Friday, September 12, 2014

game preview: Louisville

Date/Time: Saturday, September 13; 12:30


Record against the Cardinals: 1-1

Last meeting: UVA 16, UL 15; 10/28/89, Charlottesville

Last weekend: UVA 45, UR 13; UL 66, Murr. St. 21

Line: Louisville by 6.5

Injury report:


OUT: CB Demetrious Nicholson, OT Jay Whitmire
QUESTIONABLE: CB Drequan Hoskey, OT Sadiq Olanrewaju



Coming to town is a team that UVA has played twice in about 120 years of football; the Hoos have longer histories with Western Michigan and Tulane than the Cardinals.  So it's only natural that they should be a permanent rival, right, ACC?  There's no need to work on the schedule or realign or anything.

This shouldn't be taken as a slap to Louisville (who themselves would rather be lined up with Cuse or something) because if I actually hated Louisville I'd want to play them more. We can lay claim to the South's Oldest Rivalry, and now we can add the South's (nay, the World's) Most Artificial Rivalry too.

Oh well.  It's a conference game, so it's important, and, even though Kentucky has as much Atlantic coastline as British Columbia, I always saw the ACC as a southern conference rather than an eastern one.  Louisville's a reasonable fit along those lines.  And since we do have to deal with these guys every year for who knows how long, we might as well beat 'em.

-- UVA run offense vs. UL run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 30 carries, 107 yards, 3.6 ypc, 1 TD
Taquan Mizzell: 17 carries, 47 yards. 2.8 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:
138.5 yards/game, 3.51 yards/attempt
98th of 127 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)

UL defense:
55.5 yards/game, 2.41 yards/attempt
22nd of 127 (national), 2nd of 14 (ACC)

I get the feeling this is going to be a yearlong issue.  It may be bad enough to sink the good ship London.  It was easy to rationalize a tough day against UCLA; Richmond, not so much.  Steve Fairchild gets a lot of flak for using the short passing game too much.  I think part of the reason he does that is, that's the running game.

Injuries have certainly not helped the matter, and there's a chance that situation could improve a little this week.  Sadiq Olanrewaju has missed the first two games, but he could be available on Saturday.  To tell the truth, I don't think it'll make a huge noticeable difference.  The problem is the lack of push in the middle.

Evaluating Louisville's run defense is tricky, since half of the sample is Murray State, which of course they dominated.  The linebackers have done well so far, with 6 TFLs among them, exactly what you'd expect from a 3-4 defense.  What makes things tricky for UVA is that the Cards also more or less shut down Duke Johnson of Miami, who needed 20 carries to get to 90 yards.  That by itself is plenty reason enough to think Louisville's defense is more than capable of winning this week's matchup.

It'll be interesting to see, if Olanrewaju is healthy enough to play - does he start, and if so, how does the lineup get shuffled?  Mooney to guard, or back to second string?  I suspect it'd mean more rotation than we've had in the first two games.  Unlike many 3-4 defenses, Louisville doesn't have three battleship-sized linemen, owing to the fact that it's their first year in the system, so there's a little hope for some up-front push.  But I wouldn't expect things to suddenly improve by half a yard a carry.

-- UVA pass offense vs. UL pass defense

Greyson Lambert: 29/38, 76.3%; 214 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs; 5.63 yards/attempt
Matt Johns: 17/29, 58.6%; 219 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT; 7.55 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Taquan Mizzell: 11 rec., 41 yards, 0 TDs
Darius Jennings: 7 rec., 118 yards, 1 TD
Canaan Severin: 7 rec., 88 yards, 2 TDs

UVA offense:
219.5 yards/game, 6.5 yards/attempt
86th of 127 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

UL defense:
212.5 yards/game, 6.3 yards/attempt
57th of 127 (national), 7th of 14 (ACC)

Yes, it's infuriating to list two quarterbacks.  Mike London said something after the UCLA game about rotating quarterbacks being no different than rotating the other positions on the field, which eerily mirrors something Al Groh said when he couldn't decide between Matt Schaub and Bryson Spinner.  For the sake of his own tenure, I wish London could make a damn decision.  I'd say that I want one of them to separate himself, but that's basically saying "I hope one of them sucks."  So, no.

The good news is that there's some signs of breakout in the receiving corps.  Canaan Severin had a big game against Richmond and appears to be starting to come into his own, even though he's not listed first-string on the depth chart.  The coaches have raved about Doni Dowling's preparation and rewarded him accordingly, and Darius Jennings is on his way to the kind of production we need from a senior.  A ton of different players have caught passes this year; I suspect this will be a game that starts to narrow the field some.

Fairchild has made a huge concerted effort to get Smoke Mizzell the ball in the passing game; small wonder, as he came in with a reputation as an advanced pass-catcher for a running back.  The problem is, it hasn't worked.  Mizzell is averaging a puny 3.7 yards a catch, barely enough for a first down if you tried it three times in a row.  Neither the running backs nor the tight ends have been anything close to a reliable threat in the passing game, which is putting more pressure on the receivers.

Fortunately, the O-line has done a decent job of pass protection, at least on paper.  The only sack was a garbage-time sack on David Watford by Richmond.  That's the good news.  The bad news is, I think that's a bit misleading.  The O-line spoke proudly of not having allowed a sack against UCLA, but left out the time a UCLA linebacker ran back an INT on account of Lambert almost getting killed by the rush.  Plus, our QB's haven't exactly been doing a seven-step drop.  The short passing game contributes a lot to the lack of opposing pass rush.

For their part, Louisville hasn't generated a great deal of pressure, so UVA's quarterbacks should at least be grass-stain free, for the most part.  The Cards did intercept Miami's Brad Kaaya twice, but five of their seven PBUs were against Murray State.  Their pass defense appears to be a little behind their run defense in adapting to the 3-4.

I do see one big potential advantage for UVA: A short passing game like we tend to run, forces the linebackers into coverage fairly often, and UL's linebackers are mostly converted D-linemen from the 4-3.  Can they cover the slot as consistently as Fairchild will probably make them?  We'll see.

-- UL run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Dominique Brown: 38 carries, 183 yards, 4.8 ypc, 2 TDs
Brandon Radcliff: 15 carries, 97 yards, 6.5 ypc, 2 TDs

UL offense:
227.5 yards/game, 4.95 yards/attempt
48th of 127 (national), 6th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
87.5 yards/game, 2.50 yards/attempt
24th of 127 (national), 3rd of 14 (ACC)

Louisville was supposed to have a tandem this year - according to plan, Michael Dyer would've split carries with Dominique Brown in a classic thunder-and-lightning combo.  The lightning is missing, leaving 235-pound thunderback Brown to take the carries.

Brown was held back from most of the Murray State game after topping 30 carries and 140+ yards against Miami, likely to keep him healthy.  If Dyer's sore thigh keeps him out again this weekend, Brown will probably carry the ball most of the time, with L.J. Scott first in line to spell him.  Scott piled up yards against Murray State, but only had three carries (and went nowhere) against Miami.

The UVA defense, though, is easily Louisville's toughest test so far.  Henry Coley and Daquan Romero are two dominant linebackers.  Possibly the most interesting development, though, is Max Valles's ten tackles.  Early returns on Valles are that he's becoming the all-around player UVA needs him to be.  He's been a presence in the run game, which gives UVA three outstanding linebackers, and he's been joined by Eli Harold, who's coming along the same path.  Louisville has a competent running game, but they're the ones not sleeping easy in this matchup.

-- UL pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Will Gardner: 33/50, 66.0%; 339 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs; 6.78 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Eli Rogers: 10 rec., 110 yards, 0 TDs
Gerald Christian: 9 rec., 91 yards, 2 TDs
Kai De La Cruz: 6 rec., 63 yards, 1 TD

UL offense:
242.0 yards/game, 7.2 yards/attempt
64th of 127 (national), 5th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
302.5 yards/game, 7.5 yards/attempt
92nd of 127 (national), 14th of 14 (ACC)

Now that is surprising - I did not at all expect to see UVA sitting on the very bottom of the conference in pass defense.  Thinking back, maybe it shouldn't be.  Richmond moved the ball pretty well through the air.  We haven't had our top cornerback - Tra Nicholson - in the game all season, and he won't be back for this one either.  This plus DreQuan Hoskey's questionable status means lots of Tim Harris, and Harris has been getting picked on all season.  He's been very obviously bad so far, getting beaten for most of the big plays UVA has given up.

On the plus side, the pass rush has been among the best in the country.  Valles has been a particular fiend, but there are players along the line (Harold, for example) who've been getting a lot more push than their sack numbers show.

Louisville's Will Gardner has been plenty effective so far, in his first season at the helm.  Gardner carved up Miami pretty effectively, to the tune of 20 completions on 28 attempts, and two touchdowns.  And he's done it without the help of DeVante Parker, who was expected to be one of the top receivers in the league.  Parker underwent foot surgery, oh, right about the exact same time I wrote my ACC preview.  Louisville hasn't found a huge big-play threat yet so far, with Eli Rogers, Kai De La Cruz, and James Quick, plus TE Gerald Christian, all averaging only about 10 yards per catch.  But they've all been dependable, and Louisville has moved the ball well in the passing game.

With Gardner owning a high completion rate, and UVA allowing one, it's plenty likely we'll see more of the same there.  UVA's CB depth is being sorely tested, and the Hoos haven't pressed up much in coverage - something Louisville will be happy to take advantage of.  The pass rush needs to be consistent all day, as any letup will probably result in a long scoring drive.

-- Favorability ratings

- UVA run offense: 3
- UVA pass offense: 3.5
- UVA run defense: 6.5
- UVA pass defense: 4

Average: 4.25

-- Outlook

Look around a bit and you can find a few pundits picking UVA in this one.  Cool, but I think a lot of that is based on a good showing against possibly-overrated UCLA.  I gotta see more out of the run game, a pass game that legitimately threatens some explosive plays no matter who's under center, and better cornerback play.  Louisville should be well-equipped to nullify a lot of our advantage in pass defense, and seems likely to overcome our defense just enough to hold off our offense.

-- Predictions

-- No UVA RB tops 70 yards rushing.

-- Canaan Severin builds on his Richmond game, with at least five more catches.

-- Greyson Lambert begins to take hold of the QB job, with stats that start to separate him from Johns.  For one, he throws no picks while Johns throws at least one.

-- Will Gardner completes 2/3 of his passes or more.

-- UVA's sack numbers fall to no more than two.

-- Louisville has at least twice as many passing yards as running yards.

Final score: UL 24, UVA 14

-- Rest of the ACC

Virginia Tech vs. East Carolina - 12:00 - It'd be really cool if VT's win over Ohio State last week means that OSU actually really sucks.  Indirectly, an ECU win (which has happened before) would really knock the Big Ten off its hinges.

Georgia Tech vs. Georgia Southern - 12:00 - Georgia Southern very nearly knocked off NC State in the season opener.

Pittsburgh @ Florida Int'l - 12:00 - Why is an ACC team visiting FIU?  Recruiting, probably, but c'mon.

Syracuse @ Central Michigan - 12:00 - Cuse doesn't even have that excuse.

Miami vs. Arkansas State - 3:30 - Things are bad in Hooville when ESPNU picks this game over a conference matchup.

NC State @ South Florida - 3:30 - NC State has been playing with fire in its comparatively weak OOC schedule, and now goes on the road just to turn up the heat a bit.

Duke vs. Kansas - 3:30 - Charlie Weis is the country's greatest offensive genius, if you're asking Charlie Weis.  This would be a good chance for him to take some notes.

Wake Forest @ Utah State - 7:00 - This rounds out the sweep; ACC teams are playing opponents from all of the so-called Group of Five conferences this week.

Boston College vs. USC - 8:00 - Not gonna be pretty.

1 comment:

pezhoo said...

Wow, I just realized I was at that last game, the 16-15 game in C'ville. I was a second year. Back then Virginia was good, we won 10 games that year. We also had a quarterback. Matt Blundin, a Parade All-American was on the bench because we were committed to Shawn Moore. We were down late but I just knew we'd put together a drive to get a FG and win. Glory days. I think tomorrow is one of the final seven nails in Mike London's coffin. I still think he might get canned after FSU embarrasses us.