the lower tier.

That, in fact, is the larger point.  I firmly believe we're done with power conferences poaching other power conferences.  The ACC is almost completely poach-proof now.  Both of the above expansion scenarios involve expansion for a goal other than footprint expansion or making 1+1 equal 3.  In the case of the Big 12 it's just about hosting a championship game again, and for the ACC it'd be about evening things up.  The list of teams unhappy enough with their current situation that they're legitimate rumor targets has dwindled to zero.

So other than that, there's no longer any reason to expand.  For anyone.  The 4x16 superconference model is dead, not that it was ever viable to begin with (and you can best believe I told you so in that regard.)  It's not happening.  Why would it?  The SEC added Texas A&M to get into the Texas market, and Missouri to make an even number (and the markets Mizzou brings are no slouches either.)  There's nowhere else to go.  They're not gonna want to split the pie up any more.  The only conquest left is Texas, and Texas isn't going anywhere where it can't be the boss.

The Big Ten has figured out how to breed a money tree (scientific name: Bigtenius Networkilus) and the list of schools they ever desired to share that with was one long: Notre Dame.  (People who preached the superconference model always had Iowa State in the Big Ten.  To which I always asked: why?)  The Pac-12 isn't going to become the Pac-Even-Bigger without Texas.  And since the Big 12 has stabilized thanks to Texas's realization that the Big 12 is the only conference where they can keep the Longhorn Network, they're not going anywhere either.

So with apologies to Gerald Ford, our long national nightmare is mostly over.  As far as the power conferences go, we can say goodbye to the days of 10 rumors for every actual move.  I suppose the next question is "now that the five conferences have drawn themselves a nice little line of demarcation, are the NCAA's days numbered?"  People will ask that; the idea being, why should the Big Five share the schwag and have about 300 other D-I schools constantly trying to take a cut and push the big schools around, just because there are way more little schools that can outvote them at every turn?  (The answer is "March Madness," but I wouldn't be surprised if, in the next eight years or so, the Big Five at least try to assert a little bit of further separation between themselves and the rest of college football.)

Don't get me wrong: as I said, we're not done with conference realignment.  The Big East is facing an existential crisis, in that none of its best teams want to be there, and it just lost the country's flagship Catholic school - which until just recently was a big reason the basketball wing of the conference hung around.  That particular Jenga tower is a couple pulls away.   Idaho and New Mexico State can't survive as independents.  There's only so much room in the Sun Belt and MAC for new arrivals to I-A football, of which there are four this year and at least four more coming soon.  So there's still plenty of shuffling to be done.  But all among the unwashed masses.  We in the Big Five can finally sit back and watch it unfold.  The only drama left now is finding out what's behind door number sixteen.  (And then, when that finally does happen, shuffling the divisional alignments, but that's not exactly a panic-mode thing.  You can help make it work by getting on board with this scheduling idea, which is the best one ever.)

the recruit: LaChaston Smith

Name: LaChaston Smith
Position: LB
Hometown: Statesville, NC
School: South Iredell
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 211

24/7: 89, three stars; #28 OLB, NC #13
ESPN: 80, four stars; #40 OLB, NC #17, Southeast #196
Rivals: 5.7, three stars; #35 OLB, NC #17
Scout: three stars; #42 MLB

Other offers: Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Minnesota, East Carolina

I've been sitting here a while trying to find what distinguishes LaChaston Smith from the other prospects enough to make it worth an opening paragraph.  Then I realized: if it's getting routine for us to pick up borderline four-star recruits with multiple SEC offers (and not just SEC in the most technical sense, like Mississippi State, but actual star-power offers like Florida and Tennessee), that's awesome.

Smith committed at the end of May in one of those really pleasant surprise type deals where you just kind of shuffle over to one of the recruiting sites and bam, there's the headline.  No lead-in, no special occasion, no big weekend event, just a regular ol' Thursday, except with a commitment.  The reason: Smith broke his foot last year and wanted to get in the door early somewhere in case he got hurt again.

Unfortunately, it was a prophetic decision.  He moved the injury a little higher up this time, breaking a shin bone in his first game of the season.  He was out of the cast and into a walking boot last week, but likely still has a few weeks to go before he's in playing shape.  A real bummer, because South Iredell had big plans for him.  Most two-way players are either linemen or track-star types who play DB on defense and quarterback or receiver on offense.  Smith is a linebacker through and through, but his high school team had also been working him at receiver, RB, and even as a wildcat QB.

That's kind of exciting, because Smith is probably the most athletic LB verbal we have for 2013, and that's saying something because Zach Bradshaw is an outstanding two-way player himself (as a receiver on offense and a special teams ace) and Micah Kiser is no slouch himself.  Rivals loved his coverage skills at the VTO camp ("During one-on-ones, he was smooth, turned easily, showed nice patience, closed well and had solid ball skills") and ESPN spends half their evaluation praising his ability to defend the pass.

So there's no doubt we should have high expectations for Smith.  You've got evaluations that basically agree with each other across the board, and an offer list to match.  Beating out some of the better SEC powers means you did something right.  I love Henry Coley's decisiveness, and Steve Greer is like a coach on the field, but Al Groh did not put a major emphasis on athleticism in his linebackers, except for the one that would play the role of the sackmaster.  His major thing was right-place-right-time guys like Greer and Jon Copper.  LaChaston Smith is a big part of a wave of athleticism, a complete remake of the position.  The hope is that right-place-right-time can be taught, and while you're doing that you just figure at least they'll get where they're going fast.  By the time Smith is a regular in the lineup, guys like Kwontie Moore and Demeitre Brim will be in place, and slow will be out and fast will be in.  Smith fits in perfectly with that philosophy.

As long as injuries don't slow him up.  Nobody likes to be saddled with the "injury-prone" label, but two in two years puts you at risk for it.  Smith needs about 20 pounds - most of our guys are playing around 230 - and it's tough to put that on when your focus is injury rehab.  Fortunately, broken bones are better healers than ligaments and joints and connecty-things.  Smith is exactly the kind of player Mike London so far seems to like to put on the field on special teams coverage, but the injuries may dictate a redshirt.  I lean toward putting him on the weak side where he can deal with slot receivers, if he turns out to be as good in pass coverage as the scouts say.  If that's the case, you've got D.J. Hill right now as the heir apparent, who'll be a junior next fall.  That'll probably be an open competition, though.  Best-case for Smith is that he steps into that competition in 2013 and at least earns some playing time the way Maurice Canady has done at cornerback, but if he doesn't get there right away, it's hard to envision him not finding his way to the forefront sooner or later.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

weekend review

Due to a Loss For Words stretching back to roughly halftime of the football game that should not be spoken of, I've been putting this off.  (Also, because I haven't filled out my Blogpoll ballot yet and have been hella procrastinating on that.)  But you're owed a post, so let's see.

We'll just chalk that one up to a few things:

-- Nobody playing well.
-- Everyone playing badly.

Does that sound like what you saw?  That was basically why we lost.  I suppose, if I was really inclined, I could offer some praise for a couple players here and there, but not after a 56-20 loss where the score made it look deceptively close.

That's why we lost; the reason we got blown out had more to do with Georgia Tech.  Their execution: flawless.  Paul Johnson threw in a very non-GT-like play as a wrinkle to start his first drive, which worked to perfection.  Quite possibly that scared our defenders and kept them tentative the rest of the game, afraid to give up another lightning strike and two steps slow as a result.

Other than that, I'm not much at figuring out who's responsible for screwing what up when I'm watching live, and I deleted the recording before the game even ended, so I don't have anything to look at.  I'll just drop my expectations for the whole front seven a notch, and silently thank the schedulers that there aren't any more triple-option cutblocking teams on the schedule.  I saw how close the Michigan-Air Force game was and I'm damn happy the Zoomies aren't on the UVA schedule.  Maybe they should be in the future, with the insistence that we play GT the week after, every year.

Well, I did tell you this would be a tough three-game stretch.  I even predicted we'd lose this one, and you can lose by 1 or 40 and it still only counts as one loss.  Given that, I don't want to hear any panic out of any of you.  Nobody said we'd be in contention for the ACC championship, so everything I wanted to see this season is still perfectly achievable.  It's not like the rest of the ACC is any great shakes, anyway.  I mean, did you watch Wake Forest's attempt at football this week?

There is, I guess, one final consolation: our opponent didn't lose to, say, Youngstown State by two touchdowns.  (The transitive property of college football, however, suggests the last game of the year will be difficult, and that we would lose to YSU 71.)


I don't think I did all that well on my predictions this week.  That's because I expected competence and a reasonably close game.  Let's find out:

-- One of UVA's backs has a run of at least 20 yards.  Negatory.  Kevin Parks came close with 18.

-- Other than that, UVA averages less than 3.5 yards a carry.  Actually they were up around 4.4, and if you take out that 18-yarder it's still 3.8.  Most ineffective-looking 4.4 yards a carry I ever saw.  I wouldn't have guessed it was that much just by watching the game.

-- Darius Jennings has at least three more catches than the next UVA receiver.  No.

-- Jake McGee has the highest per-catch average, again.  No, again.

-- Georgia Tech puts together at least one drive of eight minutes or more.  I said this because I expected our defense to have trouble with GT's offense.  I thought they'd have their moments and get more punts than they did, but I expected frustration.  I certainly got that.  The problem was, our poor-ass defensive showing proved me wrong after all, because GT never needed eight minutes to score.

That means a big fat goose egg this week.  I get to share in the incompetence, and drop to 5-for-16 on the season.  And I move to 3-0 on straight-up predictions and 0-1-2 ATS, since I said we'd cover.


That's a Blogpoll ballot. It is presented with basically no commentary. Next week we'll have enough data for me to start using my tried-and-true system that tells me how to vote. This week: whateva, I vote how I want.  I sort of tried to approximate what it might look like next week, but I'm sure I did a rotten job of that because I always do.  Next week will have a ton of inexplicable changes.  Not much I can do about that.  You're encouraged to let me know if I'm screwing this up, and I probably won't put up much resistance if you do, and it won't matter much because again, next week will shuffle like crazy.  I might've been a little too hard on USC, for example, but if I were resume-voting right now they probably wouldn't even be there, and there's no guarantee that next week they still will.


Last section of the week: Senior Seasons, the compilation of high school football results for our verbal commitments.  Here they are:

Damascus 37, Wootton 8: Zach Bradshaw was held to 55 yards on 7 catches, and didn't score, but the WaPo points out that he's already scored on offense, defense, and special teams this season.  Damascus is 3-0.

Good Counsel 49, H.D. Woodson 0: Good Counsel didn't need to step on the gas for this one.  Brendan Marshall threw just eight passes, six of them complete for 127 yards.  Kirk Garner caught one, and ran for a 2PC as well.  OLGC is 3-1.

Ocean Lakes 45, Bayside 0: Corwin Cutler was 10 for 11 with 223 yards and three touchdowns.  Taquan Mizzell, on the other hand, went nowhere.  Ocean Lakes is 4-0, Bayside is 2-2.

Oscar Smith 42, Indian River 6: Zack Jones had one TD catch in the rout.  Oscar Smith is 2-1.

Gilman 37, Charlotte Christian (NC) 14 (Micah Kiser) - Gilman is 2-2.
South Iredell 65, West Caldwell 0 (LaChaston Smith) - South Iredell is 4-1.
A.L. Brown 69, J.M. Robinson 21 (Keeon Johnson) - Brown is 4-1.
Battlefield 33, Potomac 14 (Donta Wilkins) - Potomac is 1-2.
North Attleboro 27, BC High 7 (Jack McDonald) - BC High is 0-2.
Monsignor Donovan 18, Lakewood 14 (Brad Henson) - Donovan is 1-1.
Port Arthur Memorial 31, Houston Westside 16 (Hipolito Corporan) - Westside is 1-2.
Varina 37, Thomas Dale 8 (Tim Harris) - Varina is 2-0.
Fork Union 41, Powhatan 20 (Malcolm Cook) - FUMA is 3-1.
St. Christopher's 35, St. Anne's-Belfield 10 (Jack English) - St. Chris is 2-1.

Injury update: that big A.L. Brown win was without Keeon Johnson, who is out with "like turf toe."  Add him to the list of injuries that includes LaChaston Smith and Andre Levrone.  His coaches hope to have him back in a week or two.