Friday, September 6, 2013

game preview: Oregon

Date/Time: Saturday, September 7; 3:30

TV: ABC or ESPN2 (see coverage map)

Record against the Ducks: 0-0

Last meeting: N/A

Last weekend: UVA 19, BYU 16; UO 66, Nich. St. 3

Line: Oregon by 23

Injury report: N/A

The second game of the Mike London era was a trip to Los Angeles, returning a visit to USC which they'd paid two seasons ago.  The Hoos were given no chance against the powerhouse Trojans; to the nation's surprise, UVA nearly pulled off the upset, and USC's win was greatly aided by a refereeing mistake so egregious that the Pac-10 suspended the crew.  The New London era has a similar challenge of its own in the form of the Oregon Ducks, who arrive in Charlottesville at the peak of their prowess.  UVA is probably doomed, but a lightning strike would be an instant rejuvenator for London's tenure and considerably raise the team's national profile.  Even a close loss would be a step in that direction.

-- UVA run offense vs. UO run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 20 carries, 65 yards, 3.3 ypc, 1 TD
Taquan Mizzell: 7 carries, 16 yards, 2.3 ypc, 0 TDs

UVA offense:
109 yards/game, 2.60 yards/attempt
101st of 126 (national), 11th of 14 (ACC)

UO defense:
87 yards/game, 2.35 yards/attempt
19th of 126 (national), 2nd of 12 (Pac-12)

These are the standard stats I use for every preview, but yeah, they're always a little skewed around this time of year, especially if one of the teams played a 1-10 I-AA team whose only 2012 win was against a D-II squad.  Yes, that's Nicholls.  We can safely take Oregon's stellar-looking numbers with a grain of salt.

Later on, that'll be a much smaller grain; here, Oregon's run defense is coming off a season in which they posted very average numbers, and is in some transition, personnel-wise.  Despite the low rushing totals for Nicholls, Oregon appeared occasionally vulnerable to the running skills of Nicholls's mobile quarterback, and allowed three yards a carry to their running back.  That would be a number worthy of a pat on the back against most I-A opponents; against the worst I-AA team you could find, that might just prove that UVA can find a little room.

Oregon looks like it has a pretty good linebacker in Derrick Malone, who made 11 stops last week and got his nose into the play fairly often off the bench last season.  Oregon's other linebackers, though, are less effective, and the Ducks lost a lot of talent to graduation last year.  Up front, the linemen are a mix of experience and highly touted youth, the latter exemplified by DT Arik Armstead, Oregon's top 2012 recruit.  Armstead, however, was nigh-invisible against Nicholls; the stars of the Oregon D-line were on the end, the spots occupied by Tony Washington and Taylor Hart.  Hart is a legitimately excellent and disruptive SDE who will be a tremendously difficult matchup for our tight ends and will probably have to be doubled on most plays.  Any matchups between him and Morgan Moses will be crucial, and highly determinant of UVA's success or failure.

Last week, UVA was unable to consistently establish a run, but did open enough holes to offer hope for the future.  Oregon is a more traditional 4-3 than what BYU brought to the table, and the commentators correctly noted that having Luke Bowanko and Morgan Moses on the same side gives UVA at least one side they can run to with confidence, until the rest of the line establishes itself.  Oregon offers a little bit of a pick-your-poison, since Malone is on the weak side and Hart the strong side; these are shaping up as two of Oregon's best defenders, and Washington as a WDE is also a solid player.

At any rate, I like UVA's chances of moving the ball some.  Probably more than they did against BYU, since, at least for the early portions of the game, UVA will be acclimated to the level of competition.  I think at least two of UVA's three backs, Kevin Parks being one of them, will add 10-15 yards to their totals from last weekend.  We're not talking anything spectacular yet, but the whole world knows that "controlling the ball" is a key for UVA, and this is the most favorable matchup of the four.

-- UVA pass offense vs. UO pass defense

David Watford: 18/32, 56.3%; 114 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 3.56 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Darius Jennings: 7 rec., 62 yards, 1 TD
Zachary Swanson: 3 rec, 21 yards, 0 TD

UVA offense:
114 yards/game, 3.6 yards/attempt
116th of 126 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)

UO defense:
256 yards/game, 5.1 yards/attempt
33rd of 126 (national), 5th of 12 (Pac-12)

For obvious reasons, teams pass the ball a lot against Oregon.  Only five teams (two of which were Oklahoma State and Stanford) faced more pass attempts than the Ducks last season.  According to the silly per-game stats that announcers insist on using, they're a pedestrian pass defense, but they did a much better job than that last season, ending up 7th in the country.

Oregon boasts a pair of excellent cornerbacks in Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.  Mitchell is very good, but Ekpre-Olomu is the star, earning first-team all-conference honors last season, and with good reason: he picked off four passes and broke up 16 more.  Safeties Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson are high-quality players too; Patterson, playing free safety, returned two interceptions to the house last season.  Altogether it's one of the finest secondaries in the country.  Additionally, SLB Boseko Lokombo plays a pretty good pass defense and intercepted two passes of his own last year.

This is where those defensive ends come into play too: Taylor Hart is a nasty pass rusher, with eight sacks last season.  Tony Washington is liable to pick up quite a few as well; in general, this is a front seven that does better when they're attacking the passer than in the run game.

UVA's receivers have some redemption to do after last week.  Darius Jennings had a decent game, but Tim Smith decidedly did not.  This will be a tough group to do it against, and if David Watford thought last week was tough, he's got a whole new challenge in front of him.  UVA is going to need a couple big plays here if they can get them, but will probably have to rely on dump-offs again and is not likely to consistently find success.  Last week the tight ends combined for six catches; I'd look for that kind of production again, as well as a strong appearance from the running backs in this regard, mostly as safety valves.

-- UO run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
De'Anthony Thomas: 18 carries, 128 yards, 7.1 ypc, 2 TDs
Byron Marshall: 8 carries, 124 yards, 15.5 ypc, 1 TD

UO offense:
500 yards/game, 11.11 yards/attempt
1st of 126 (national), 1st of 12 (Pac-12)

UVA defense:
187 yards/game, 3.53 yards/attempt
51st of 126 (national), 7th of 14 (ACC)

Yes, the 500 yards Oregon's rushing offense racked up last week came against a terrible opponent.  No, you're not allowed to care: despite losing Chip Kelly to the NFL, Oregon is still Oregon.  Fundamentally, they're not actually that different from Georgia Tech: read-option plays are the bread-and-butter of the offense, and they pass only once you've been sucked in to try and defend the run.

Oregon is more balanced than GT is, though (not saying much, there) and, of course, the thing that makes their offense put up so many gaudy numbers is the no-huddle system they run.  Yes, UVA got a little practice defending the no-huddle last week.  Now they get to try their hand at defending against a team that can actually execute it.  UVA looked pretty good last week, but Oregon's no-huddle is a well-oiled machine with way better athletes running it.

Oregon's option is so dangerous because the guy in charge of it, quarterback Marcus Mariota, is such a dangerous athlete.  He's a big, long-striding runner and every bit as capable of breaking a long one as primary running back De'Anthony Thomas, a lightning-quick scatback who's been playing second fiddle for two years but is more than ready for first chair.  Oregon always keeps a full stable of backs that can break a big play and uses them heavily, so even with Thomas out of the game, the situation changes little.

The O-line is a tough nut to crack, too.  Hroniss Grasu is a Rimington watch-list center who jumped immediately into the starting lineup as a true freshman; he's now a junior.  Tackles Tyler Johnstone and Jake Fisher are athletic and youngish but very talented; if there's any hole on the line, it might - might - be at guard, where the starters are upperclassmen (Manu Grieg is a senior and Hamani Stevens is an old junior a couple years removed from his Mormon mission) but relatively inexperienced.

Many of the principles of defending the no-huddle will remain the same from last week to this, so the experience is not without value.  However, the defense has to limit big plays; Oregon's 40+ point games come when the option by itself is all they need to gash defenses for 50 yards or more.  The tackles must beat their man inside, and the linebackers have to run, fast and at the right gap.  Eli Harold has a chance to be a game-changer with his athleticism, as does Demeitre Brim; their speed is going to be crucial to match the pace at which Oregon will move.

-- UO pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Marcus Mariota: 12/21, 57.1%; 234 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs; 11.14 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Josh Huff: 5 rec., 118 yards, 0 TDs
Bralon Addison: 2 rec., 42 yards, 1 TD

UO offense:
272 yards/game, 10.5 yards/attempt
19th of 126 (national), 2nd of 12 (Pac-12)

UVA defense:
175 yards/game, 4.4 yards/attempt
16th of 126 (national), 2nd of 14 (ACC)

Jon Tenuta's defense is predicated on putting the cornerbacks on an island so that the linebackers and even safeties can be used in the most aggressive manner possible.  Safety blitz woo!  That's more or less how you have to attack Oregon's offense: push the button and pray.

As a passer, Mariota was highly efficient last year, but not a big-play quarterback.  Big plays come in the running game.  Oregon passes to keep you honest, not necessarily because they hope you forgot about their receivers the way GT does.  Josh Huff is an accomplished receiver, but without the gaudy numbers of the Oregon running backs.  The Oregon receiving corps in general is fairly deep, and Mariota spreads the ball around so that nobody (besides Huff, sorta) dominates the receptions category.

Possibly contrary to expectations of a new-wave speed-based offense, Oregon does use a tight end, though often more as an H-back who can carry the ball and catch it, too.  The primary threat in this regard is tight end Colt Lyerla.  Adding to the danger factor and versatility, De'Anthony Thomas is a big receiving threat; more so, in fact, than Oregon's previous feature backs, Kenjon Barner and LaMichael James.  Thomas led the Ducks in receptions last year despite being only third in carries (behind Barner and Mariota.)

There are, of course, obvious differences between that GT triple-option and Oregon's style, but there's a big similarity in how to beat them: have your cornerbacks dominate the one-on-one coverage and free up your strong safety to crash the line and find the ball.  I like that ours are up to the task; Huff is a decent receiver but not a dominant one, and our cornerbacks may well have the advantage in the matchup over their receivers.  Mariota is very good at taking what you give him in the passing game, but UVA will take it if his passes stay underneath.

-- 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: 5
UVA pass offense: 2.5
UVA run defense: 2
UVA pass defense: 4.5

Average: 3.5

-- Outlook

Things could be better, for sure.  Even in those areas of the game where we match up best, we don't match up especially well.  To win, UVA must pound, pound, pound the ball, and find ways to reel off seven-minute drives that end in a score; they must be able to leave the cornerbacks all on their own and be able to consistently keep eight in the box; and they must, obviously, win the turnover battle and avoid giving up big plays.  Oregon's pass defense seems likely to swallow up David Watford, especially if our receivers can't help him out any.  There are things that UVA can exploit to keep it close, but the real challenge is being able to do that all game long and hold off the dogs in the areas where Oregon obviously dominates - also all game long.  If UVA can simply beat the spread, it should be an eye-opener.

-- Prediction summary

-- At least two of UVA's running backs, one of which is Kevin Parks, will improve on their BYU rushing total by at least 10 yards.

-- UVA's TEs and RBs combine for more catches than their WRs.

-- Watford throws more INTs than TDs.

-- Oregon breaks at least one TD run of at least 60 yards.

-- Oregon has more than twice as many rush yards as passing yards.

-- Mariota is the only Oregon QB to throw a pass.  I have to give at least that much to our defense; at least we'll keep it close enough to keep the scrubs out of the game.

-- Final score: UO 47, UVA 21

-- Rest of the ACC:

Wake Forest @ Boston College - Fri., 8:00 - We'll quickly find out if my preseason faith in BC is misplaced or not.

Miami vs. Florida - 12:00 - Florida ground out a victory last week, and could be ripe for an upset in this underplayed rivalry.

North Carolina vs. Middle Tennessee - 12:30 - With all the talk about Jadeveon Clowney being gassed, you'd think it was UNC dominating last week's game.  It wasn't.

Clemson vs. South Carolina State - 12:30 - Clemson takes on the Walkin' Bulldogs after dispatching the regular ones.

Virginia Tech vs. Western Carolina - 1:30 - The Catamounts use the same purple and gold colors as James Madison.  I don't bring this up for any particular reason, really.

Maryland vs. Old Dominion - 4:00 - Root for everyone against Maryland, even those teams which aspire to rise up and be a major threat to our in-state recruiting success.

Duke @ Memphis - 4:30 - Memphis is kind of a perennially lousy football team that sits in fertile recruiting ground and therefore has little excuse to be that way.

Syracuse @ Northwestern - 6:00 - This game probably won't be any easier than the Penn State one for Cuse, and might be harder.

NC State vs. Richmond - 6:00 - Go pick on the I-AA teams from your own state.

Bye weeks: GT, Pitt

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I swear, if I ever see another horizontal pass to a wide receiver with no blocking I don't know what I'll do.

That said, Watford looked a lot better although I don't know what to think about the running game or the play calling overall.