Saturday, September 20, 2014

game preview: Brigham Young

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


Record against the Cougars: 3-1

Last meeting: UVA 19, BYU 16; 8/31/13, Charlottesville

Last weekend: UVA 23, UL 21; BYU 33, UH 25

Line: BYU by 15

Injury report: N/A

Last year's win set a great tone for the season: very solid defense and enough capitalizing on opponent mistakes to come away with a win.  Afterwards, of course: thbpt.  Winning that game led our thoughts completely astray, and it was two more months before the ugly truth truly sank in.  This year, the positive feelings from a win are a lot less likely to be phony; it's the last win that left a nagging doubt, but that can be washed away by doing it again.

-- UVA run offense vs. BYU run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 52 carries, 173 yards, 3.7 ypc, 1 TD
Taquan Mizzell: 22 carries, 87 yards, 4.0 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:
130.33 yards/game, 3.29 yards/attempt
108th of 128 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)

BYU defense:
54.33 yards/game, 2.06 yards/attempt
5th of 128 (national)

At this point it's getting hard to hope that the run game will be anything more than what it is: a marginally competent attack that has moments every now and then, but won't work with the consistency a good offense demands.  Counter plays are unusually effective, which I think is because the defense gets more penetration than it should and finds itself hard-pressed to catch up to the running back going the other way.  Otherwise, most of the yards seem to come from Kevin Parks's churning thunder-thighs, which are effective at clearing out a 3-yard gain after initial contact at the line of scrimmage.

The Louisville game didn't inspire in me a lot of confidence that the performance was repeatable, and the run game is why.  UVA failed to take advantage of a number of tremendous opportunities.  In order to take advantage of really good field position you have to run the ball, because the defense has less pass-game area to cover.  Misdirection works on your own 30, much less so on the other guy's 10.  UVA was only about 50% effective in the red zone.  (Don't buy it when they count a field goal like they always do.  Getting a field goal in one try isn't 100% effectiveness, it's 42.9%.)  That's got to improve.

This is a really hard game to make that happen.  BYU started their game last week with a safety on a Houston run play and crushed the UH run game all day; they ended up allowing 10 yards on 13 tries.  Neither UConn nor Texas fared very well either.  The efforts on defense are led by linebacker Zac Stout and safety Craig Bills.  The funny thing is that the Cougars aren't doing it by repeatedly slicing into the backfield; they're just very stout at the line and they specialize in the 1-yard gain.

This section of the matchup is our worst against their best, and it's a significant disadvantage for the Hoos.  I don't see Taquan Mizzell being a factor at all; any yards UVA can scrape out will mostly be after contact, which means Parks falling forward is most of the running game.

-- UVA pass offense vs. BYU pass defense

Greyson Lambert: 42/62, 67.7%; 376 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs; 6.07 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Taquan Mizzell: 14 rec., 52 yards, 0 TDs
Canaan Severin: 11 rec., 107 yards, 2 TDs
Darius Jennings: 8 rec., 149 yards, 1 TD

UVA offense:
203.3 yards/game, 6.22 yards/attempt
92nd of 128 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

BYU defense:
258.3 yards/game, 5.87 yards/attempt
25th of 128 (national)

The likely anemia produced by the running game means Greyson Lambert will have to be really sharp, and bolder than he has been so far.  I say Lambert even though there's the ubiquitous OR sitting on the depth chart still; I've decided I think that's either London's idea of a smokescreen for the BYU DC, or him being unwilling to send the message to Matt Johns that he's fallen back to second string officially.  Either way, I think Lambert is the man; Johns may get a series or two, but no more.

The biggest threat on BYU's defense is, again, the experienced free safety Craig Bills.  Linebackers Alani Fua and Bronson Kaufusi are the pass-rushing threats; no lineman in BYU's 3-4 defense has a sack, but Kaufusi is a converted DE and the weakside linebacker, so he's a pass-rushing type even with the position switch.  BYU's corners aren't overly aggressive, which provides a possible opportunity for the short passing game that Steve Fairchild seems to favor.

The guess here is that UVA gets the vast majority of its yards through the air.  BYU's pass defense isn't bad, but the offenses that they've stopped aren't particularly competent.  Eyebrow-raising as it sounds, UVA will have the best pass offense the Cougars have faced, which is mainly a stinging indictment of said previous opponents.  (They aren't much good at the run either, but they're at least better.)  BYU's run defense is legit, but the pass defense needs more of a test before anyone can make that declaration, so in that regard, there's an opening for Lambert.

-- BYU run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Taysom Hill: 62 carries, 356 yards, 5.7 ypc, 6 TDs
Jamaal Williams: 47 carries, 228 yards, 4.9 ypc, 2 TDs

BYU offense:
258.67 yards/game, 4.88 yards/attempt
48th of 128 (national)

UVA defense:
84.67 yards/game, 2.62 yards/attempt
16th of 128 (national), 4th of 14 (ACC)

Last year I wrote that Jamaal Williams was the focus of the run game, but that their new quarterback Taysom Hill would be asked to carry the ball a lot.  That wasn't wrong, but since then, the roles have flipped; Hill blossomed as a runner last year, piling up over 1,300 yards on the ground.  Hill is the primary ballcarrier; Williams, the change of pace.  There are spot carries available for a few other players, but Hill and Williams are basically it.

Hill is right back at it this year, with no fewer than 97 yards in each of his first three games, and 160 against Houston.  Williams didn't play against UConn, but ran for 139 yards of his own in the UH game.  These are not bad run defenses that BYU has played, either; they've all allowed about 3.5 yards a carry this year, but more to BYU.

So this is the most interesting matchup of the game.  Even if they haven't played schmos so far, UVA is a clear step up from anything BYU has seen.  Eli Harold is one defensive end who can consistently chase down Hill, and of course I'm not missing any chances this year to talk up the linebackers.  Daquan Romero should play a big role in this one, as UVA's primary outside 'backer.  I won't go so far as to say this is the matchup that decides the game, because actually it'll probably be more of a stalemate.  The respective air games will decide.  But it's UVA's tremendous run defense that gives us the chance to let that happen.

-- BYU pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Taysom Hill: 67/98, 68.4%; 689 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs; 7.03 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Jordan Leslie: 15 rec., 186 yards, 0 TDs
Mitch Mathews: 13 rec., 108 yards, 2 TDs
Algernon Brown: 8 rec., 84 yards, 0 TDs

BYU offense:
229.7 yards/game, 7.03 yards/game
75th of 128 (national)

UVA defense:
269.3 yards/game, 6.52 yards/attempt
50th of 108 (national), 8th of 14 (ACC)

Hill, last year, was what you expect from a new dual-threat starter: pretty inaccurate.  He's fixed up that aspect of his game pretty nicely, with a completion rate over 2/3; it's partly due to maturity and partly due to a lot of turnover among the receiving corps, which in turn has led to shorter, safer passes.  BYU won't be looking to bomb it downfield, and their receivers look a lot like ours, which is to say, big.

The top receivers, Jordan Leslie and Mitch Mathews, stand 6'3 and 6'6", respectively.  Terenn Houk is 6'5"; he's got six catches this year.  With size like that, the tight ends aren't a big part of the BYU's passing game.  The guys who are, though, are the backup running backs.  Jamaal Williams only does a minimal amount of pass-catching; spotting another running back in the game is a little bit of a tip that a pass to them is coming.

UVA's pass defense is pretty average - if the receivers get the ball.  Hill will do a lot of passing outside the pocket, but he's only 6'2" - when he does stand in the pocket, expect UVA's linemen to start thinking bat-down.  And obviously, UVA has to be aware of the scramble.  The Hoos have plenty of sacks, but they've also been maddeningly proficient at letting QBs slip away.  Hill is one of the slitheriest quarterbacks UVA will see all season, and simply grabbing at him won't bring him down.

It could be a little dangerous for UVA for that reason; the Hoos thrive on pressure, but Hill is hard to pin down that way.  It won't always be the first wave that gets him.  UVA needs to bring a second wave and be sticky in coverage - both much easier said than done for an offense that wants to get rid of the ball quick.  Secondary play will be huge, to keep BYU from succeeding with quick hitters, and to try and nullify the height their receivers bring.

-- Favorability ratings

- UVA run offense: 1.5
- UVA pass offense: 4.5
- UVA run defense: 6.5
- UVA pass defense: 5

Average: 4.38

-- Outlook

One of the tougher games UVA will play the rest of the way.  I'm not going to freak out about the altitude - it's about 4,500 feet, which isn't high enough to have our guys sucking wind in the second quarter.  What worries me is style.  Yes, the Hoos shut down running QB Brett Hundley of UCLA, but Hundley isn't very fast; Hill is faster, and BYU is a less conventional offense overall.  Don't get me wrong - our defense is also unlike anything BYU has seen.

But if winning means just barely converting on all sorts of golden chances the way Louisville served them up, I don't like our odds on the road against a team at least as good as the Cardinals are.  UVA won't be able to run, which means if we're going to see a win, Lambert must have the best game of his career.

-- Predictions

- At least 75% of UVA's offensive yardage is through the air.

- Greyson Lambert has a season (and career) high in pass attempts.

- Kevin Parks has at least 75% of UVA's rushing yards.

- Both Hill and Williams get at least half a yard less per carry than their season average.

- Hill doesn't complete 60% of his passes.

Final score: BYU 23, UVA 16

-- Rest of the ACC

Georgia Tech @ Virginia Tech, 12:00 - If GT is as bad as I think they are, and VT is as pissed off as they should be, then you can take VT giving eight points as the lock of the week.

Pittsburgh vs. Iowa, 12:00 - Steel meets corn.  The unfortunate thing for Pitt, though, is that Iowa - whose uniforms were purposely modeled after the Steelers - will look right at home in Heinz Field.

Syracuse vs. Maryland, 12:30 - Another chance to serenade the Terps with a nice little ACC chant.  But win the game first.

Duke vs. Tulane, 12:30 - Two of the South's best schools.

Boston College vs. Maine, 1:00 - Maine's two games this year: a 10-6 win and a 13-10 loss.  Woo offense.

Louisville @ Florida Int'l, 3:30 - Our new ACC members (looking at Pitt, too) have got to learn about life in the penthouse: you can make FIU visit you now.

Wake Forest vs. Army, 3:30 - Wake's last real chance at a win this year.

North Carolina @ East Carolina, 3:30 - ECU has a chance to really be a UVA fan's second-favorite team.

NC State vs. Presbyterian, 6:00 - NC State finishes off one of the weeniest OOC schedules in recent memory.

Miami @ Nebraska, 8:00 - Remember when this game would've been positively titanic?  Also remember when it would've been called Canevicts vs. Cornvicts?

Clemson @ Florida State, 8:00 - The FHRITP that changed the world - or at least, the ACC race.

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