Saturday, November 9, 2013

game preview: North Carolina

Date/Time: Saturday, November 9; 12:30


Record against the Heels: 54-59-4

Last meeting: UNC 37, UVA 13; 11/15/12, Charlottesville

Last weekend: Clemson 59, UVA 10; UNC 27, NCSt. 19

Line: UNC by 13

Injury report:


OUT - OL George Adeosun, CB Maurice Canady, CB Demetrious Nicholson, TE Mario Nixon, WR Caanan Severin, CB Wil Wahee, OG Cody Wallace


QUESTIONABLE - CB Kelvin Rainey, DT Brent Urban


North Carolina:

Can't find one.

Welp, there's no real narrative for this week anymore.  Not for this season.  It's a shame when the season is so ruined beyond belief that the South's Oldest Rivalry means nothing except for UNC making a hell-bent run for bowl eligibility themselves.  They could get there; their schedule the rest of the way is pretty weak.  Not my concern though.  The only thing left as far as we're concerned: does the season continue to be a raging toxic disaster, or only a landfill tire fire?

-- UVA run offense vs. UNC run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 160 carries, 696 yards, 4.4 ypc, 9 TDs
Khalek Shepherd: 43 carries, 256 yards, 6.0 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:
157.22 yards/game, 3.76 yards/attempt
94th of 125 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

UNC defense:
204.13 yards/game, 4.41 yards/attempt
78th of 125 (national), 12th of 14 (ACC)

There are a lot of similarities between the Georgia Tech defense previewed a few weeks ago and this UNC crowd; the main one that makes me say this is that Carolina's numbers look bad, but they've basically been run over by good teams (Miami, say) and shut down bad ones.  Guess which one UVA is?

However - this is a bad thing of me to say, but it's probably true - the absence of Cody Wallace is probably a small net positive for the run game.  I'm sort of hard on Wallace, and it's only half fair because I actually do not tend see any deficiencies in his pass-blocking, but he also more or less epitomizes the line's inability to ever get any push in the run game.  Conner Davis isn't on the injury report, so it seems he'll start at guard and Luke Bowanko will stay at center, and we'll get to see quite a bit of Eric Tetlow as well.

Here's another positive: Kevin Parks playing in the state of North Carolina.  After the NC State game last year (a 33-6 UVA win, in case you forgot what that's like) Parks talked about being fired up to play in his home state, on account of none of the schools from there ever recruiting him.  His career stats tend to back him up.  He averages 4.5 yards a carry for his career and over 6 yards a carry when playing in the state of North Carolina.

Defensively, UNC is led by a pair of linebackers - their only linebackers since they run a 4-2-5 defense.  That would be Travis Hughes and middle linebacker Jeff Schoettmer, who has worked his way up from walk-on to starter.  DE Kareem Martin is exactly the terror he was expected to be, recording 12.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks so far.  After that, the next four tacklers are DBs, but that's not really a strike against the Heels since they have that extra one on the field.

I'd posit that a small reason for the success of the linebackers, though, is that UNC's defensive tackles are not wildly impressive.  Tim Jackson is decent (at best) but Ethan Farmer is unproductive.  The ends are much stronger, with the aforementioned Martin and solid production out of the rotation at what UNC calls the "bandit" DE (weakside, basically) from Norkeithus Otis and Darius Lipford.

Since Parks is a between-the-tackles runner, and he brings that shoulder chip with him to his home state, there may be something of an advantage here.  I won't go so far as to say it's an overall, lasting type of thing.  More of a thing that we can take advantage of in stretches.  I don't think Parks will reach that 6-yard threshold from his earlier NC games, but with UVA attacking a less capable defensive middle than it's seen lately, there might be a little extra room for him to work.

-- UVA pass offense vs. UNC pass defense

David Watford: 207/349, 59.3%; 1,845 yards, 7 TDs, 10 INTs; 5.29 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Jake McGee: 33 rec., 277 yards, 2 TDs
Kevin Parks: 32 rec., 305 yards, 1 TD

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

UNC defense:
218.9 yards/game, 7.5 yards/attempt
88th of 125 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)

There may be some favorable chances on this side of the ball, too.  A poop game last week dropped UVA's pass offense straight back to the very bottom of the barrel in the country, so weaknesses pointed out in opposing pass defenses should not always be construed as something we can take advantage of, but weaknesses are weaknesses all the same.

UNC has a few.  The pass rush is one.  With an NFL-bound talent like Kareem Martin, they ought to be better, but they don't otherwise get after the passer very aggressively.  Martin has 5.5 sacks and the other DE position has also accounted for 5.5, so Morgan Moses and Eric Smith both will be tested heavily.  If they can hold down the fort, though, Watford will have clean looks all day; UNC just doesn't send their linebackers very often and the DTs are no threat.

The defensive backs have some playmaking skill; safety Tre Boston has three picks and CB Tim Scott has two.  But Scott's counterpart Jabari Price has struggled some this year, and UNC's linebackers just aren't pass defenders.  If Steve Fairchild has any two-TE sets in his bag, this may be the game to try them out; lining up just one will probably mean UNC puts a safety on him, but two will leave them guessing as to which might head out for the pass.  (Not to mention the extra help on UNC's DEs.)

A quarterback for whom the game has not yet slowed down (hint: Watford) could really benefit from not having people up in his face all day.  Watford shows a lot of signs of simply rushing things based on the perception that the game just moves too quickly: he doesn't go through progressions well, he overthrows receivers, he hesitates in deciding whether he should bail on a play except for when he bails too early.  He should be afforded that extra half-second this weekend, and with a little luck things will click and he'll take advantage.

-- UNC run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
A.J. Blue: 70 carries, 266 yards, 3.8 ypc, 1 TD
Romar Morris: 49 carries, 214 yards, 4.4 ypc, 3 TDs

UNC offense:
108.38 yards/game, 3.00 yards/attempt
117th of 125 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
181.22 yards/game, 4.51 yards/attempt
82nd of 125 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)

UNC's running game is rather surprisingly unproductive.  Not one of the running backs has leapt up to lay a definitive claim to the job, and the depth chart lists four players like so: A or B or C or D.  There is no starter.  A.J. Blue is the biggest and perhaps this is why he leads in carries.  Romar Morris was the lead man for the lightning to Blue's thunder, but has never quite seized the job and has T.J. Logan and Khris Francis nipping at his heels.  None of these guys excite anyone.

The wrinkle, especially now that Bryn Renner is done for the season, is backup quarterback Marquise Williams.  Williams is also a fairly big guy (for a runner; for a passer, he's shortish) with a little bit of speed, and he's been used in most games this season as a change-of-pace quarterback who can do a little dual-threat action.

And of course, the most exciting news of the week, if you caught it on the injury report: Brent Urban.  If he plays - and I think he will - he may not be quite the slasher into the backfield that he was when healthy, but I'll take 75% of Urban over 100% of most of these guys.

UNC's way-low ranking in the run game should be taken with a slight grain of salt; much of that comes from piling up negative yards from sacking Bryn Renner.  They're not quite that bad.  But they're not real good, either.  The second caveat I offer is that they've played the good part of their schedule already; there could be improvement when they play us, Duke, etc.  However, the line is highly inexperienced at three of five positions, including both guards, and none of the running backs have put a jolt into anyone.  UNC's longest rushing play of the year is 26 yards.  Three UVA backs, plus Watford, can claim longer runs than that.  This is among the least dynamic run games in the country.

-- UNC pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Marquise Williams: 40/66, 60.6%; 537 yards, 6 TDs, 3 INTs; 8.14 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Eric Ebron: 44 rec., 669 yards, 3 TDs
Quinshad Davis: 32 rec., 476 yards, 7 TDs

UNC offense:
302.0 yards/game, 8.1 yards/attempt
37th of 125 (national), 7th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
236.6 yards/game, 7.1 yards/attempt
66th of 125 (national), 11th of 14 (ACC)

I'm just going to start off right now by saying I have no idea what to expect.  Marquise Williams, see, is a redshirt sophomore like Watford, only he's thrown just 83 passes in his career.  This is a guy who had probably the best passing game of his career against Virginia Tech, only one of the elite passing D's in the country, and is coming off two pretty subpar games against BC and NC State.  To put that in perspective, BC gives up a whopping nine yards per attempt and NC State is the other winless team in the ACC.

Williams's two biggest sources of help are tight end Eric Ebron - a first-team all-ACC near-lock - and a tremendous mismatch at WR in Quinshad Davis.  Davis stands 6'4" and is a favorite red-zone target, and can break a big play as well.  UNC has a lineup of complementary receivers as well - Bug Howard, T.J. Thorpe, and Sean Tapley command just enough attention to force teams not to focus on Davis and Ebron - but it's those top two that will burn you.

UVA's cornerbacks are still going to be DreQuan Hoskey and Tim Harris.  With Tra Nicholson out for the year and Maurice Canady having a tough time with a lingering medical problem that UVA won't disclose (but Doug Doughty did) that's how it is - and Harris came out of the Clemson game looking like Wile E. Coyote after a round with Acme dynamite.  Davis will be a problem for sure.

However, I'm inclined to think this game will hinge almost entirely on whether Williams is up for the starting job or not.  Jon Tenuta will look at the inexperience at QB - and the fact that UNC's line gives up more sacks than they should - and play Fun With Blitz Packages.  Williams will probably scramble out of trouble once or twice, much to our chagrin, but he just might also toss some ill-advised lobs somewhere.

-- Favorability ratings

UVA run offense: 4
UVA pass offense: 4
UVA run defense: 6
UVA pass defense: 5

Average: 4.75

-- Outlook

I am about to do something incredibly stupid.

-- Prediction summary

-- Kevin Parks averages between 5 and 5.5 yards per carry.

-- David Watford is not sacked.

-- Watford completes over 60%.

-- UNC's tailbacks run for less than 80 yards, combined.

-- If Marquise Williams completes less than 55% of his passes, UVA wins.

(I don't know why I'm doing this.  Maybe I'm counting on Parks's motivation; maybe I'm just stupid-happy to maybe - not even definitely, but maybe - have Brent Urban back; maybe I think Watford bounces back and has a good game; maybe I don't have faith in Marquise Williams; maybe I'm a hopeless moron.)

Final score: UVA 27, UNC 23

-- Rest of the ACC

Florida State @ Wake Forest - 12:00 - FSU will be sending embossed thank-you notes to Stanford this week.  Win out and they're a near-lock for a championship berth - and their next three weeks are Wake, Cuse, and Idaho.

Syracuse @ Maryland - 3:30 - The Terps take another stab at bowl eligibility; Cuse's postseason is very much in the balance as well.

Boston College @ New Mexico State - 3:30 - At New Mexico State?  At any rate, the Eagles have a very doable path to bowl eligibility, starting here.

NC State @ Duke - 4:00 - I'm being a jerk and rooting for Duke because if UVA goes 0-8 in the ACC I want company.

Virginia Tech @ Miami - 7:00 - VT still has a decent shot at the ACCCG, but it demands a win here.

Notre Dame @ Pittsburgh - 8:00 - I don't know why, but the Domers consider this a rivalry.

Byes: Georgia Tech, Clemson


Anonymous said...

It's okay, man. We're all hopeless morons sometimes.

pezhoo said...

The next two weeks your preview should just be an image of Alderaan with the words Hoo Nation across it. This is incredible.

Anonymous said...

Brendan, is there any reason Watford should continue to start for this team? I know that the Hoos' problems extend far beyond the QB position, but even Watford's best game against GT wasn't enough to earn a win or even score more than 3 TDs. I like Watford a lot, but he's had his chances, and it's time to move on.

Also, what's your take on accepting that holding penalty rather than take 4th and goal from the 5 was idiotic? I was perplexed.

Brendan said...

If it were me I would sit down with Watford and Lambert and explain that the competition for next season starts right now, and that means starting Lambert the next two games so we can see what we have. London probably won't do that because he's bound and determined not to make the QB mistake of the last few seasons.