Thursday, October 17, 2013

game preview: Duke

Date/Time: Saturday, October 20; 3:30


Record against the Blue Devils: 33-31

Last meeting: Duke 42, UVA 17; 10/6/12, Durham

Last weekend: Md. 27, UVA 26; Duke 35, Navy 7

Line: UVA by 3

Injury report:


OUT - OL George Adeosun, PK Ian Frye, CB Demetrious Nicholson, TE Mario Nixon, DT Brent Urban, CB Wil Wahee



PROBABLE - LB Daquan Romero, RB Khalek Shepherd


OUT - CB Jared Boyd, LB Kyler Brown, QB Thomas Sirk, OT Tanner Stone, DT Jamal Wallace


QUESTIONABLE - WR Johnell Barnes

PROBABLE - QB Brandon Connette, DT A.J. Wolf

I can't believe I'm still using the word "bowl" anymore, but I'm stupid like that, and if UVA wants to get there, this game is basically a must-win.  Most games are these days; Mike London is finding the recruiting trail colder and colder.  The losses will do that.  Yet another loss to Duke would be another pile of ammo for opposing coaches.  Even better, UVA will have to go after this game without two of its best defensive players.  This is what the beginning of the end of a coaching regime looks like; the Hoos need a win here to stave that off.

-- UVA run offense vs. Duke run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 116 carries, 510 yards, 4.4 ypc, 6 TDs
Khalek Shepherd: 29 carries, 223 yards, 7.7 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:
188.83 yards/game, 4.24 yards/attempt
69th of 125 (national), 8th of 14 (ACC)

Duke defense:
178.00 yards/game, 4.12 yards/attempt
67th of 125 (national), 11th of 14 (ACC)

You just wonder which offensive line will show up this week.  The one that couldn't move a wad of cotton candy, or the one that has paved the way to consecutive 240-yard (ish) running games?  Probably both, actually; the question might be better put as, how will Steve Fairchild scheme this out?

For all the Duke-sucks-at-defense publicity out there, the run defense is not completely terrible.  Much of the yardage they've given up has been at the hands of Georgia Tech and Navy, the triple-option warriors.  Other teams have found room, but not a wide world of it.  Duke is getting respectable linebacker play from Kelby Brown and David Helton, and the defensive line has at least one very good all-around player in defensive end Kenny Anunike.

However, Duke is far from dominant, even if their stats are skewed somewhat by the triple option.  And despite the last couple games, UVA is far from dominant as well.  This is one of those matchups that is just there.  UVA will have a fair amount of success and none of it is likely to swing the game one way or the other.  With the season slipping away, the offense is going to lean hard on what's been working and experiment furiously with what hasn't.  Kevin Parks is one of those things that's been working.  Khalek Shepherd may have earned a few extra carries against Maryland, as he ran the ball well when given a chance, but I think those will come at the expense of Taquan Mizzell, not Parks.

So you'll probably see Parks settle nicely in to another grinding 20-carry, 100-yard game.  I think the 240-yard success they've been having isn't especially sustainable, but I'm sufficiently de-traumatized to think that between Parks, Shepherd, and some Watford scrambles, the offense should be able to grind out around 200 or so.

-- UVA pass offense vs. Duke pass defense

David Watford: 128/215, 59.5%; 1,076 yards, 4 TDs, 7 INTs; 5.01 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Jake McGee: 27 rec., 233 yards, 2 TDs
Kevin Parks: 19 rec., 182 yards, 0 TDs

UVA offense:
186.7 yards/game, 4.8 yards/attempt
125th of 125 (national), 14th of 14 (ACC)

Duke defense:
208.5 yards/game, 7.4 yards/attempt
80th of 125 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

You'd have to be blind not to see the improvement in David Watford the past two weeks - and equally blind not to see the very incremental nature of that improvement.  It's a cruel way to make me have to try and predict what'll happen next.  Anything from regression to another jump forward is possible at this stage of Watford's development.

As Tom Savage at Pitt proved, it's possible to utterly shred Duke's pass defense.  Troy was able to do the same, which is why Duke's game against them was close.  It takes a good quarterback to pull that off (which is sort of circular reasoning in that if you can pick up 400 yards through the air you're considered a good quarterback) but UVA could roll up many fewer yards than Pitt or Troy and it would still be considered a good sign of improvement.

Duke's top cornerback Ross Cockrell is a quality player, but that's basically the full list of them in the secondary.  Freshman nickel corner Bryon Fields has been outplaying fifth-year senior Garett Patterson.  Safety Jeremy Cash does have two interceptions, but UVA's not-deep-at-all pass game tends to leave the opposing safeties out of it.

Kenny Anunike at DE is a good pass-rusher as well as run-stopper, so he'll be Watford's main concern here; Duke will also bring in speed rusher Jonathan Woodruff on passing downs in the other DE position, and he too has a few sacks to his name this year.  There's otherwise no real threat, so Watford should have more time than he's used to as long as the tackles keep their man in front.

I don't know how many passes it'll take, but Watford ought to be able to reach 200 yards for the third straight game.  I may even be setting the bar too low.  I'm definitely exhibiting some low-ass standards when I say that he should also be able, for the second straight game, to top six yards per attempt.  That's such a weak number to aim for but since he's getting no help at all from his receivers, it's what we got.

-- Duke run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Jela Duncan: 56 carries, 292 yards, 5.2 ypc, 3 TDs
Josh Snead: 46 carries, 280 yards, 6.1 ypc, 0 TDs

Duke offense:
183.17 yards/game, 4.58 yards/attempt
54th of 125 (national), 6th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
147.00 yards/game, 3.96 yards/attempt
53rd of 125 (national), 7th of 14 (ACC)

A big reason for Duke's renaissance has been the development of a respectable offensive line.  It's very cohesive and has started all six games for Duke in the same configuration.  Must be nice.  Anyway, they've been doing a nice job paving the way for running backs Jela Duncan and Josh Snead.  The competition hasn't been bad, either; Memphis, for example, is a surprising seventh in the nation in run defense.

So, going at this without our top defensive lineman is going to be a challenge.  There's a pretty clear step down in results when you ask true freshman Donte Wilkins to step in for Brent Urban.  It's no knock on Wilkins, who will probably develop into a pretty good player, but Urban is Urban.  His loss will be huge.

I don't like seeing Daquan Romero on the injury report either, even if he is listed as probable.  I damn near threw something at the TV when I saw Romero being tended to, because that made him, Jake McGee, and Urban the subject of the trainers' attention against Maryland.  Pick the three players we can least live without.  Probably those three.

Anyway, I digress.  Duke will present a challenge and a half here, more so depending on how they use backup QB Brandon Connette.  Anthony Boone is a small threat to run; Connette is a bigger one.  Before Boone broke his collarbone and Connette's ankle kept him out of last week's game against Navy, Duke liked to use both.  Connette averages about 12 carries a game and even had a 101-yard day against Pitt.  It's a wrinkle that'll make the task all the harder.

If we had Urban, I'd feel good about holding Duke down here.  Good defenses have been able to limit them.  Urban is the kind of guy who can win matchups on his own and free up others to watch the pass.  Without him, that favorability rating is going to drop a notch or two, and I think Duke can move the ball just enough to open up their dangerous passing game.

-- Duke pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Anthony Boone: 58/74, 78.4%; 570 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT; 7.7 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Jamison Crowder: 47 rec., 618 yards, 2 TDs
Brandon Braxton: 21 rec., 206 yards, 2 TDs

Duke offense:
265.7 yards/game, 8.3 yards/attempt
33rd of 125 (national), 7th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
214.8 yards/game, 6.3 yards/attempt
29th of 125 (national), 6th of 14 (ACC)

Once again this becomes the game determinant.  Anthony Boone has been extraordinarily efficient.  Brandon Connette has been good too, but Boone will be the starter and the primary passer.  He had a terrific game against a pretty good Navy pass defense last week, and that 78% completion percentage is outstanding.

Boone will get the ball out quick, which was the bane of our existence against Ball State.  The Ball State game is not without its parallels here.  Duke's receivers are capable of big plays but will probably be targeted quickly rather than Duke having Boone sit in the pocket waiting for the play to develop.  Jamison Crowder is the favorite target of both quarterbacks, and has two double-digit reception games with Boone throwing to him.  Ordinarily we'd have Demetrious Nicholson on him and that would be a pretty big matchup, but now, I guess we'll have to see.

Brandon Braxton does a nice job complementing Crowder, and Duke will use some huge targets over the middle as well.  Tight end Braxton Deaver is a key part of the attack, and Issac Blakeney is a massive possession receiver at 6'6", 235.  The array of weapons presents a big challenge.  Additionally, because of the scrambley nature of Duke's quarterbacks, and their quality offensive line, teams have had a tough time getting to them on the pass rush.

I do not like our chances one bit here.  Jon Tenuta's aggressive style kind of demands that the opponent take a little extra time finding a receiver.  That would be hard enough with Nicholson.  Now you've got no Nicholson and upheaval at the free safety position; I won't be the least bit surprised if the Duke passing game racks up 300 or more yards.  If we can stop them from doing that, that's the biggest chance we have at a win.

-- Favorability ratings

Run offense: 4
Pass offense: 4
Run defense: 3.5
Pass defense: 2.5

Average: 3.5

-- Outlook

That's a lot more pessimistic than Vegas is, since they - for whatever reason - have us favored in this game.  It's a home game, that's why, and we're favored only by the three points given to home teams.  But we've got two colossal injuries on defense and our starting placekicker is out as well, and we've yet to see that the offense has any quick-strike ability at all.  It doesn't, to be honest, which means having to march down the field if we want to score.  Nor have we seen much evidence that London can coach his way to a win, and David Cutcliffe can be a cagey bastard.  "Duke's defense sucks" is the only reason anyone might have to predict a UVA win, and what evidence is there that UVA can take advantage enough to win the inevitable shootout?

-- Prediction summary

-- Kevin Parks gains 100+ yards.

-- The UVA run offense generates about 200 yards.

-- David Watford averages over six yards a throw.  (Whee.)

-- Watford tops 200 yards passing.  (Whee, again.)

-- Duke's passing game tops 300 yards.

-- Neither team comes up with a turnover all game long.

Final score: Duke 38, UVA 24

-- Rest of the ACC

Miami 27, North Carolina 23 - Thu. - The Coastal Conference is doing its damndest to clear a red carpet for the Hokies' path to the ACCCG; Miami had to salvage this one in literally the last minute.

Syracuse @ Georgia Tech - 12:30 - Cuse is fresh off what was considered an upset win over NC State, but that "upset" status will be re-evaluated after the season; Cuse isn't great, but the Pack definitely aren't.  GT is likely to expose the Orange here.

Maryland @ Wake Forest - 3:30 - Hope you like seeing the Terps get bowl-eligible.

Pittsburgh vs. Old Dominion - 7:00 - With the London recruiting train coming to a crashing halt, you really don't want ODU to be able to say, "Look who beat Pitt."

Florida State @ Clemson - 8:00 - Being called the biggest ACC game since UNC-FSU in 1997 on ESPN's "Judgment Day."  Of course the stupid conference scheduling office would have the game in October.

Byes: Boston College, NC State, Virginia Tech


Anonymous said...

I'm headed to the game so I'm feeling optimistic: UVA 35, Duke 31. The offense has just enough firepower to outlast the Blue Devils.

Let's go Hoos!

Anonymous said...

Well, that was fun.

They really have to simplify the offense for Watford to have success, and then, when we are forced to play faster, well, Watford makes mistakes. Really makes me wish for Rocco ... and heck, based on what they've shown this year, Strauss and Metheny.

So ... I guess I have to start getting excited about Corwin Cutler or Greyson Lambert, then.

To be fair, the run game really dictated the game. Duke really did expose our run D, and assuming Brown doesn't bolt, our interior play should be better next year. At the end of the day, for 2014-2015 to be better, we need the OL to step up and open some running lanes. I'd really like to get Eric Smith or Sadiq Olanrewaju more PT at LT down the stretch, to groom them. There's a chance Will Richardson competes for the job next year, but it doesn't hurt to start thinking ahead to our OL plan.

Anonymous said...

This season is officially a train wreck. I don't know if they'll win another game this year

I don't even mind losing, as long as it's a hard-fought game. It's the WAY they're losing that's killing me. How do you squander a 22-point lead at home? And gain just 7 yards in the third quarter in a must-win game against a team with a middling defense? It's just unacceptable - the bad snaps, the stupid penalties, the avoidable sacks, the dropped passes, the off-target throws... I just couldn't believe it. How many times were they facing third and 25 today? How does that even happen?

I still love the school and will support the team forever, but this can't continue. Something's gotta give.

Anonymous said...

I know everyone says London is safe, but if we finish with, what, a 9 game losing streak?, I think all bets are off. A 2-win season following last year is going to make it tough to justify keeping him.