Thursday, August 29, 2013

game preview: Brigham Young

Date/Time: Saturday, August 31; 3:30


Record against the Cougars: 2-1

Last meeting: BYU 38, UVA 35; 9/2/00, Charlottesville

Last weekend: N/A

Line: BYU by 1

Injury report: N/A

Ah, football.  BYU is a very special team in my heart because they introduced me to the rest of my life as a UVA fan by pulling off a big comeback and then winning in overtime in my first-ever UVA football game.  It didn't take long for my friend (who'd come with me to UVA from our Michigan high school) and I to decide that this was going to be just like rooting for the Lions.  (And that was before they'd ever hired Matt Millen.)  Just an early, primitive way of saying We Can't Have Nice Things.

This game ought to set the tone nicely for the season.  No guessing about what a 30-point win over Richmond means; we'll get a pretty good idea at least of what the next six or seven weeks will look like by how this game goes.

-- UVA run offense vs. BYU run defense

(all stats 2012)

Top backs:

Kevin Parks: 160 carries, 734 yards, 4.6 ypc, 5 TDs
Khalek Shepherd: 19 carries, 122 yards, 6.4 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:

128.5 yards/game, 3.70 yards/attempt
95th of 124 (national); 8th of 12 (ACC)

BYU defense:

86.92 yards/game, 2.74 yards/attempt
3rd of 124 (national)

So, those stats from last year already present a difficulty.  One thing we know (or at least, believe) is that the O-line hasn't suddenly made major improvements between last year and this, and to add to that, BYU runs a 3-4 defense.  That'll just give the line a new look to deal with, and one that's a little more flexible and changeable than the standard 4-3.

BYU also brings back linebacker Kyle Van Noy; I'd be remiss not starting off the discussion with him, because that's what Mike London did, identifying Van Noy as the player they wanted to scheme around.  Van Noy plays weakside LB in BYU's 4-3, so actually, he's less of a factor in the run game than the phrase "terrifying linebacker" would imply.  He can be run away from, and if I interpret the stats rightly, teams often did - Van Noy only had 53 tackles last year, much less than you'd expect from the team's star defender.  That said, 22 of those were in the backfield, which is a terrifying number.

The Cougars will be doing this with largely a brand-new defensive line.  First-round draft phenom Ziggy Ansah is gone, and the only currently-starting member of the line that did so as well last year is nose tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna, who played only four games.  And the only holdover starter in the linebacking corps, besides Van Noy, is the other outside LB, strong-sider Spencer Beck.  If UVA wants to run away from Van Noy, though, they'll have to run at Beck.

The other option: run it up the middle, testing our weakness (relative to the OTs) against their new faces.  Since coaches love to try and establish the middle, expect a few shots in that direction within the first couple offensive series.

What excites me, though, is that there's no opportunity here for the coaches to hide their intentions regarding the workload split.  It's very safe to assume Kevin Parks starts out as the primary back, but the truth is, I don't think the coaches have precise intentions about the rest of it.  I'd guess that Khalek Shepherd and Taquan Mizzell will roughly split the remainder of the carries in the first half as the coaches evaluate them in live action; if the game is close, we'll then learn who they're most comfortable with.

I also think, simply due to turnover on the BYU defense, we should be able to outperform the sub-3 yards per carry that the Cougars held opponents to last year.  Our own blocking leaves something to be desired until they prove it doesn't, but does about 3.5 yards a carry sound about right?  I think it does.  I don't think our run game will be enough to control the action, but it won't be a total wreck.

-- UVA pass offense vs. BYU pass defense

(all stats 2012)

David Watford: 0/0, N/A%, 0 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, N/A yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Darius Jennings: 48 rec., 568 yards, 5 TDs
Dominique Terrell: 38 rec., 475 yards, 0 TDs

UVA offense:
268.0 yards/game, 6.8 yards/attempt
85th of 124 (national); 9th of 12 (ACC)

BYU defense:
179.2 yards/game, 6.2 yards/attempt
21st of 124 (national)

Another thing we might learn, about the coaches themselves this time: How nasty is their playcalling?  Will Steve Fairchild be out for blood upon looking at BYU's injury-ravaged cornerback corps?  Three of the four guys listed on BYU's post-spring depth chart are out, if not for the season then at least for this game.  The fourth, senior Skye PoVey, is called a "tough veteran with skills" by a cheerleading media wonk in Utah, but is a career special-teamer who played in three games last year.

PoVey probably won't start.  Another media outlet - which in the same article refers to the cornerback situation as an "outright nightmare" - suggests that BYU will use true freshman Dallin Leavitt and juco transfer Robertson Daniel (I didn't write his name backwards) as starters.  Daniel has looked decent in camp, but didn't play last year as he was getting his classroom work in order.

So if Steve Fairchild wants be nasty, and we should really be hoping he does, he'll use three- and four-receiver sets until Bronco Mendenhall's eyes bleed.  Force BYU to take their linebackers off the field for thoroughly inexperienced cornerbacks - or see if those linebackers can cover Dominique Terrell and maybe Adrian Gamble, it's all the same to me.

All is not a total disaster in BYU's pass defense.  Kyle Van Noy is not coming off the field, because he's a devastating pass rusher, racking up 13 sacks last year.  Daniel Sorenson is one of the better safeties out west; he had three INTs in 2012.  The safeties overall are still respectable and should be able to help out the cornerbacks effectively.

Still.  We have a damn deep group of receivers and BYU has a damn shallow cornerback set.  David Watford will probably see zone coverages out the wazoo to try and cover up their coverage deficiencies.  But I'm going to go ahead and assume our coaches are both smart and out for blood, and that our wide receivers will get a lot of field time until BYU proves they can deal with that.  Dominique Terrell should have a big, big game; if PoVey is used as a nickel back, he flat out can't cover Terrell.  I'm just gonna say six catches at a minimum, but I wouldn't be surprised to see 8 or 10; it's that bad in BYU's secondary.

-- BYU run offense vs. UVA pass defense

(all stats 2012)

Top backs:
Jamaal Williams: 166 carries, 775 yards, 4.7 ypc, 12 TDs
Michael Alisa: 58 carries, 222 yards, 3.8 ypc, 1 TD

BYU offense:
153.15 yards/game, 3.94 yards/attempt
82nd of 124 (national)

UVA defense:
144.92 yards/game, 3.99 yards/attempt
51st of 124 (national), 5th of 12 (ACC)

BYU brought in a new offensive coordinator this year - sort of.  Robert Anae was BYU's OC until 2010, when he left for Arizona to work with Rich Rodriguez.  Now he's back, in a move that is raising some eyebrows and being absolutely ripped in some quarters.  (Some of the choicest quotes: "Anae stacked and lit the offense into a burning heap [in 2010]."  "He had the charisma of a pile of bricks.")

So this is his first game back after picking up the no-huddle concept from Rodriguez.  BYU has always been a run-the-quarterback team, and that won't change.  RB Jamaal Williams remains the focus of the rushing offense; Williams has decent skills, but BYU doesn't have a great deal of depth behind him.  Michael Alisa isn't a scary talent.  But new quarterback Taysom Hill has some legs, too; his 68-yard touchdown run last season was BYU's longest.  Hill got some quality playing time in as a freshman last year, outrunning starting QB Riley Nelson, and BYU is justifiably high on his skills.

The questions will be around their O-line, which doesn't have a single senior on it.  There's less experience than would be ideal, and the BYU staff didn't nail down the rotation until just this week.  They plan to do a lot of rotating and subbing in and out - something that would be necessary to keep them fresh in a fast-paced no-huddle - and that's something that our coaches need to be on top of.  They need to take assholish advantage of the rule that says if the offense subs, the defense has to be allowed to sub too.  Sub when they sub, but nice and easy and slow and take your sweet time about it, and let the BYU offense stand around waiting.

As for the run game itself, if Anae has brought back some wider line splits from Arizona, it's another thing our guys need to take advantage of.  We do have some athleticism at DT - David Dean can move, and Mike Moore, too, when he slides inside.  Williams is a good, not great, running back, but Hill remains the wild card.  UVA can win if Williams gets his yards, but they can't let Hill burn them with his feet.  If he gets 80-100 yards of his own, BYU has probably won the game.

-- BYU pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

(all stats 2012)

Taysom Hill: 42/71, 59.2%; 425 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs; 5.99 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Cody Hoffman: 100 rec., 1,248 yards, 11 TDs
J.D. Falslev: 37 rec., 274 yards, 2 TDs

BYU offense:
247.2 yards/game, 6.5 yards/attempt
95th of 124 (national)

UVA defense:
208.4 yards/game, 6.3 yards/attempt
25th of 124 (national), 3rd of 12 (ACC)

It's pretty plain from just the above stats that Cody Hoffman dominates the BYU receiving corps.  Hoffman is a tall, smooth receiver (6'4") whom Phil Steele named a preseason all-American.  The rest of the group isn't a bunch of schmos, but Hoffman gets almost all the catches, because he's open so often.  Demetrious Nicholson will have his hands full, and will probably get a lot of safety help.

The no-huddle that BYU is installing, however, probably means a little bit more of a spread-around.  Just about everyone else who got significant catches last year also returns for BYU, and guys like Skyler Ridley and J.D. Falslev aren't electric but will demand your attention.  BYU also involves the running backs and tight ends just as much as the non-Hoffman receivers, and ultimately the wide array of legitimate options will be very taxing for our pass defense.

Taysom Hill is also a concern.  Hill actually had a better passer rating than starter Riley Nelson last season, although he didn't play after the sixth game of the year.  He'll be running a new offense in which he doesn't have a world of experience, but he's got the makings of a talented quarterback, and of course he'll get a lot of help from Hoffman.

One thing I think will remain unknown until we actually see it is the nature of the passing attack; meaning that last year, it was a very dink-and-dunk approach.  Nelson and Hill both averaged fewer yards per completion than did Mike Rocco; Hill's was just over 10.  If I had to guess, and I probably will, I'd say that won't change much; dinking your way downfield is very conducive to the no-huddle, because deep downfield throws usually result in incompletions, and incompletions slow you down, not to mention force your receiver to trot the whole way back to the line.

I think this will be the toughest aspect of the game for UVA to deal with, however.  We have a good secondary, but I don't think we'll be able to generate a big pass rush just because of the nature of BYU's expected offense, and Hoffman is one of the best receivers we'll face all year.  (Good prep for Oregon, though.)  I'd say even though Hill won't average more than 11.5 yards per completion or so, he'll still top 250 for the game.

-- Favorability ratings

A new thing I'm introducing this year.  This is a 0-10 scale; 5 means evenly balanced, 0 means we're totally screwed, and 10 means the other guy is.

UVA run offense: 3.5
UVA pass offense: 7
UVA run defense: 5.5
UVA pass defense: 3

Average: 4.75

-- Outlook

BYU is a good team - but a flawed one.  They've got some weapons on both sides of the ball, and, I'd have to say for now, the advantage at quarterback; Hill has demonstrated something on the field, and Watford hasn't yet.  But there are major holes which can be exploited.  Unsettlement on the O-line, a new offensive style, and basically no cornerbacks.  It's fair to say we don't really know yet if our team is talented enough, or with enough of a killer instinct, to go after those holes.  That goes for both the players and the coaches.  We also don't really know if BYU has the full ability to take advantage of our weaknesses, either; our offensive line is shaky, but their D-line is new and so are their middle linebackers.  If we can jump out to a lead, we'll see if that killer instinct turns on; it ought to.  If we're playing from behind, well, at least that will force us to go pass-heavy, right into BYU's weakness at cornerback.

Prediction summary:

-- Khalek Shepherd and Taquan Mizzell split carries and targets in the first half, but as the game goes on, one or the other takes a back seat.

-- Dominique Terrell has a huge day, to the tune of at least six catches.

-- The run offense generates about 3.5 yards per carry from the primary backs.

-- If Taysom Hill rushes for 90+ yards, BYU wins.

-- Hill will average no more than 11.5 yards a completion, but rack up over 250 yards passing.

-- The first team to go up by two scores wins.  Killer instinct.

Final score: BYU 21, UVA 17

-- Rest of the ACC:

North Carolina @ South Carolina - Thu., 6:00 - Battle of the Carolinas.

Wake Forest vs. Presbyterian - Thu., 6:30 - Wake always plays this team for some reason.

Miami vs. Florida Atlantic - Fri., 8:00 - You don't come into the OB, baby - wait, that was the other nondescript Florida Something team.  Nobody knows the difference anyway.

Georgia Tech vs. Elon - 12:00 - Fighting Christians forever.

Boston College vs. Villanova - 12:00 - The Jesuits vs. the Augustinians.

Maryland vs. Florida International - 12:30 - Oh, yeah, it was this Florida Something.

NC State vs. Louisiana Tech - 12:30 - The Bulldogs have set out to conquer the ACC, one team and one year at a time.

Syracuse @ Penn State - 3:30 - The joke here is both too easy and way too wrong.

Duke vs. NC Central - 4:00 - UNC is fighting for supremacy of two states; Duke is focusing just on Durham.

Virginia Tech vs. Alabama - 5:30 - The uglier, the better.

Clemson vs. Georgia - 8:00 - Definitely the top ACC game of the week, and what better chance to take the SEC down a peg?  UGA is ranked #5, so it won't be easy.

Florida State @ Pittsburgh - Mon., 8:00 - I've got a bad feeling this could be nasty for the home team.  I'm lower on Pitt than most; we'll see if I'm right.

1 comment:

TBS said...

Excellent thorough preview and analysis as usual. What do you think about Al Groh as analyst for 3 ESPN3 games (starting with Akron vs. UCF yesterday)? Didn't see the broadcast but I'd like to. Didn't know if you knew or saw it.