Friday, September 25, 2015

game preview: Boise State

Date/Time: Friday, September 25; 8:00


Record against the Broncos: 0-0

Last meeting: N/A

Last week: UVA 35, W&M 29; BSU 52, Id. St. 0

Line: Boise State by 3

The last two weeks might have been surreal for any team but Mike London's UVA.  Well-played, close losses have become a staple of the UVA diet these past six years.  Badly-played wins are not quite as common (if only because wins are not quite as common) but the hallmarks were all there.  The win did nothing to quash any discontentment among the fanbase, and the reminders that "a win's a win" were feeble, few, and far between.

There's a chance this weekend to kindle a tiny flicker of optimism.  Boise State is the least formidable of UVA's murderer's row of a nonconference schedule, outside of William & Mary (yeah, I know. shut up.)  The Broncos are still a legitimately good team, the kind for whom bowl speculation centers on which, not whether.  But UVA has a chance to stay squarely in bowl contention themselves with a win.  Even in September, December is at stake.

-- UVA run offense vs. BSU run defense

Top backs:
Taquan Mizzell: 39 carries, 155 yards, 4.0 ypc, 0 TDs
Albert Reid: 24 carries, 67 yards, 2.8 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:
111.67 yards/game, 3.60 yards/attempt
108th of 128 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)

BSU defense:
45.67 yards/game, 1.65 yards/attempt
3rd of 128 (national), 1st of 12 (MWC)

The matchup in this area is so comically out-of-whack that, paradoxically, it could be a good sign for UVA. It was one thing not to have much of a run game against UCLA and Notre Dame, but the Hoos could barely move the ball against William & Mary.  Very likely indicator that the run game is going to stink no matter the opponent.  Run defense also happens to be what's been winning Boise State their ballgames, so UVA can nullify BSU's main advantage just by barely even bothering.

Sean Karl has replaced Jack McDonald in the starting lineup at guard; a shuffle this soon in the season is a solid symptom of trouble.  Karl opened fall camp as a third-string guard, and injuries and not-so-great performances have given him an opening.  I'm not wild about this development; Karl was the direct culprit on both punt blocks UVA allowed late in last season.  I guess that's more of a pass-blocking thing, but Karl flat-out whiffed his assignment twice in crucial situations.  Improvement over the offseason is to be expected, but still it's not a good sign about the competition.

Funny thing about Boise is they don't have an overwhelmingly large or dominant D-line.  You could almost - almost - call it undersized.  What they do have is a very, very active defense overall.  Already 15 players have been credited with a TFL this year.  As with every stat Boise-related, some of it is skewed by their Idaho State blowout, but still.  There are enough playmakers all around the defense that none of them stand especially out on the stat sheet, at least not yet.  Didn't stop the Broncos from holding Washington's non-QB ballcarriers to 26 yards on 18 carries.  With a running game, UW probably would've won that one.  Washington has since figured out how to run the ball.  UVA has not.  This is likely to be flat-out ugly.

-- UVA pass offense vs. BSU pass defense

Matt Johns: 64/96, 66.7%; 790 yards, 6 TDs, 3 INTs; 8.23 ypa; 150.2 rating

Top receivers:
Canaan Severin: 19 rec., 264 yards, 1 TD
Taquan Mizzell: 17 rec., 233 yards, 2 TDs
Evan Butts: 5 rec., 55 yards, 1 TD

UVA offense:
263.3 yards/game, 8.2 yards/attempt
41st of 128 (national); 5th of 14 (ACC)

BSU defense:
240.3 yards/game, 5.9 yards/attempt
36th of 128 (national), 4th of 12 (MWC)

That all means that if UVA is to have a prayer, they have to unleash Matt Johns's arm.  So far he's been excellent.  Six touchdowns against three picks, except really, one pick, since two of them were Hail Mary heaves.  And his ability to find Canaan Severin is as advertised; Severin has 19 catches (and is on pace for a 1,000-yard season); no other wide receiver has more than three.

If UVA wins this game, chances are Johns throws for at least 350 yards.  It's very doable.  Boise gave up some big plays of 84 and 70 yards in their loss to BYU, and BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum ended up with over 300 yards on just 17 completions.  The Broncos also sacked Mangum four times and picked him off twice, but it didn't make a huge difference in the end.

And I'd go so far as to say that's not likely to be repeated here.  Despite all its struggles in the run game, UVA's O-line can pass-block, and do it well.  Johns had one totally boneheaded throw for his one legit INT, but he's otherwise taken excellent care of the ball all season.  The contest to watch is Boise's cornerback Donte Deayon on Severin.  If Severin consistently wins that matchup, Johns can make things happen.  I'm still holding out hope that Steve Fairchild won't still be trying to ram the ball up the gut on 2nd and 9 late in the third quarter, and that Johns will be given much more free rein to get downfield.  If that happens, VAU has a fighting chance.

-- BSU run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Jeremy McNichols: 54 carries, 204 yards, 3.8 ypc, 7 TDs
Kelsey Young: 21 carries, 86 yards, 4.1 ypc, 2 TDs

BSU offense:
197.67 yards/game; 4.18 yards/attempt
90th of 128 (national); 8th of 12 (MWC)

UVA defense:
183.33 yards/game, 5.14 yards/attempt
112th of 128 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)

What's scary is that this portion of the game was almost always an advantage for UVA last year.  Just a given.  Now the Hoos look awful.  Over five yards a carry is a miserable number, and tackling problems and an inability to shed any blocks cast a huge shadow during the William & Mary game.  Notre Dame completely chewed up the Hoo defense, and UCLA didn't have any problems either.

The good news is that Boise's running game hasn't been much to look at.  They ground out a whole bunch of yards on Idaho State, obviously.  Against real teams, they've been, at best, not horrible.  Jeremy McNichols is a bowling-ball back, slow but powerful and highly useful in short-yardage situations.  Kelsey Young is the main change of pace, a more normal-sized back with more speed, and then the Broncos have Devan Demas, on the other end of the size-and-speed spectrum from McNichols.  Demas is the guy you worry about breaking a big one, but they only give it to him a handful of times.

Boise's unimpressiveness doesn't change the fact that UVA has got to play better against the run, or most if not all opponents will take full advantage.  Boise isn't scary, but they're good enough to break down the UVA defense anyway if it plays like it has so far.  UVA's not getting much from the D-line, because David Dean keeps getting double-teamed and the other DTs have been invisible.  Micah Kiser is racking up an impressive number of tackles, but he's still not quite fully instinctual in his play diagnoses and occasionally that extra split second costs another first down.  Still a lot of work to do.

-- BSU pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Ryan Finley: 46/70, 65.7%; 485 yards, 1 TD, 4 INTs; 6.93 ypa; 117.2 rating

Top receivers:
Shane Williams-Rhodes: 18 rec., 173 yards, 0 TDs
Thomas Sperbeck: 12 rec., 140 yards, 0 TDs
Jeremy McNichols: 8 rec., 73 yards, 1 TD

BSU offense:
234.3 yards/game, 7.6 yards/attempt
59th of 128 (national); 2nd of 12 (MWC)

UVA defense:
261.3 yards/game, 7.5 yards/attempt
94th of 128 (national); 13th of 14 (ACC)

Pass defense: also kinda crummy.  UVA has yet to register an interception, and every sack is either Kiser coming on a blitz or Dean shedding a block.  The pass rush hasn't been consistent, and there have been missed coverage assignments.  I think they're still running to catch Andrew Caskin.

Until his ankle injury, Ryan Finley was a first-year starter for Boise, and it shows so far.  His longest pass is 43 yards, and he's been picked off four times already, including three against BYU.  There is a veteran receiving corps to throw at; Shane Williams-Rhodes and Thomas Sperbeck are both excellent at what they do.  Williams-Rhodes is tiny but a really tough cover; Sperbeck is your basic Frustrating White Guy who doesn't look like a star receiver but is guaranteed to catch an 11-yard pass on 3rd-and-9, every time.

Still, Finley was a step back from the quarterback production Boise State is used to getting, and now it's his backups running the show.  Whether UVA will see more of Brett Rypien or Thomas Stuart, nobody is saying.  I at least like UVA's chances to finally get a turnover in this game.  The main concern is that whoever the Broncos choose, comes in and looks like a sudden star.  That's been known to happen once or twice or ten times in football history, usually to my teams.  However, despite poor results on defense so far, UVA faces a relatively favorable matchup here.

-- Favorability ratings

UVA run offense: 0
UVA pass offense: 6
UVA run defense: 4
UVA pass defense: 6

Average: 4

-- Outlook

There are three things to hang your hope-hat on for this game:

1) Matt Johns
2) The fact that UVA might finally get to see what they can do with a turnover or two
3) The fact that the UVA run game is so friggin' bad that it basically nullifies Boise's biggest strength.  If UVA has gotten this far with no ground game whatsoever, still won't have any, and looks likely to improve in other aspects of the game, that's a plus.

That last is half tongue-in-cheek, and half dead serious.  Naturally, of course, the flip side to that is that if Boise can put like five in the box and can still stop the run, Johns will find his passing lanes all clogged up.  That's the big danger.  The Broncos can stop the UVA run game with one hand tied behind their back, and such a huge advantage can't be taken lightly.

UVA also still has to fix the special teams, big-time.  Sure, Maurice Canady's big run was exciting, but that happened because of I-AA athletes, not because special teams are in wonderful shape.  Plus, Boise has held opponents completely scoreless in the red zone on half their trips - another place where the matchup is lopsided and one that can't be brushed aside at all.

This game feels a lot like another Notre Dame.  UVA will look good at times.  Being at home should help.  I think there's a really good chance to pull off the upset - but it would still be an upset.

Final score: BSU 30, UVA 26

-- Rest of the ACC

Byes: Clemson, Florida State, Miami, Pittsburgh

Georgia Tech at Duke - 12:00 - Duke lost to Northwestern, but it remains to be seen whether that means Duke is falling off this year or Northwestern is having one of their out-of-nowhere awesome seasons.  Could go either way.

Syracuse vs. LSU - 12:00 - Cuse didn't look like a good team before the season started, but they're 3-0 against more or less junk competition.  If they get squashed on Saturday, I'll start to think my initial impression was right.

North Carolina vs. Delaware - 12:30 - Did you know it was almost two years between Delaware ratifying the Constitution and North Carolina finally getting around to it?  That's not a terribly gripping fact but it's more interesting than anything about this game.

Wake Forest vs. Indiana - 12:30 - Fun fact about IU football: Pretty much every aerial promo shot of IU's stadium is taken during a game against Ohio State, because it's the only time the stadium is ever sold out and full of red-clad fans.  I did not make that up.

Boston College vs. Northern Illinois - 1:00 - NIU lost just 20-13 to Ohio State last week, so the world will be watching for an upset.  But then, BC had a close loss of their own last week.

Virginia Tech at East Carolina - 3:30 - History won't repeat itself....will it?

Louisville vs. Samford - 6:00 - Louisville is the best 0-3 team in the country and very likely to take the hell out of some frustration on Samford.

NC State at South Alabama - 8:00 - Best team the Pack have played so far.


Anonymous said...

What if T.J. Thorpe is ok to go and is just enough to keep teams off of Severin? Add Mizell in the backfield with his 230-someodd yeards receiving and our inability to run and suddenly we're airing it out all over the place. It's the new Greatest Show on (normal, grass) Turf. Of course this requires power-running fantasies to go bye-bye and no running it up the gut on 2nd and 9, but I've already noticed a reduction in bonehead running calls. So maybe, maybe, they recognize what they have, we pull off a few wins and its 2011 all over again. With its requisite five-year extention yada yada we're screwed. I don't know what I want.

pezhoo said...

No danger of pulling off a few wins. This squad might actually be worse than the 2013 team. That's unfathomable to me. The program is turning into a NATIONAL laughingstock now, not just a regional one.

Anonymous said...

Yes, well...I know what I want now.

Anonymous said...

A random thought, but one I've had often: who cares if you get two 5-stars in one year of five years at the helm? Boise State should not have so much depth across the board compared to us, yet everyone says London is a great recruiter, why? Beacause of two guys? 22 players start the game (more with special teams), how many see meaningful action? 50? London is not a great recruiter, he recruits a ton of two stars, ignores the trenches - everyone here knows this, just a few more seconds please - but no, not a good recruiter. Please back that line up in the future if you insist on using that before he leaves.
I'm finished.

spinozista said...

I expect that your analytic chores for this football season will be considerably lighter from now on. Once a 3-point underdog loses by 42 (I might add "at home," but for UVA what real difference does that make?), statistics and the clouded crystal ball can be stored away for the duration.