Wednesday, November 26, 2014

game preview: Virginia Tech

Date/Time: Friday, November 28; 8:00


Record against the Hokies: 37-53-5

Last meeting: VT 16, UVA 6; 11/30/13, Charlottesville

Last weekend: UVA 30, Miami 13; WF 6, VT 3

Line: UVA by 1

(No injury report, at least not from me; it's too soon to know.)

Back in 2003, there was legitimate palpable excitement for this game.  Actually, there was legitimate palpable excitement for the program in general, the result of having a coach that came in and actually had more or less immediate success.  But the VT game had a very distinctive this-is-our-time feeling to it, which persisted even though VT was 8-3 and ranked, and UVA was 6-5, and not.  Yours truly was in the habit of staying home all of Thanksgiving weekend and driving back to school on Sunday, but instead I hightailed it back to Charlottesville that Friday and regretted it not in the slightest; rushing the field is a fine way to watch your last game as a student.  I don't know if we'd have been more or less excited about the win if we'd known it'd be the last one until ????; it's probably best we didn't know.

This year has that feeling again, albeit without the very strong future-is-bright feelings about the program.  It's more about the feelings surrounding the other program, which has managed to make Steve Fairchild not the least popular OC in the state.  The Hoos are even favored in Vegas, on the road no less, with the line moving quickly from one side of the ledger to the other.  It sets UVA football up for a real feel-good story if we win, and for a lot of angry fans and bad vibes if we lose - and even the latter situation could be channeled into something productive.  Neither program is even close to relevant on the national stage, but a lot more is going into this one than in turkey-games past.

-- UVA run offense vs. VT run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 168 carries, 675 yards, 4.0 ypc, 4 TDs
Khalek Shepherd: 81 carries, 348 yards, 4.3 ypc, 2 TDs

UVA offense:
146.8 yards/game, 3.88 yards/attempt
91st of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

VT defense:
154.6 yards/game, 4.09 yards/attempt
56th of 128 (national), 8th of 14 (ACC)

Right up front, here's what you need to know about VT's defense: their safeties stink.  Many's the VT broadcast that's been interspersed with replays pointing out horrible decisions by their last line of defense, and you can bet that for every instance the announcers catch, they miss five or eight more.  This has been evident in both the run and passing game.

VT is normally pretty good against the run.  Those stats for this season aren't stellar, but they're certainly not bad.  Fact is, even if they don't have quite the linebacking talent they're used to, they do have a pair of defensive ends that wreck a lot of off-tackle attempts and sweeps and such.  Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem are legit.  Corey Marshall and Nigel Williams - the Hokie starting DTs, who rarely rotate out - aren't bad themselves, but when Tech gets gashed, and it happens a lot, it's usually right up the middle.  VT is in the top half of the country against the run overall, but has also given up 28 runs of 20+ yards - only four teams have allowed more.

You wonder if UVA can take advantage.  The Hoos found a lot of success on the edges against Miami.  Darius Jennings had a great day on the jet sweeps and end-arounds, and Taquan Mizzell ran well to the outside too.  Whenever UVA has a good day running the ball (which is relative, but hey) it's usually to the outside.  The inside hasn't borne much fruit all season.

The main hope is that Kevin Parks is cleared to play; if he is, he'll be one motivated dude.  Rather surprisingly, UVA didn't take to the air hardly at all in the second half last weekend, indicating perhaps a renewed interest in seeing what can happen on the ground.  Parks, if he's allowed to, ought to be able to snag one or two of those 20-yarders for himself, even if he's bottled up otherwise.

-- UVA pass offense vs. VT pass defense

Greyson Lambert: 139/229, 60.7%; 9 TDs, 10 INTs, 1,421 yards; 6.21 ypa

Top receivers:
Canaan Severin: 38 rec., 496 yards, 5 TDs
Taquan Mizzell: 35 rec, 197 yards, 0 TDs
Kevin Parks: 28 rec., 166 yards, 2 TDs

UVA offense:
232.8 yards/game, 6.50 yards/attempt
95th of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

VT defense:
178.7 yards/game, 6.36 yards/attempt
29th of 128 (national), 6th of 14 (ACC)

This isn't a promising area of the game.  The run game is probably more likely to be productive; those decent-looking run-game numbers are puffed up by sacks, of which VT has a ton.  42, in fact, third in the country with almost four per game.  Nicolas and Ekanem each have 7.5, but Bud Foster is pretty well-known for being a mad scientist with the pressure he brings.  It's not Tenuta-style BLITZ EVERYTHING as much as mixing up which players are coming and which drop back.

That'll make things awfully damn tough on Greyson Lambert, who, yes, is finally the quarterback.  He's got to hope his O-line of rice paper can figure out the pressures and keep him protecting, while at the same time not accidentally throwing right at a linebacker who disappeared from sight and reappeared in front of the slot receiver just in time to meet the ball.  If that weren't enough, cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Chuck Clark have combined to defend 24 passes.

The bright spot: those safeties.  Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett make a lot of bad decisions.  If Lambert can be kept on his feet for a few extra seconds, it wouldn't hurt to try and chuck it once or twice or ten times.  The main thing is to limit short-range INTs and either move the ball very, very methodically or else 40 yards at a time.  I don't mind an arm punt here and there, but turnovers otherwise have to be limited because this isn't going to be a high-scoring game.

-- VT run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
J.C. Coleman: 64 carries, 258 yards, 4.0 ypc, 2 TDs
Joel Caleb: 22 carries, 96 yards, 4.4 ypc, 0 TDs

VT offense:
137.7 yards/game, 3.58 yards/attempt
104th of 128 (national), 12th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
113.6 yards/game, 3.20 yards/attempt
16th of 128 (national), 4th of 14 (ACC)

Now's where things get fun.  To start with, Tech is thinner than thin at running back, having lost three of them to injury this year.  Among the regulars, only J.C. Coleman remains standing.  Marshawn Williams tore his ACL against Duke, Shai McKenzie did the same in September, and Trey Edmunds has a broken collarbone.  Edmunds was questionable for Wake Forest; he might return this week.

Plus, Tech's already unimpressive O-line took a hit when RT Jonathan McLaughlin was lost for the season a couple weeks ago.  Tech's running game is just this side of a shambles this year; it has actually managed to be worse than UVA's.  And while the barely-effective UVA run game is going up against a decent Tech defense, this side features an ineffective Tech run game against a top-notch defense.  VT has faced an equivalent defense in the recent past - and leaving out sacks and a 30-yard fake punt, the Hokies scratched out 43 yards on 25 carries.  You want to know why there's optimism for this game - this is it.

There's one potential wrinkle, and it's something VT fans are almost to the point of seeing if they can just run it the whole game: the read-option.  Michael Brewer has not endeared himself to the Hokie faithful, and they'd like to see Brenden Motley and the read-option, which they've run a few times with occasional success.  I'm not worried.  VT is not going to turn into the other Tech with a couple weeks worth of reps in the read-option.  Motley can do it, but it really has to be second nature and instinctive to work consistently, and VT isn't a read-option team.  And Wake Forest has nobody like Max Valles, who has been known to successfully defend both choices at once of a GT-style option play.

-- VT pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Michael Brewer: 233/384, 60.7%; 15 TDs, 13 INTs, 2,363 yards; 6.15 ypa

Top receivers:
Isaiah Ford: 50 rec., 607 yards, 6 TDs
Willie Byrn: 41 rec., 347 yards, 0 TDs
Bucky Hodges: 39 rec., 456 yards, 6 TDs

VT offense:
224.3 yards/game, 6.23 yards/attempt
103rd of 128 (national), 11th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
232.2 yards/game, 7.12 yards/attempt
75th of 128 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

If there's one thing that worries me about VT's offense (and there really is only one) it's the Hokie receivers, who are pretty legit.  Isaiah Ford has looked very good this year, and Bucky Hodges is what people thought Logan Thomas would be as a tight end.

The problem is that Michael Brewer can't find them.  He's had his moments; the BC game would've been a disaster instead of just a basic loss if Brewer hadn't played awfully well.  But that was a blip in the most recent four-game stretch; his 345 yards were one more than he had in the other three combined.  He's not mobile, the O-line isn't great at protecting him, and he tends to be both inaccurate and late with his throws.  Oh, and outside of Ohio State, he hasn't faced a team with more sacks than UVA all year - and few teams with more picks, too.

I'd like to have Brandon Phelps back, it'd set my mind at ease a bit going up against Tech's receivers.  But I have to admit, the secondary played much better against Miami than I'd expected, especially as the game went on.  Ford is good, Hodges is good, but neither are they Sammy Watkins, and it may be a function of the quarterback, but Tech doesn't have that infuriating possession receiver a la Danny Coale on their roster this year.  Long story short here: VT fans are fed up with their offense, and for good reason - and the UVA defense is just the kind to take advantage.

-- Favorability ratings

Run offense: 4
Pass offense: 3
Run defense: 8
Pass defense: 8

Average: 5.75

-- Outlook

What happens when completely resistible force meets immovable object?  Friday's game.  Neither offense has impressed anyone this season, ever.  Both defenses are legitimately damn good.  This game will either be loaded with turnovers, punts, or both.  That'd be about par for the course; neither team has reached 20 points the last two years and it wouldn't surprise at all if that were the case again.  Remember that 2003 game?  UVA won it 35-21.  UVA has scored more than 14 points in this game once since then.  That's another trend that might not be broken - and the Hoos could still win.

In the realm of intangibles, we'd all feel a lot more comfortable, I'm sure, if the game were at home, but Tech hasn't successfully defended Lane Stadium this year against an ACC opponent.  Call me an incorrigible optimist at the end of it all, call me Charlie Brown kicking a football, but with a vulnerable opponent, a little bit of momentum, and a team likely motivated to keep their coach employed, the outlook finally looks good here.

-- Predictions

-- Whoever wins the turnover battle, wins the game.

-- Kevin Parks - or Khalek Shepherd, if Parks doesn't play - breaks out at least one 25-yard run.

-- The teams combine for eight sacks.

-- The teams combine for twelve punts.

-- UVA outgains Tech, both air and ground.

 Final score: UVA 16, VT 10

-- Other ACC games

-- Georgia Tech @ Georgia - 12:00 - The only game in ACC rivalry week where both teams are ranked.

-- Louisville vs. Kentucky - 12:00 - Frankly, we're halfway to an ACC-SEC football challenge by now.

-- Clemson vs. South Carolina - 12:00 - And the ACC would be favored, too.

-- Syracuse @ Boston College - 12:30 - Will have the makings of a decent rivalry as soon as Cuse gets their shit together.

-- NC State @ North Carolina - 12:30 - UNC got carried away in the traditional spray-painting of the trophy after beating Duke last week, and left quite a lot of Carolina blue all over the Duke visitors' locker room.  In defiance of the SACS-COC inquisition, all players received three credits toward an art degree.

-- Florida State vs. Florida - 3:30 - On paper this looks like a Seminole rout, but the Noles haven't been playing real strong football lately.

-- Wake Forest @ Duke - 7:00 - I'm still wondering how a kicker misses all those field goals and then drills a 49-yarder.

-- Pittsburgh @ Miami - 7:00 - On the one hand it'd be nice to see as many bowl-eligible ACC teams as possible, but a Pittsburgh win severely crimps my chances of seeing UVA play in my hometown, so, go Canes.  Interesting, by the way, for the battle between James Conner and Duke Johnson.


Anonymous said...

Well, I guess you can take down the countdown timer now. Or just reset it to 365...

Anonymous said...

Yay... we get another year... of this.


Anyway, I'm more concerned (because basketball is what matters) that London Perrantes bought into his own hype over the summer. He was playing stupid basketball at the end of that game. Stupid stupid basketball.

Anonymous said...

On London - he made some foolish mistakes, but he did that at times last year, but the good was much more. It's early in the year - I'm not ready to really turn the page and say he bought into his own hype.


So ... we brought back Mike London for ... this. A 5-7 season earned London another year. Really? Another year without a win against Virginia Tech. A bad Tech tea at that. Seriously, I cannot believe how parts of the fan base were so pleased with the effort in the FSU game and a win against a Miami team that, to be honest, isn't that much more talented than us ... if at all.

Therein lies the biggest issue. There is talent on this team, and in the places that lack talent (OL), the blame is as much on the coaching staff (recruiting) as it is on the players.

It feels like Littlepage and Co. will give any reason to keep him around because Mike London is such as swell guy. With so much returning talent next year, it's not hard to imagine this team going bowling, particularly if Lambert develops some more ... and then London will probably earn a 3-year extension if that happens.

danielahn said...

If you had to guess which assistants are likely to come back next year?

Anonymous said...

I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I say bring back Fairchild next year. This team is facing a brutal schedule. Trying to learn an entirely new offensive scheme is not a recipe for success. No hotshot OC is going to hitch their wagon to the London train right now.

And besides, it was the injury-ravaged O-line that stymied the offense this year, not the oft-bemoaned playcalling. Not being able to pick up 4th and inches on a dive play is not the coordinator's fault. That's about execution. Fairchild is the best of our limited options unless you want to go back to 2-10 next season.

But I don't see any reason to extend O'Brien. He didn't improve game management, didn't enforce discipline, and ran off our best TE at a time when we really, really needed him. I don't see any evidence that he's adding value to this team. Time to move on, Tom.