Friday, October 16, 2015
game preview: Syracuse
Date/Time: Saturday, October 17; 3:30
TV: RSN, ESPN3
Line: UVA by 7
Record against the Orange: 2-2
Last meeting: UVA 27, Cuse 24; 9/17/05, Syracuse
Last weekend: Pitt 26, UVA 19; USF 45, Cuse 24
Ten years ago was the last time we played Syracuse - not even a thought of them ever being in the ACC - and I guess that's appropriate because this week (Thursday, in fact) was also the ten-year anniversary of what ESPN called "the wildest day in college football this century." You'd almost never be off base in accusing ESPN of hyperbole, but in this case you might just have to admit they're right.
This is all apropos of nothing, of course, except that UVA got to take part in it so that was pretty sweet. But that was then, when we were good. This is now, when......(sigh). UVA is actually favored in this one, which is certainly the last time they'll be favored in any game this season. Which means that if you're some kind of whackjob who thinks we could get to watch a bowl game this year, this one is a must-must-must win.
-- UVA run offense vs. Cuse run defense
Taquan Mizzell: 53 carries, 196 yards, 3.7 ypc, 0 TDs
Albert Reid: 31 carries, 152 yards, 4.9 ypc, 1 TD
102.8 yards/game, 3.27 yards/attempt
121st of 128 (national), 14th of 14 (ACC)
137.8 yards/game, 3.81 yards/attempt
50th of 128 (national), 8th of 14 (ACC)
Syracuse's defense is basically crap. The pass defense is mega-crap and the run defense is just your basic average crap, but it's an overall crapshow. Against even crappier offenses, though, Cuse has managed at least to keep teams from running the ball.
The Orange started the season 3-0 in large part because they kept lousy opponents from moving the ball on the ground. Rhode Island netted four yards. But Rhode Island is a 1-5 I-AA team. Wake and CMU had slightly better luck - slightly. Those teams are 119th and 126th in rushing offense this year, so stopping them isn't a major accomplishment. On the other hand, Cuse got steamrolled by LSU and USF, allowing 268 and 281 yards on the ground, respectively.
All well and good, but you know as well as I do where UVA stands. The Hoos would be worse than CMU if not for Reid's 71-yarder against Pitt. That run added almost half a yard to the team's season average. Cuse's defenders don't look that scary on the stat sheet. The front seven doesn't have any big-time run stuffers. Safety Antwan Cordy is the only player with any significant number of run-game TFLs. But Syracuse can stop crappy run offenses, and UVA's is just about as crappy as it gets.
-- UVA pass offense vs. Cuse pass defense
Matt Johns: 93/154, 60.4%; 1,198 yards, 9 TDs, 7 INTs; 7.8 ypa, 135.9 rating
Canaan Severin: 26 rec., 348 yards, 2 TDs
Taquan Mizzell: 25 rec., 340 yards, 3 TDs
T.J. Thorpe: 6 rec., 145 yards, 1 TD
246.4 yards/game, 7.6 yards/attempt
53rd of 128 (national), 7th of 14 (ACC)
255.8 yards/game, 8.3 yards/attempt
114th of 128 (national), 14th of 14 (ACC)
On the other hand, this has possibilities. Anyone who's bothered to try passing the ball on Cuse has found success. (Except Rhode Island, which doesn't count.) Good, bad, or indifferent, the four I-A teams the Orange has faced have all torched them through the air. Wake rolled up 373 yards; Central followed that with 430.
It's not the pass rush. Defensive ends Ron Thompson and Luke Arciniega have five and four sacks, respectively. Bad news for UVA, because Michael Mooney is sidelined and Jack English is going to have to deal with Thompson all day long. Mooney isn't all that great of shakes and is probably out of place at LT, but English is probably gonna be toast on a stick.
Still, the Syracuse secondary is just bad. Cordy is a run defender, period. The cornerbacks can barely cover; opposing wide receivers are constantly having big days and spitting out huge gains. Even when the line gets pressure, QBs are completing 56.7% of their passes, not far off the 64.9% they give up overall.
I'm always saying that if UVA is ever going to be successful, Matt Johns has to do it. Here's his chance. As long as he's not getting blindsided, he should be able to have a big game. With the state of the run game, there's basically no excuse for not throwing the ball 50 times.
-- Cuse run offense vs. UVA run defense
Jordan Fredericks: 42 carries, 236 yards, 5.6 ypc, 2 TDs
Eric Dungey: 41 carries, 137 yards, 3.3 ypc, 2 TDs
165.2 yards/game, 4.35 yards/attempt
64th of 128 (national), 8th of 14 (ACC)
156.2 yards/game, 4.51 yards/attempt
84th of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)
The Syracuse running game is very multifaceted, so the Hoo defenders will get a lot of practice at staying on their toes. They don't do the full Paul Johnson, but there's a healthy dose of triple-option game involved. Rather than run it from under center, they'll go from the shotgun, so it's more like the Rich Rodriguez read-option combined with the old-fashioned Nebraska option pitch if the QB keeps on the first handoff.
But that's a play in the playbook rather than the whole run offense. An often-used play, but a play nonetheless. The Orange are also known to line up in the pistol, for example. Or just hand the ball off regular. They do a bunch of different stuff.
It doesn't work all the time. In non-URI games, the Cuse is averaging about 3.9 yards a carry; not pitiful like some run games I know, but not too amazing. Jordan Fredericks and George Morris split most of the time at running back and they've both been inconsistent this year. Fredericks is a freshman and can be tough to bring down when he has some room, but almost all of his yards were against URI and CMU. Morris, on the other hand, ran for a whopping -1 yards against Central and 7 yards on 5 carries against USF, but had a productive if lightly-used day against LSU. The most consistent producer is actually the quarterback, Dungey, whose non-sack running stats are pretty OK.
It sets up to be a tricky day for UVA's defense, which already has been publicly scaled back on the assignment complexity. Defending the option is all about complex assignments, hard enough when you know it's coming. From a personnel standpoint, Syracuse doesn't scare, and they're not going to run completely amok on the defense, holey though it's been. It's just a question of whether these still-raw linebackers and frankly rather undisciplined defensive ends can execute against the surprises.
-- Cuse pass offense vs. UVA pass defense
Eric Dungey: 42/70, 60.0%; 660 yards, 7 TDs, 1 INT; 9.4 ypa, 169.3 rating
Steve Ishmael: 14 rec., 218 yards, 2 TDs
Ben Lewis: 10 rec., 89 yards, 1 TD
Brisly Estime: 8 rec., 197 yards, 2 TDs
176.4 yards/game, 7.2 yards/attempt
65th of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)
272.6 yards/game, 8.2 yards/attempt
111th of 128 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)
For the second year in a row, Syracuse's quarterback Terrel Hunt went down with an early season-ending injury, this time an Achilles. Tough news for him; for Syracuse, it helped them find their QB of both the present and future in Eric Dungey. Dungey's a freshman, so just put him under pressure, you think, and maybe you're right but he's been basically a revelation for Cuse all the same. He was injured and missed the LSU game; had he played, it might've meant an upset because third-stringer Zack Mahoney wasn't real good.
Dungey has some very respectable weapons around him. Slot receiver Brisly Estime is a YAC machine and has an 89-yard touchdown this year, that against Wake Forest. Steve Ishmael had a very good season as a freshman last year and is on his way to a better one yet. The passing game focuses on them and H-backs Ben Lewis and Ervin Phillips, plus tight end Josh Parris. Lewis and Parris are the center of the short passing game (there's barely any usage of the running backs) and Phillips can make some stretch plays out of the backfield.
As UVA's incredibly disappointing pass defense has yet to show it can stop anyone consistently, the best defense here is Syracuse's run game. They lean heavily toward the ground attack, with less than 40% of their plays being pass attempts. That's good for UVA; Dungey hasn't turned the ball over but once, so heavy use of the pass game would make things that much harder.
-- Favorability ratings
UVA run offense: 2.5
UVA pass offense: 7.5
UVA run defense: 4
UVA pass defense: 2.5
Both these teams need this one badly, because both these teams are facing the worst team left on their schedule. Syracuse's bowl aspirations would be a lot easier if they can win this one; UVA's, too, which is to say that a sliver of hope exists with a win and zero with a loss.
I'm about to do something crazy here and I don't know why; probably, it's because I think Syracuse's pass defense is so bad it overshadows everything else. And because the game is at home. Syracuse fans think the short-pass defense is of particular badness, which probably has Steve Fairchild rubbing his hands with glee. If that's really true, Taquan Mizzell could have a monster day. I think Canaan Severin will have a good one.
And I think we might actually be in better shape if we're losing after three quarters. You'd like to see Syracuse shut down their pass game and UVA open up theirs, and the best way to get the coaches into that mode is to be losing. So let's just say that's what happens, and Mike London gets another chance to praise his team's resilience and stick-to-it-iveness.
If we lose this one I'm never again predicting another Mike London team to win so much as a game of Candy Land.
Final score: UVA 37, Cuse 34
-- Rest of the ACC
Byes: Duke, NC State
Louisville @ Florida State - 12:00 - I'd be willing to call this a dangerous trap sort of game for FSU if it wasn't in Tallahassee.
Pittsburgh @ Georgia Tech - 12:30 - With FSU coming to town next week, GT is at risk of carrying a six-game losing streak into the UVA game.
Virginia Tech @ Miami - 3:30 - Battle to shake out some pecking order in the middle of the Coastal.
Boston College @ Clemson - 7:00 - BC has a great defense and nothing to show for it because the offense might actually be worse than UVA's.
Wake Forest @ North Carolina - 7:00 - Wake Forest is weirdly good sometimes and awful some others, and probably not enough of the former to win this one.