Friday, October 25, 2013

game preview: Georgia Tech

Date/Time: Saturday, October 26; 12:30


Record against the Jackets: 17-17-1

Last meeting: GT 56. UVA 20; 9/15/12, Atlanta

Last weekend: Duke 35, UVA 22; GT 56, Cuse 0

Line: GT by 10

Injury reports:


OUT - OL George Adeosun, CB Maurice Canady, CB Demetrious Nicholson, TE Mario Nixon, WR E.J. Scott, DT Brent Urban, S Wil Wahee

DOUBTFUL - WR Kyle Dockins

QUESTIONABLE - G Conner Davis, K Ian Frye, TE Jake McGee

PROBABLE - LB Daquan Romero

Georgia Tech:

OUT - WR Anthony Autry, OL Morgan Bailey, OL Ray Beno, C Freddie Burden, S Jamal Golden, DT Shawn Green, LB Anthony Harrell, OL Errin Joe




Yeah, Paul Johnson, I bet you have nobody banged up in the slightest aside from the guys who'll miss the game.  Not a single tweaked ankle, twinged shoulder, or sore knee.  Somebody is not conforming to the intent of the ACC injury report.  Meantime, that is the worst UVA injury report I've ever seen.

It all just makes a tough game tougher.  Georgia Tech is always a difficult matchup if your defense isn't well-prepared, and last week is proof they can demolish lousy teams - as if last year's game in Atlanta wasn't proof enough.  The road doesn't get any easier after last week, and with the losses piling up it's fair to wonder if this team will find another win all season.

-- UVA run offense vs. GT run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 131 carries, 560 yards, 4.3 ypc, 8 TDs
Khalek Shepherd: 32 carries, 233 yards, 7.3 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:
176.14 yards/game, 4.03 yards/attempt
82nd of 125 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

GT offense:
124.00 yards/game, 3.98 yards/attempt
57th of 125 (national), 11th of 14 (ACC)

Conner Davis's presence on the injury report is a disturbing sign for the offense; it was his absence in the first place that triggered a lot of the offensive line troubles.  Cody Wallace is listed as Davis's backup with Eric Tetlow behind Jay Whitmire on the other side, but keep an eye on this.  Wallace was pulled for Tetlow against Pitt, and Tetlow could get the call.  The offense would probably run better if so.

Georgia Tech's defense has been somewhat like a chameleon, matching their play to the level of opposition.  If the opponent is good, they've gashed the Jackets.  If the opponent is lousy, they get shut down.  Duke Johnson and Miami absolutely destroyed them; on the other hand, Virginia Tech's running game didn't exist except for what Logan Thomas did.  Which wasn't much.

The Jackets just don't get into the backfield much.  Nose tackle Adam Gotsis is a nasty customer in this regard with six run-game TFLs this season, but otherwise nobody else has very many, and GT is 110th in the country in TFL.  That said, a nasty defensive tackle was all it took for Pitt to destroy UVA's offense, and three-tech tackle Euclid Cummings is good enough that over-doubling Gotsis will probably cost the Hoos.

GT's linebackers can be tough too; there is no particular holy terror but no weak link either, with all three starters - Brandon Watts, Jabari Hunt-Days, and Quayshawn Nealy - all in the team's top four in tackles.

If Davis does play, he'll probably be limited, so I can't express a lot of hope for the line either way.  UVA isn't going to find itself totally shut down, but shouldn't expect to move the ball as easily as they did in the first half against Duke, either.  The best chance: Watford.  GT has shown a tendency to allow yards by a running quarterback, as both Logan Thomas and BYU's Taysom Hill were able to move the ball this way.  Watford doesn't keep much on the read option, though.  I was brimming with optimism for the run game last week against Duke; their failure to come through combined with injury troubles at guard and another tough DT gives me much less faith, and I can't figure the run game for more than 125 yards or so.

-- UVA pass offense vs. GT pass defense

David Watford: 148/253, 58.5%; 1,339 yards, 5 TDs, 8 INTs; 5.29 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Jake McGee: 31 rec., 265 yards, 2 TDs
Kevin Parks: 25 rec., 270 yards, 1 TD

UVA offense:
197.6 yards/game, 5.1 yards/attempt
122nd of 125 (national), 14th of 14 (ACC)

GT defense:
203.7 yards/game, 7.3 yards/attempt
75th of 125 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

Bad news, everyone.  We're no longer last in the country in passing!  Wonder if it'll matter this week; we've known for a couple weeks now that Jake McGee is banged up even though he didn't show up on the injury report against Duke.  The Maryland game made it clear enough.  Now listed as questionable, McGee's status is firmly up in the air.  I would guess he plays, but we'll see.  No McGee would mean a big, big role for Zach Swanson, and, no disrespect to Swanson, but a pretty big detriment to the passing game.

It won't have much effect on the stat sheet, but Kyle Dockins looks very likely to miss the game given his injury report status.  Dockins isn't targeted much, but his absence means the coaches will have to dig deeper into the underperforming-veterans well and give more playing time to Tim Smith or Darius Jennings.  Any more drops by Jennings and he's going to end up the fanbase's least favorite player; his chronic case of stone hands this season has been one of the year's most frustrating developments.

Defensively, Tech brings a solid pass rush from Adam Gotsis and defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu, though Attaochu's production on the year is decidedly down from what it was.  They present a tough matchup in that their linebackers, Quayshawn Nealy in particular, are good pass defenders.  Nealy plays the weak side, though, so won't likely be matched up with McGee much.  Brandon Watts on the strong side is less skilled in pass defense, so McGee (or Swanson) should be able to find room.  Cornerback Louis Young is the top player in the secondary, and given our receivers' inability to get open, should be a blanket all day.

I think it's fair to upgrade our assessment of our passing game a tick - but only a tick, as Watford is still far too inconsistent and the receivers haven't shown any indication of upgrading their game.  If they didn't do it against Duke, I have no idea when they ever will.  GT isn't overall a great pass-defense team - the rush is OK, and Young is the only playmaker among the starters in the secondary, though backup safety Chris Milton also has two picks.  Logan Thomas, he of the scattershot arm, had a really nice day passing against the Jackets.  Tech might present some matchup problems with linebackers who can defend the pass (Nealy may be a problem in trying to get the ball to Kevin Parks) and a pass-rushing DT, but Watford should continue to nudge his trend upwards, even if only slightly.

-- GT run offense against UVA run defense

Top backs:
David Sims: 84 carries, 409 yards, 4.9 ypc, 6 TDs
Zach Laskey: 45 carries, 261 yards, 5.8 ypc, 4 TDs

GT offense:
304.43 yards/game, 5.27 yards/attempt
19th of 125 (national), 3rd of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
151.71 yards/game, 3.98 yards/attempt
56th of 125 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

Each week I've sort of taken to naming which of the four sections of the game should provide the decisive factor.  This week it's here, because against GT it's always here.  You know the drill about what they do.

Unfortunately, defending it is going to be a son of a bitch this week.  We don't have our best DT, so we'll have a tough time holding the middle against the fullback dive part of the option.  We're short on options at DE because our run-stopping DE is playing DT (and is a little overmatched there due to size.)  Two very solid run-stopping tacklers at CB are out.  We do have some high-quality linebackers whose strengths just happen to include play diagnosis - but only two.

Adding to the complication is what Jon Tenuta will do.  Remember, Tenuta, despite his past tenure at GT, didn't coach there under the current regime, and so doesn't have any special insight.  If I had a time machine I'd go back and watch old NC State-GT games (despite the crossover, Tenuta did coach against the Jackets twice while at NC State) to see what his philosophy was.  It didn't work out especially well; Tenuta's defense gave up 28 and 35 points, while the Pack split the crossover series in 2010 and 2011.

If he decides to be Mr. Aggressive as usual, that could pay wicked dividends at times and get him burned super-crispy at others.  Blitzing Coley up the middle could help dissuade fullback dives, and sending an OLB or a CB from one side could either flood the area with defenders (good) or leave huge running lanes (bad.)  Tech isn't real big on throwing over the middle, so having Anthony Harris filling the middle while Coley finds a gap to get through could be a helpful strategy, especially since the depth at DT is hurting.

Tenuta's going to have to wizard his way through this one, though, and ultimately, GT has a major upper hand here.  With so many key personnel out, UVA will be depending on a patchwork of less-experienced players.  I think GT will have a ton of success up the middle.  I fully expect to get gashed there.  If the Hoos can force Vad Lee to keep - he's only averaging three yards a carry - they'll be in better shape, but I don't think they can do that consistently.

-- GT pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Vad Lee: 44/99, 44.4%; 846 yards, 8 TDs, 5 INTs; 8.55 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
DeAndre Smelter: 14 rec., 211 yards, 2 TDs
Robert Godhigh: 10 rec., 188 yards, 2 TDs

GT offense:
125.6 yards/game, 7.9 yards/attempt
42nd of 125 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
225.9 yards/game, 6.4 yards/attempt
33rd of 125 (national), 6th of 14 (ACC)

You have to give Paul Johnson this: He's incredibly consistent in his pass-offense playcalling.  In his first four years as GT coach, his teams attempted 165, 168, 168, and 167 passes.  Last year they went all pass-wacky with 194, but this season, Vad Lee is on pace for 170 attempts.  Consistency.

I bring up this factoid just because there's very little to talk about in defending GT's passing game.  All it takes is a solid cornerback and some discipline at free safety.  (That would be really cool if we had Demetrious Nicholson, or even Maurice Canady.)  If you have those two things, GT will not be able to throw the ball against you, because they like to wait until you're overplaying the run.

Then again, we might be forced to overplay the run if the assigned defenders can't stop it.  Plus, this season, GT is actually spreading the ball between WRs a little more than they used to, when in the past they would have one big dude making all the plays and the second WR would just be a very fast, very widely split offensive tackle.  And then some occasional throws to the RBs.  This year, DeAndre Smelter has 14 catches, but Darren Waller has 10.  Both are very, very tall in the usual Paul Johnson mold; Smelter is 6'3" and Waller 6'5".  Ordinarily this would not be a bad game to break in Tim Harris in his first game as a starter, but Harris may be tested a few times, particularly given his inexperience.

Lee, however, has not been the more-accurate passer he was advertised to be, connecting on only 44% of his passes.  And UVA has, with just a few ugly exceptions, defended the pass rather well.  If GT beats us, it won't be through the air.

-- Favorability ratings

UVA run offense: 3.5
UVA pass offense: 4
UVA run defense: 1.5
UVA pass defense: 6

Average: 3.75

That said, it'd really be fairer if I half-weighted the pass defense and double-weighted the run defense.

-- Outlook

Here's the recipe for beating Georgia Tech's offense.  You need:

-- a really good defensive tackle that can command a double team and even slash into the backfield, to discourage the fullback dive part of the option
-- defensive ends that are both disciplined and able to hold the edge against a blocker
-- a cornerback that sticks like glue
-- a free safety you trust implicitly
-- linebackers who can fill gaps ASAP and move side-to-side with ease.

We have one out of five.  We would have four out of five if not for injuries.  This is not a good omen.

-- Prediction summary

-- The UVA running game fails to top 125 yards.

-- David Watford again tops 6 yards a pass.  Progress.  Baby steps.

-- Both David Sims and Zach Laskey have 100+ yard rushing days.

-- No GT receiver has a catch of 30 yards or more, unless it's mostly YAC.  (This represents success in one realm of the matchup, at least.)

Final score: GT 35, UVA 17

-- Rest of the ACC

Wake Forest @ Miami - 12:00 - A likely rout, but then, that's what I thought Maryland would do to the Deacs last week.

Pittsburgh @ Navy - 1:00 - I labeled Pitt the worst team in the Coastal and they're two wins from eligibility; probably one win after this week.

NC State @ Florida State - 3:30 - The Pack have occasionally had the magic touch against FSU, but not this year.

Clemson @ Maryland - 3:30 - The Terps will have other chances at bowl eligibility, but it won't be this week, and being rolled for the second week in a row - not to mention losing their whole receiving corps to injury - could send them into a death spiral.

Boston College @ North Carolina - 3:30 - I picked BC to go to a bowl this year when nobody else would, and even I didn't figure they'd be the only team in this matchup with a conference win.

Duke @ Virginia Tech - 3:30 - Semi-unstoppable force meets immovable object when Duke has the ball.  Wet noodle meets half-eaten jelly roll otherwise.

Bye: Syracuse, busy licking their GT-induced wounds.


TBS said...

Excellent accurate preview as usual. Always impressed how much you do your homework and keep up this blog.

Some minor comments/quibbles:

I think your national rankings of GT rushing and passing offense are WAYYY off. Last I checked, we were ranked 4th nationally in rushing (as usual) and there's NO WAY we're ranked as high passing as you indicated (forgot the exact ranking).

Jemea Thomas is by far our best DB. Louis Young is experienced, but definitely not the top shut-down player you imply. I would rate him as mediocre to average at best. We lost both our starting safeties to injury this year and basically are playing with our 2nd and 3rd strings.

Tenuta was LB coach at NC State IIRC, not DC. He did struggle quite a bit vs. Navy's option offense while he was at ND also IIRC. Blitzing is generally NOT advised vs. the option. Of course, we well know that's pretty much all he knows. :)

Never checked back to see if you ever replied to my past inquiry on your opinion of Al Groh's new job as ESPN3 game analyst. Not sure if he's still that now as it was a 3-game trial at the beginning of this season.

TBS said...

You indicated we were ranked 42nd nationally with 125 yds/game. NFW. :)

Also, I highly doubt both our B-backs Sims and Laskey will get 100 yds. They haven't gotten 100 yds in a game this year (I think Sims got close with something like 99 yds one game) and I'm not sure about last year either. They pretty much platoon at BB too, so that makes it difficult to reach that milestone. If they do ,however, you can be assured the game is a blowout. The key to stopping the option is to stop the BB dive. If you can't do that, "then pack up your shit and go home" is the technically accurate assessment. :) The key to stopping the dive is have a physically dominant DL of course. That helps with defending just about any type of offense too... duh.

Hope it's a clean game with no injuries.

Brendan said...

I base my rankings off of yards per play, not yards per game. Yards per game is stupid. It's not tempo-free and doesn't take playcalling balance into account. One of the biggest pieces of evidence that announcers are Neanderthals is that they use yards per game. I mean, GT doesn't pass much, but no sane person would watch UVA's and GT's passing game and declare ours better. GT is capable of the quick strike. UVA is not.

Yes, I really think the B-back dive is going to kill us. With Brent Urban there's no way I'd make that prediction. Without, both Maryland and Duke blew out the middle of our D-line.

Never did see Groh call a game on ESPN3, so I really don't have an opinion. But if he's still doing that if/when London is fired, it'd be fun to start a HIRE GROH campaign just to rattle some cages.

TBS said...

Ah. Yes, YPP is much more accurate than YPG.. didn't realize you used that stat in your rankings. Congrats on being Nostradamus predicting 100 yd games for both our B-backs (plus our A-back Godhigh). Never thought that would happen as I believe that's never occurred under Paul Johnson. Plus the not being a blowout courtesy of our awful turnovers and penalties coupled with our D making Watford look like Dan Marino and your terrible coaching and game/time mgmt. I now agree with your (and Hoo Nation's) assessment that London is a bad coach. And I must change my previous statement.. Louis Young is not even mediocre. And we can't stand his constant showboating after non-plays. it's ridiculous. Jemea Thomas did come to play though, just as I said.