Friday, September 26, 2014

game preview: Kent State

Date/Time: Saturday, September 27; 3:30


Record against the Flashes: 0-0

Last meeting: N/A

Last weekend: BYU 41, UVA 33; KSU bye

Line: UVA by 27.5

Injury report: N/A

Like UCLA before, UVA has never played Kent State.  Unlike UCLA, the Golden Flashes do not present a formidable challenge.  The Hoos have gone bowling once under Mike London, which also happens to be the only season UVA has had a winning record after five games.  That's the expectation this week, though; failure to do so wouldn't be so much a nail in the coffin - more a railroad spike.  That said, it's not a given that Kent State isn't the worst team on UVA's schedule.

-- UVA run offense vs. KSU run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 63 carries, 197 yards, 3.1 avg, 1 TD
Khalek Shepherd: 31 carries, 144 yards, 4.6 avg, 1 TD

UVA offense:
145.75 yards/game, 3.58 yards/attempt
96th of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

KSU defense:
215.0 yards/game, 4.39 yards/attempt
84th of 128 (national), 6th of 13 (MAC)

The main intrigue here is whether Khalek Shepherd is working his way past Taquan Mizzell as the second back in the offense.  He was certainly the hot hand against BYU, getting the most carries and yards of any running back on either team.  Offensive line struggles notwithstanding, Mizzell has simply been a disappointment so far, and it wouldn't surprise to see Shepherd nose into the conversation much as he did last year.

Kent State has done a respectable-ish job against teams of similar talent levels - the Ohio Bobcats didn't get much going, and South Alabama got their yards but had to grind for them - but were utterly overmatched against Ohio State.  No surprise, that.  KSU is a little undersized at defensive tackle, employing the 265-pound Nate Terhune at three-tech, though they've also eschewed the the small, quick DEs often used by college teams in favor of a pair of 250-pounders.

The ever-popular indicator of bad defense, though - safeties making all the tackles - is clear and present in the Golden Flashes' stat listing.  Starting safeties Nate Holley and Jordan Italiano combine for 64 tackles, just over a quarter of the Kent State total.  I don't expect UVA's run game to go wild, because O-line, and I'd be a little disappointed too if Steve Fairchild opened the playbook much farther.  Save something for the ACC games and all that.  But I do think UVA's top three backs will each improve on their season average, and there ought to be a Daniel Hamm sighting as well.

-- UVA pass offense vs. KSU pass defense

Matt Johns: 34/58, 58.6%; 367 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs; 6.33 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Taquan Mizzell: 16 rec., 62 yards, 0 TDs
Canaan Severin: 15 rec., 165 yards, 2 TDs
Miles Gooch: 13 rec., 163 yards, 1 TD

UVA offense:
234.25 yards/game, 6.01 yards/attempt
106th of 128 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)

KSU defense:
255.7 yards/game, 9.24 yards/attempt
124th of 128 (national), 12th of 13 (MAC)

That was the good part of Kent State's defense, by the way.  If the run defense was overmatched against the Buckeyes, the pass defense was obliterated, with OSU quarterback JT Barrett averaging a first down every time he dropped back to pass.  Ohio's Derrius Vick completed 3/4ths of his passes, averaged even more yards than Barrett did, and didn't throw a pick.

The defensive stats don't look good at all.  Kent State defenders have only broken up five passes, intercepted one, and registered all of two sacks.  The latter is especially low; if anyone gets close to our quarterback on Saturday with any consistency, it'll be cause for major concern.

Who that quarterback is, is still unknown.  Mike London stated that Greyson Lambert wouldn't go unless he was 100%, and if he's 100% on his ankle after just one week that's great news, but that's a tricky thing.  The guess here is that Lambert won't play at all, with Matt Johns getting the start and David Watford first in line for any garbage time.  With Kent State undersized at corner and matching up against UVA's much larger targets, I would think multiple receivers ought to have big days, which in the current setup where everything is spread way around and there's no dominant receiver, is about five catches.

-- KSU run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Nick Holley: 25 carries, 87 yards, 0 TDs
Anthony Meray: 14 carries, 33 yards, 0 TDs

KSU offense:
47.33 yards/game, 1.95 yards/attempt
126th of 128 (national), 13th of 13 (MAC)

UVA defense:
99.75 yards/game, 2.98 yards/attempt
26th of 128 (national), 4th of 14 (ACC)

OK, so part of the problem with Kent State's run game is that they're not real good in pass protection, and have lost 50 yards to sacks.  Add that yardage back in, and they're still 118th in the country at about 2.6 yards a carry.  And this is mostly against bad teams, mind you - OSU shut them down, of course, but so has everyone.  UVA's run game isn't very good, but it does achieve a minimum level of competence.  Kent State's run game is just useless.

Lack of size is again a problem, as KSU's backs are just plain small.  Nick Holley is actually averaging 3.5 yards a carry, but it's boosted by his 20-yard scampers, one each against USA and OSU.  Take them out and he's under two yards.  The next longest run on the team belongs to quarterback Colin Reardon: nine yards.

Against a defense like UVA's, this is all pretty bad news.  This is likely to be UVA's most favorable matchup of the rest of the year.  I'd say our brilliant linebackers, Coley and Romero, are poised for a field day, but if our coaches are smart they'll rotate in guys like Micah Kiser and Zach Bradshaw nice and early.  And the defensive line might hog a bunch of the tackles before the linebackers can even get there.  You can color me surprised if Kent State even manages 50 yards on the ground; if the pass rush is on its game, the total might just be negative.

-- KSU pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Colin Reardon: 61/108, 56.5%; 553 yards, 4 TDs, 4 INTs; 5.12 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Ernest Calhoun: 15 rec., 128 yards, 0 TDs
Casey Pierce: 11 rec., 128 yards, 1 TD
Nick Holley: 11 rec., 74 yards, 1 TD

KSU offense:
185.3 yards/game, 4.83 yards/attempt
125th of 128 (national), 12th of 13 (MAC)

UVA defense:
248.8 yards/game, 6.77 yards/attempt
61st of 128 (national), 8th of 14 (ACC)

For as crummy a run game as he has supporting him, Kent State QB Colin Reardon is putting up a game effort.  Reardon is a reasonably efficient passer, all things considered, and was thrown into the fire last year as a true freshman and responded well.  He can scramble a bit, a useful talent given the protection he doesn't receive, and while he didn't light up the scoreboard against Ohio and USA, his passing wasn't the reason the Flashes lost, either.

That said, Ohio State smothered him, badly.  Kent's O-line couldn't protect him, allowing four sacks, and Reardon threw three picks as well.  UVA's defense is much closer to OSU than to Kent State's other opponents in terms of talent and athleticism, and should be expected to harass him all day.  Kent State favors shorter passes, not unlike UVA - the kind that are more easily batted down at the line.  Max Valles was made to chase down moderately scrambley quarterbacks, as well as knock down passes from ones who are 6'1" like Reardon, and ought to have himself a day.

The thing we'll all have our eyes on, though, is whether Demetrious Nicholson will make his season debut.  He's supposedly close, and this would be a good warm-up, as he'll be needed right away next week in order to help shut down Tyler Boyd of Pittsburgh.  I think Nicholson will play, even if cautiously, and even a rusty Nicholson is still an improvement over Tim Harris right now.

-- Favorability ratings

UVA run offense: 6.5
UVA pass offense: 7
UVA run defense: 9.5
UVA pass defense: 8.5

Average: 7.875

-- Outlook

Pretty darn good.  Saturday should be a fun day on defense.  UVA isn't going to win every matchup on every play on offense, and just isn't explosive enough to curb-stomp the Flashes the way OSU did.  But when KSU gets the ball, they'll simply be severely overmatched and very one-dimensional.  UVA ought to be able to set up tents in the Kent State backfield and maybe roast some marshmallows.  Anything short of a very convincing win would be a disappointment.

-- Predictions

- Demetrious Nicholson plays.

- So does Daniel Hamm.

- Greyson Lambert does not.

- UVA's top three backs - Parks, Mizzell, and Shepherd - each beat their season averages per carry, which right now are 3.1, 3.4, and 4.6.

- Kent State fails to reach 50 yards on the ground, including sacks.

- Max Valles records at least one sack and two batted passes.

Final score: UVA 34, KSU 3

-- Rest of the ACC

Bye: Georgia Tech

Boston College vs. Colorado State, 12:30 - CSU could be dangerous, but expect BC to keep rolling toward a second straight bowl nonetheless.

Virginia Tech vs. Western Michigan, 12:30 - VT just lost home games on back-to-back weekends.  Last time that happened? 1995.

Pittsburgh vs. Akron, 1:30 - The Steel-Belted Radials Bowl.

Wake Forest @ Louisville, 3:30 - Just so you know, E.J. Scott is on pace for a really nice season.

Florida State @ NC State, 3:30 - You get the feeling that FSU is headed for a drop off their #1 perch, and NC State has historically been a very rough patch for them.

North Carolina @ Clemson, 7:00 - Hahahahahaha 70 points.

Duke @ Miami, 7:30 - Actually a pretty big Coastal game.

Syracuse vs. Notre Dame, 8:00 - The historical first of Notre Dame's contracted ACC games.  Face it, Domers - it's basically your first-ever conference game.


pezhoo said...

One comment caught my eye, about the indicator of a bad defense being safties making all the tackles. I agree with that. But when you look at our defense, Blanding is #2 in tackles and Harris is #4. I can make all the arguments other Virginia fans would make that that's not a problem. And I don't think it is. The #1, 3 and 5 leading tacklers are linebackers. So I don't think it's a problem. Is it?

On a sidenote, how good can Valles become? He has 2.5 years to go and already gets to the passer frequently. He could be a poor man's Lawrence Taylor in 2016.

Brendan said...

Well, like any stat, it's not much good in a vacuum. One thing to point out with Kent State is that opponents run the ball on them 64% of the time, whereas our opponents pass more than they run (about 47% run plays.)

So our safeties will naturally have to make more tackles. Plus ours are much more in the mix with our linebackers than Kent's, who stand pretty head and shoulders above the rest of the team.

With Valles - man. I'm impressed because it looks to me he's picked up a ton of knowledge between last year and now, and I don't just mean simple things like getting your hands up. He seems very coachable and on his way to being a really multidimensional guy - you can see him start to diagnose plays now instead of just bullrushing all the time. Not to get all gushy, but we may not even have him anymore in 2016. He could be that good.