Wednesday, October 15, 2014

half-season preview

Four and two is nice, sure.  Four and two is quite a bit above and beyond anyone's most optimistic predictions, really.  Jon Tenuta's sack-line defense is more fun to watch than we had a right to expect, even knowing what we had in our front seven (or six.)  Competent quarterback play has returned to Scott Stadium after a hiatus of some time.

But I think folks also understand: Mike London's seat isn't any cooler than it was.  Part of this is because being a UVA fan means spending your whole life waiting for the other shoe to drop, but part of it is also the understanding that this team could easily be 2-4, and still working on a winless streak in the ACC, if you change a play or two here and there.  We said the same thing in reverse about losing teams of the past, so it's at least nice to watch the bounces go the right way.  Still, the only thing that's really been accomplished is to set the team up for the necessary success to keep London behind the wheel of his complementary BMW.

I'm on record as saying that an eight-win season is what it would - or should - take.  (Or seven, as long as one comes in Blacksburg.)  Halfway there - that's great, but I don't know if we want to see the state of the fanbase or the program if the finish is 1-5.  So: it's time to see about the remaining obstacles.  Three-quarters of the ACC season remains, and tougher yet, four of the next six are on the road.  Here's a broad overview of what UVA will be up against.


Offense: Efficient
Defense: Unimpressive

Duke is just about how I had them pegged at the start of the season, except with less of a passing game.  The quirk in their stats is that they're excellent in the run game (on offense) and so-so passing the ball, and the very opposite on defense.  A lot of this has to be viewed through the prism of their schedule, of course.  For example, Anthony Boone appears to have taken a big step back in his accuracy, but his stats are skewed by 51 passes in a monsoon against Miami.

Duke's OOC schedule was an utter embarrassment; the combined record of their four opponents is 6-18.  Once they stopped playing joke teams and joined the real world, they promptly lost.  They bounced back with a nice win over GT in Atlanta - that said, I'm still not convinced GT is a good team.

Against the backdrop of that schedule, Duke still has one of the worst run defenses (per play) in the league, and they don't even need GT's stat-skewing run game to accomplish that.  They came nowhere near shutting down the nonsense they played in the OOC.  Bottom line, this is a very beatable opponent whose strengths play right into ours.


Offense: Solid, but very reliant on Marquise Williams
Defense: Can heel, roll over, play dead, and even beg

Legend has it that soldiers from North Carolina held their ground in battle so well that it was as if they had tar on their heels.  If the current UNC defense had been the one in the legends, North Carolina might today be known as the White Flag State.  Carolina can score pretty well, and may even have dropped the idea of platooning Marquise Williams with Mitch Trubisky, which would be the smart thing to do.  Williams is a very effective passer and runner in Larry Fedora's up-tempo offense.

Problem is, the defense is incredibly polite, compliant, and eager to accommodate opposing offenses.  "Oh, sorry, chap," they'll say.  "Didn't mean to stand in your way.  Off to the end zone, are you?  Jolly good."  These guys will not only usher you to your seat, they'll kindly hold your hat and coat as you enjoy the show, and refuse a tip at the end of the night.  Week after week, the Heels have been getting mercilessly blown apart.  ECU racked up 70 points and 789 yards, both records for a UNC opponent.  Notre Dame beat them 50-43, thus putting the highest-scoring game in the history of Notre Dame Stadium into the books.  The run defense isn't much to speak of, but Helen Keller could throw for 200 yards on the pass defense and probably never be sacked.

UVA gets to play this shitshow at home.  I'm not real convinced of our offensive capabilities yet, but if you can't score on UNC you can't score on anyone.


Offense: The usual
Defense: The reason I'm not convinced

GT has powered up the run game with the usual brutal efficiency, and their passing game has been working too, which is what drove their rise to the top 25 - prior, of course, to their loss to Duke.  There's still a ways to go, though; Justin Thomas against Duke made what might be the single stupidest throw I've ever seen out of a quarterback, which helped Duke out immensely.

That said, GT's OOC was just as jokey as Duke's, and GT's defensive stats stink to high heaven.  They almost squandered a huge lead to Georgia Southern, they've been badly susceptible to the big play, and frankly I can't wait for their game against UNC, coming up this Saturday.  UVA has to travel to Atlanta for this one, which is usually a tough trip, and all the usual caveats apply about stopping the triple option.  But I do not think GT is anything resembling a top-25 team, and should be viewed as just as badly flawed a team as any in the Coastal.


Offense: Extremely tough to stop
Defense: Up and down, but still really athletic

Still undefeated, FSU hasn't lost since November 24, 2012.  But pundits haven't found them as convincing as last year, and indeed, they haven't shown the same unstoppable mojo as the 2013 team that scored a minimum of 41 points in any given conference game.  Even in not losing, they've relinquished the top spots in the polls.

Still... I mean, whatever.  A loss may or may not be coming this season, but "not quite as national-championship caliber as last year" is praising with faint damnation.  UVA has to make another trip to Tallahassee, the toughest of the four remaining road games, even if Jameis Winston ends up suspended between now and then.


Offense: Respectable
Defense: About average

It's hard to peg this Miami squad, because they're one of those teams that loses to good teams and beats bad ones.  They weren't competitive against Louisville and couldn't catch up to Nebraska, and barely scored on Georgia Tech.  But they did beat Duke and an assortment of crappy OOC teams.  They do have one hell of a run game - Duke Johnson remains the real deal - and they really like freshman QB Brad Kaaya, not without reason.

Probably most educational will be their game in a couple weeks against VT; they have two other games between now and their trip to Charlottesville, but UNC and FSU don't tell you much.  The one really disappointing thing: this isn't one of UVA's road games this year.  Their devilish plan is apparently to lull opponents to sleep, because their sterile pro stadium has all the intimidating atmosphere of an Applebee's.  I've played on louder intramural fields.


Offense: OK when not turning it over
Defense: Inconsistent

The Hokies stand more or less in the same place UVA does: 4-2 and not real sure about the next six games.  Tech pulled out every trick in their bag and knocked off Ohio State in Columbus, lost to ECU and GT, then unconvincingly beat two bad teams in Western Michigan and UNC.  Carolina actually slowed down the VT offense quite a bit.

Their defense has been mostly pretty good, which is a drop in standards from what you'd expect.  UNC isn't an easy team to shut down, but VT did it, and the same goes for OSU.  ECU carved them up, though, and GT mounted two fourth-quarter drives (aided by a Michael Brewer interception) to pull out the win.  The Hokies just don't look substantively better than most of the rest of the Coastal.  With the game in Blacksburg, it'll of course be tough, but this year is as good a shot as any to stop losing to these guys.


So what do I think?  I think we go bowling, that's what.  I didn't think so before the season, but I do now, for two reasons.  One is defense.  The other is that the schedule is mostly full of very beatable teams.  UVA could be bowl-eligible ten days from now, but even if not, opportunities abound.  The next three games are against teams that can't really defend.  Finding out what bowl game you're going to is one of the most fun parts of a college football season; it's even better when you had no expectation of doing so.  Being wrong was never so exciting.


Stuart said...

Love the commentary. And I agree, aside from FSU, all of the teams left on the schedule are totally beatable. As far as @VT, #WhyNotUS

pezhoo said...

If I'm not mistaken, Helen Keller went on to a pretty nice college career after being a very lightly regarded recruit. Shrewd coaches discovered that was because she was mis-cast as a wishbone quarterback in high school. At her best in big stadiums where the crowd noise didn't affect her at all.

Anonymous said...

We're still slight underdogs in just about every game. If you assume we have a 40-50% chance of winning each game (and let's say 10% against FSU), we're only "expected" to win ~2.4 more games. So 6-6 or 7-5.

Also, pezhoo is right. Helen Keller may have been both deaf and blind, but she had a real feel for the game.