Friday, October 4, 2013

game preview: Ball State

Date/Time: Saturday, October 5; 12:00


Record against the Cardinals: 0-0

Last meeting: N/A

Last weekend: Pitt 14, UVA 3; BSU 31, Tol. 24

Line: UVA by 5

Injury report: none

One kind of annoying thing about having kind of a (perceived) lousy team: nobody gives you credit for the good things you can do.  UVA is a fashionable upset pick this week because "Ball State has a good offense."  (Classic example: David Hale on the ESPN blog writes, "Ball State QB Keith Wenning has thrown for more than 300 yards in every game so far, meaning the Cavaliers are likely going to need some offensive fireworks of their own to keep pace."  What that actually says is, "UVA's defense isn't good enough to stop him from doing so again.") That offense has been on display against teams like the mighty Eastern Michigan Eagles, but whatever.  UVA's defense isn't being given a whole lot of attention.  DARK HORSEZ MAN.  US VS. EVERYBODY.  This is a must-win game, though; I chalked up Ball State as a win on the road to bowl eligibility not because I think they suck VMI-style, but because if you can't beat Ball State you're gonna find the road in the ACC awfully tough.  So if we do - somehow - pull off the win, don't forget to drop Hale, Mark Schlabach, and Heather Dinich a friendly little hello.

-- UVA run offense vs. BSU run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 72 carries, 294 yards, 4.1 ypc, 3 TDs
Daniel Hamm: 23 carries, 141 yards, 6.1 ypc, 2 TDs

UVA offense:
163.75 yards/game, 3.70 yards/attempt
96th of 125 (national), 12 of 14 (ACC)

BSU defense:
202.6 yards/game, 4.65 yards/attempt
90th of 125 (national), 8th of 13 (MAC)

The question I've been rhetorically asking all season is: which back is going to be Kevin Parks's primary reliever?  It might be that the answer is nobody.  Part of the deal there is injuries - all three of the primary options, including both the surprise and the non-surprises, have been dealing with injury.  I think the other likely explanation is this: Parks is the only one the coaches consistently trust to run the read-option with Watford (inexperienced backs can logarithmically increase your fumble rate on that play) and Watford defaults to handing off.  Parks has averaged 18 carries a game, and that's including his half-day against VMI and the forced pass-happy day (UVA attempted 47 passes) against Oregon.

When Mike London announced changes on the offensive line, it was primarily to get the running game going.  Pass protection, while not spectacular, isn't a total disaster either; Aaron Donald did make it look worse than it has been, but it was basically the running game that instigated the change.  I'm slightly more than cautiously optimistic about it; Jay Whitmire is undoubtedly one of the top linemen on the team, and you can tell because of how his RT position was never challenged in camp.  No, that's not a knock on the challengers.  He will be a colossal upgrade over Cody Wallace and is also probably better than the still-injured Conner Davis.  RG just got a lot better.

So that should help the run game.  We'll have to see about center; the smart money leans toward Jackson Matteo, whose track to the starting job was derailed by an injury in camp.  He's now over that and should be ready, but the fact that he's an unknown quantity makes me more nervous about that potential change.

Ball State should be a good way to ease the linemen into their new roles.  There's no dominant force on the Cardinal D-line - the closest thing might be DT Nathan Ollie, who's got a few TFL to his name - and running offenses both good and bad have moved the ball against them.  Eastern Michigan, the 118th rushing offense in the country, had 4.6 yards a carry, and North Texas (101st) was over five.  The Cardinals have some decent linebacking from Ben Ingle and Zack Ryan, but ultimately there's no individual in particular to game-plan for.  That's great news for our offense; it means they can focus internally without penalty, and worry about what they want to do rather than what they have to do to avoid the strengths of the defense.

It's still early, so hope springs eternal yet; I might be a hopeless dumbass for this, but let's just go ahead and call a 100-yard day for Kevin Parks.  Five yards a carry on the 20 carries he'll get given the likely injury state of the other backs.  125 yards on the ground is all the Hoos need for a non-VMI season best, and I think they get it.

-- UVA pass offense vs. BSU pass defense

David Watford: 80/135, 59.3%; 604 yards, 3 TDs, 6 INTs; 4.47 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Darius Jennings: 14 rec., 107 yards, 1 TD
Jake McGee: 16 rec., 91 yards, 1 TD

UVA offense:
158.5 yards/game, 4.3 yards/attempt
125th of 125 (national), 14th of 14 (ACC)

BSU defense:
223.6 yards/game, 6.4 yards/attempt
50th of 125 (national), 2nd of 13 (MAC)

It's official now: we have the worst-ass pass offense in the nation.  Last week pretty much cemented that.  Very rarely was the offense ever able to put together good protection, good decision-making, a good throw, and an actual catch all in one play.  The receivers found themselves on notice in practice this week for all the drops.

That part can probably improve.  Darius Jennings and Jake McGee have never been stonehanded players.  Dominique Terrell used to be, but not for a while now, and he actually was not a major culprit (in the passing game, anyway.)  Despite the depth chart and its "or" overload, I don't think there'll be a revolution there.  We'll probably see most of the usual suspects again.

Watford's decision-making is a work in progress, though, and it's going to come along at its own pace rather than there suddenly being some opponent which makes it easier on us.  And a new right tackle (true freshman Eric Smith) could have us keeping an eye on pass protection.  Ball State doesn't have any dynamic pass-rushers, but they like to bring blitzes from different areas; their sack leader, with two, is cornerback Kenneth Lee.  The D-line accounts for only 3 of their 8 sacks, so this is another reason for the coaches to want to lean on the veteran RB in Parks, as well as something else for Watford to have to watch.

There are too many moving parts in a passing game for me to hold the same kind of optimism as with the running game.  And the Cardinal defense is better in this realm.  The D-line won't generate a big pass rush, so that's a plus, but Ball State is good at keeping things in front of them and making a few turnovers happen here and there.  I don't think Watford gets more than 6 yards a pop, tops.

-- BSU run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Horactio Banks: 55 carries, 350 yards, 6.4 ypc, 5 TDs
Jahwan Edwards: 49 carries, 219 yards, 4.5 ypc, 7 TDs

BSU offense:
136.6 yards/game, 4.30 yards/attempt
76th of 125 (national), 4th of 13 (MAC)

UVA defense:
146.5 yards/game, 3.83 yards/attempt
53rd of 125 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

The real testament here to the quality of the UVA defense is that they're comfortably in the top half of the country despite that 350-yard Oregon game.  The rest of the time, which includes two perfectly decent BCS-level opponents, UVA has been crushing running games into fine powder, and their yards-per-carry stat in those three would be good enough for second in the country.

So despite the very nice-looking stats of Ball State's primary ballcarriers, I'd say it's the Cardinals that have to prove themselves here.  Their backs are smallish all the way around; Horactio Banks is sort of normal-small at 5'10", but Jahwan Edwards is stocky as hell at the same height and 225 pounds.  They're a little bit of a poor man's thunder and lightning; Edwards might have a little bit better of a ypc average if he weren't called on a lot in short yardage.  Ball State also uses freshman mini-back Teddy Williamson, but he hasn't been productive yet.

At any rate, there's not a lot to discuss, matchup-wise.  We've gotten to the point where I'm perfectly comfy turning our defense loose and not worrying about the result because it'll take care of itself.  OK, we can talk about that a little bit; Ball State does have a pair of what Gregg Easterbrook used to call Ticonderoga-class offensive guards in Jalen Schlachter and Jordan Hansel.  They should be able to win a few battles here and there.  Still, I don't think either of BSU's primary backs can top even half their season average for yards per carry, nor two-thirds their yards-per-game.

-- BSU pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Keith Wenning: 118/184, 64.1%; 1,650 yards, 9 TDs, 3 INTs; 8.97 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Willie Snead: 35 rec., 611 yards, 4 TDs
Jamill Smith: 28 rec., 397 yards, 1 TD

BSU offense:
335.8 yards/game, 8.7 yards/attempt
25th of 125 (national), 2nd of 13 (MAC)

UVA defense:
152.8 yards/game, 4.7 yards/attempt
4th of 125 (national), 1st of 14 (ACC)

These defensive numbers are so good (that is, low) that I seriously thought for a second I had accidentally called up the offensive stats again.  They're even pretty close.  Again, they're you-have-to-beat-us numbers.

Ball State should be relatively easy to scout because they don't spread the ball around much.  The guys you see on film are the ones you'll see on game day.  That goes for the running and passing game.  The top four receivers account for 81% of the receptions; the next two are hurt, so it's more like 93% considering only receptions by players actually available.

This area of the game, though, is why people think Ball State will win.  Keith Wenning is a senior QB with a load of experience under his belt; he's been a starter since he was a freshman.  He's averaging 330 yards a game.  His stats are also you-have-to-beat-us stats.  Receiver Willie Snead has already hauled in 611 yards, more than two-thirds of ACC receivers (if not more) will have all year.  Ball State also has Jamill Smith, an itsy-bitsy spider at 5'8", 141, and Jordan Williams is their big guy at 6'2".  Solid receiving corps, but if our secondary can cover Devin Street and Tyler Boyd consistently, they should also be able to handle Ball State's gang.

Wenning has thrown for at least 317 yards in every game, but every defense they've faced has been trash.  Every I-A team they've faced ranks in the triple-digits against the pass.  North Texas - and that's the team that beat the Cardinals, by the way - is 120th.  Yes, Ball State's been good at protecting the passer and moving the ball with tremendous efficiency - but they're in a whole new ballgame here.  Wenning is not going to top that 300 mark, nor even 250, I would hazard.

-- Favorability ratings

The offense is in such a state that there is no longer any team in which I can possibly give them a favorable rating.  Maybe VMI.  Maybe.

Run offense: 4
Pass offense: 2.5
Run defense: 8
Pass defense: 7.5

Average: 5.5

-- Outlook

For the first time this year I don't think the average favorability quite does the game justice.  It's cliched but true to brag that Ball State, gaudy though their numbers might be, has not faced a defense like ours.  I make an allowance for their accomplishments, but the baseline favorability ratings right now ought to be, like, 2 for the offense and 9 for the defense.  Ball State actually plays fairly well into our hands; the thing they do best pits them against the teeth of the monster, and the thing they do worst (defend the run) is well-positioned to let us look for a rebound game.  I think it'll be a little tighter than would be comfortable at times, but in the end we should be happy with the result.

-- Prediction summary

Admittedly some of these do not set the bar all that high, but c'mon.  Baby steps.

-- Kevin Parks runs for over 100 yards.

-- The offense as a whole runs for over 125 yards.

-- No new favorite receivers.  The receptions leader among non-RBs will be Jennings, McGee, Smith, or Terrell; nobody with fewer than nine catches.

-- However, one receiver with two catches or fewer will gather in at least four.

-- Ball State's top RBs, Banks and Edwards, reach neither one-half their seasonal ypc nor two-thirds their average ypg.

-- Keith Wenning throws for fewer than 250 yards.

Final score: UVA 24, BSU 13

-- Rest of the ACC

Maryland @ Florida State - 12:00 - If Maryland wins, or even comes close, I promise to stop saying "we'll have to wait and see if they're any good."

North Carolina @ Virginia Tech - 12:30 - Hokies fans are always so torn for this game.  It's like choosing between children.

Boston College vs. Army - 1:00 - The Eagles look to "shut down" (HA HA GET IT BECAUSE OF THE GOVERNMENT?) the Army attack.

NC State @ Wake Forest - 3:30 - Remember how I said the Deacons' O-line was horrible and the NC State D-line was awesome?  That's still true, so this ought to be an interesting game.

Clemson @ Syracuse - 3:30 - I don't expect this to be all that competitive either.

Georgia Tech @ Miami - 3:30 - If GT wins it could really screw up the Coastal race.

Byes: Pittsburgh, Duke


pezhoo said...

It's been a long time since Advanced Math, but I think if you take the logarithm of something, it gets smaller. Exponentially is growing really fast, I think that was what you really meant. But on the other hand, it's UVa, and we don't value the football at all. We LOVE TO TURN IT OVER. So maybe the coaches will actually use the younger backs to accelerate that. We better win this game. By at least 17, I mean, really.

Brendan said...

A logarithmic scale has its units rising exponentially. So if you saw a graph where equally spaced units represented 1, 10, 100, 1000, etc., that would be a logarithmic scale (even though many people would call it an exponential one.) The Richter scale is one such, where 6.0 represents amplitude 10 times greater than 5.0 and 100 times greater than 4.0 and so on.

Anonymous said...

Great analysis Brendan. I couldn't agree more that no one is giving the Hoos' defense any respect in this game. I hope they come out with a chip on their shoulder and make a statement. Defense won the BYU game - no reason it can't win this one, too.

What do you think is the ceiling for this team? Obviously the defense is stout, but is the offense struggling because of inexperience, bad luck and a shaky o-line, or are they struggling because they're fundamentally flawed?

I'm trying to figure out where to set my expectations for this year. Can they get it together and win a few down the stretch, or are we resigned to another 4-win campaign?

Brendan said...

The best we can realistically hope for, I'd say, is 7-5. That would mean we win three of the four swing games (UNC, VT, GT, Md). The main thing, obviously, is to somehow claw our way to six wins - after that it's just gravy.

By the way I'd say that inexperience and a shaky O-line is being fundamentally flawed. If by that you meant Fairchild's offense design will never work under any circumstance, well, I'd say that good personnel will make any offense work. A bad O-line and bad QB (which is frankly what we've had so far) will never be able to execute anything consistently.

Anonymous said...

I really wanted to give Watford time, and I'll acknowledge that he's still young ... but ... I just don't think he has "it". Yes, the OL is bad (I really wonder if putting Moses at RT and grooming a young LT makes a bit more sense now, as this season looks toast). Yes, the receivers have made a lot of drops. Yes, the running backs aren't exactly creating opportunities for themselves. Still ... at the end of the day, Watford stares down too many guys, makes too many poor reads, and doesn't seem to get the ball there.

The shame of this season was that, had London not royally screwed up the QB situation last year, we would've had a steady Rocco leading the charge. He took a lot of heat last year, and a lot of it was justified, but what he did was what Lazor asked of him - he threw to the space the receiver was supposed to get to. Granted, miscommunication and young receivers made things look ... absolutely horrendous ... at times.

I really didn't mind Watford or Lambert entering the year, as both would've given us continuity for a couple seasons if they grabbed the job. I'm just not sure Watford has it. He's young, but you can usually tell if a QB has it after a few games. I think I almost prefer going to Lambert and grooming some kids for the future. Of course, this puts London on the hot, hot, hot, enormously hot seat ... but well, this looks like a 3-4 win campaign at best, and London was going to be on the hot seat anyways.

In many ways, London is so much more similar to Groh than we're acknowledging - getting off to hot recruiting starts, but an inability to develop a QB.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to overreact - I realize this was never expected to be a great year - but I am getting to the point where I would be comfortable with London being fired. Being a good recruiter can only get you so far if you do nothing with the talent you bring in. And at some point you aren't even going to get great recruits anymore when they see us getting blown out by the likes of Ball State at home.

What I am most sick of is us just coming out and looking unprepared. We are making all kinds of mental errors, turning the ball over, and just generally destroying ourselves. If we lose to good teams because they just came out and beat us, I'm OK with that. That happens. I am just tired of us looking like a poorly run program and looking like we have no earthly idea what we are doing.

And what I just cannot wrap my head around - and Brendan maybe you can provide some context for this or something - is why it is so hard for us to get even a serviceable QB? I just fail to understand what is going on when a team like Ball State has a quarterback that is making throws down the field our QB - a recruit of flagship state university playing football in one of the big five conferences - is completely incapable of making. Are there really that few decent quarterbacks? Are we just not prioritizing recruiting the most important position in football? Am I completely overreacting?

Oh well. Whatever. Maybe we'll pull some upset later in the year. If we could somehow manage to beat Tech in what is sure to be an absolutely horrible game of football, that would be worth something.

Anonymous said...

My take on the qb situation is that london, like groh, has recruited for it (lambert, lalich). in groh's case, some guys didn't pan out. in London's case, he mismanaged the rocco situation so badly over the last two years, particularly last year (not telling your own oc that you were switching qb's in the psu game stands out). london drove away a decent college qb and sims wasn't dedicated enough, putting us in our current predicament.

Anonymous said...

I have always been a staunch London defender, but this game may have been my breaking point. I agree with the other comments - they looked sloppy, unprepared, and undisciplined, and that's on the coaching staff.

I don't think you can blame Watford for this loss. Yes, he threw one awful INT, but otherwise he looked 100 times better than he did against Pitt. Not his fault the team racked up endless penalties and bad fumbles. He's not yet ready to single-handedly win games, but you can't hang this loss on him.

Anonymous said...

It's a legit question though about QB development. Wtf? it's been almost a decade since we've had a QB with all the tools to get it done yes Rocco included.