Showing posts with label sharks with lazors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sharks with lazors. Show all posts

Thursday, January 31, 2013

sudden change

Apologies, I would've had an NC State preview and stuff, but homework got in the way.  Lesson learned: four hours before it's due isn't always the best time to start.  I mean, it still gets done, yes, but at the expense of everything else.  At any rate, it saves me the embarrassment of being wrong about the NC State game, since I almost certainly would've predicted a UVA loss.

The other thing it saved me was having to come up with some kind of sputtering about Bill Lazor's sudden departure to the Philadelphia Eagles.  The thought of Chip Kelly needing an offensive coordinator is a little bit goofy, but it's not like he didn't have one at Oregon either and anyway Lazor is only going to be the QB coach.  UVA went out and hired a new coach in something like 36 hours, so I don't have to flap my arms about oh no what ever will we do.

UVA went back out west again to hire Lazor's replacement, in the form of Steve Fairchild.  Technically Fairchild comes to us from the San Diego Chargers, but he described his job thusly: "'I’m just here to help Norv [Turner],' Fairchild said. 'Anything I can do to take a little bit away from Norv and help the offensive staff, that’s what my job is.'"

That's coachspeak for, "I'm collecting a paycheck and staying plugged into the network while I look for a real job."  Fairchild's most recent actual job was that of head coach at Colorado State, where one of his assistant coaches was Larry Lewis, newly-hired special teams guy.  In this, his lone head coaching experience, he was not successful; CSU went to a bowl game in his first season and then reeled off three 3-9 seasons in a row.  Hence why his tenure lasted only four seasons.

Probably the most illustrious point on Fairchild's resume is as the St. Louis Rams' offensive coordinator and QB coach under Mike Martz.  Anyone who could make Marc Bulger into the wildly successful quarterback that he was (even if only for a short time) probably did something right.  Martz, however, was famous for calling his own plays, and the great success of the Rams' offense has always been generally credited to Martz.  Fairchild was picked up by the Buffalo Bills after Martz left the Rams; he spent two years there presumably actually calling the plays since he was now working for a defensive head coach (Dick Jauron) and must have done alright, because he left of his own accord to coach at Colorado State, where he'd spend a lot of time in the '90s as OC.

I admit, though, I don't consider myself blown away.  I wasn't exactly unhappy with Lazor.  I thought it comical and a little bit stupid that a lot of the people who chewed their fingernails off in January 2012 over the possibility that Lazor might leave were the same people who were ready to call his cab outta town themselves after this season.  Really, one season and he goes from indispensable to horrible?  So fickle.

UVA, though, must've had some idea Lazor was a flight risk.  The speed of Fairchild's hire gives it away.  Clearly he was on a short list.  People who wanted a "young, up-and-coming energetic coach" will be disappointed; Fairchild is more retread than up-and-comer.  (But really, that's one of the sillier and most overhyped traits that people want in a coach.  Nobody ever questioned Jim Reid's energy and certainly nobody will be questioning Jon Tenuta's.)

I will be in wait-and-see mode, though, which is a couple notches down from the enthusiasm I felt about Lazor when he was hired.  Fairchild was pegged by an MWC blogger as a guy who tried to force the running game and limited his quarterback to dink and dunk stuff.  That would not be too popular with this fanbase, but then, we're talking about people who wanted to see Phillip Sims repeatedly wing it downfield whether or not it was ever caught, so I take that opinion with a grain of salt too.  Fairchild's CSU teams did lean pretty heavily to the run, for the most part.  But I can't speak to that being definitely his style as a play-caller because, after all, he was the head coach, not the OC.  With Buffalo, his Bills offenses actually split almost perfectly down the middle between the run and the pass; in the pass-wacky NFL, that might count as forcing the run too, but the guy had Marshawn Lynch toting the rock (in 2007) and J.P. Losman and Trent Edwards under center.  I might never have passed the ball with that personnel.

So in the end I can't draw any concrete conclusions about Fairchild's style, other than that I don't see the philosophy changing too radically.  Jon Oliver spoke about "changing systems" in his press release but I think he was referring more to the change in coaches rather than any major paradigm shifts like when they tried to pair Gregg Brandon with Al Groh.  Fairchild's got an NFL background, after all.  I don't think the difference between him and Lazor will be very tangible on the surface.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

little shuffle, big shuffle

I picked a good day, yesterday, to leave my Twitter feed running.  I don't do that usually, but occasionally do, and stuff kept coming across it and I just couldn't help myself.  We'll just consider this morning's Louisville news an extension of a very busy Tuesday, and go from there.

The smaller news was the beginning of the coaching staff shuffle.  Running backs coach Mike Faragalli's departure, it's fair to call that unexpected.  RB coach is a pretty benign position.  It's hard to have a lot of effect, positive or negative, on a team's fortunes.  You usually put a recruiter there.  Michigan's got this guy who's been there 21 years and survived three separate coaching changes.  Mike London portrayed the move as stemming from disappointment in the running game, and if Faragalli was the guy who turned Perry Jones into a dancer when he used to be a lot more decisive, then I can see that.  Otherwise I think most of us blamed the O-line for the lack of a run game; that and the occasional bizarre attempt to use Jones as a short-yardage hammer.

After that, I don't know exactly where we go.  Marques Hagans probably stays on as Faragalli's replacement, but in what capacity I don't know.  He and Shawn Moore will take on some combination of the skill positions, except for quarterback which I would guess is likely to stay with Bill Lazor.  I'd like to see Hagans take the receivers off of Lazor's plate so he can focus more on OC duties.

There's still the matter of the O-line, and nothing has been forthcoming from the official camp, but you'd have a hard time finding anyone who thinks Scott Wachenheim's job is secure.  I once again register this blog's endorsement of Jim Bollman.

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Now, the news you were waiting for.  In more circles than you might guess, people are wondering if the ACC didn't just accidentally become a stronger conference by trading Maryland for Louisville.  Certainly it depends on how you look at it.  Maryland is a much better school, academical-wise.  If you think TV markets are all that matters, we lost out there too, but then again, perhaps not; UVA and VT still provide a presence in the DC market, after all.  Louisville has a better football and basketball program than Maryland (and baseball, too, for what that matters), with the caveat that much of their football success will be up in the air if and when Charlie Strong leaves.  (That said, Randy Edsall is still employed at Maryland.)  Can the marginally better attractiveness of Louisville's athletic programs outweigh the reduced TV presence in a very large market?

At least there's this: The more I think about it, the more I prefer Louisville to the other finalist, UConn.  To start with, Louisville isn't coastal, no, but it is southern, the latter of which is just as important to the ACC's traditional identity as the former.  It's also more important to the schools that have a lot of weight these days, namely Florida State and Clemson.  And let's face it.  I don't know if the rumor is true that FSU, Clemson, and maybe others, insisted on Louisville while the Tobacco Road schools (at least initially) wanted Connecticut.  But I've read it in enough different and reasonably credible places that I buy it.  And it would have been stupidity of epic proportions to continue to northernize the league when the schools you depend on for the league's strength are telling you not to do that.

So I like it about as well as I can muster liking anything in the stupid world of realignment.  It does require a little bit of rationalization, of course.  I'm under no illusions about what the ACC is doing here, which is to say, dropping a long-held standard, which must have pained a few presidents.  Namely, academics.  One of the most unfair things I've heard about Louisville is, "But it's a commuter school!"  Nonsense; it's not like it's a community college.  It does have a commuter aspect to it, and nevertheless has an endowment 98% the size of Maryland's despite being 15,000 students smaller.  But yes, it instantly becomes the "worst" academic school in the ACC, and probably not of the quality the ACC would have chosen without its backs against the wall.  (However, it's also one of the oldest.  Third-oldest, in fact; only Pitt and UNC are older.)

We're pretty much beyond caring about that, though.  The ACC can't afford to.  It's still in a position of strength, but must maintain a careful balancing act.  The next thing the FSUs of the conference might look for is divisional realignment.  They didn't want UConn because they didn't want a whole bunch of traveling north, and the football quality wasn't up to snuff.  Now they've got the football and they'll probably want less travel.  I'm OK with that.  UVA should nudge the conference in the direction of realignment as well, otherwise they'll just slot Louisville into Maryland's slot and that'll be our new permanent buddy.  Not that I don't want to play Louisville, but I do want to play the traditional ACC teams as often as possible.  (And if there's a magical way to do that without being in FSU's division, that'd be sweet too.  And a pony.  Don't forget the pony.)

Admittedly, now, we are seeing a Big Eastifying of the ACC.  Admittedly also, the Big Ten is a money-making dynamo, as is the SEC, and the ACC will not approach that for the foreseeable future.  This has a lot of people thinking we should be "proactive" and court Big Ten membership right now, supposedly before the bus leaves or the ship sinks or whatever.  Enough rumors flew around this past week that both UVA and UNC had to put out statements categorically denying any kind of interaction with the B1G.

However, our place is the ACC.  People assume we should chase the money, too, but we have zero need to do that.  UVA sits, financially, near the top of the ACC.  We have a head start on our competition that way.  In the B1G, with their schools that are three times as big as ours, colossal stadiums, enormous donor bases, we would be up against a lot of schools that can generate a lot of cash much better than we can.  We'd be near the bottom of the ladder.

UVA's best course of action is to work their asses off to preserve the ACC.  With one extra step: our president, whether that's Teresa Sullivan now or someone else in five or however many years, should be right in the hip pocket of UNC's chancellor, and vice versa.  We need to attach ourselves at the hip to UNC.  Why?  Because UNC and UVA are two of the nation's elite public schools, and closer collaboration with them is something no university president would turn down.  The idea that the B1G bus will leave without UVA if we're not next onboard is silly.  It's based on the idea that 16 teams is a magic number, above which no conference will ever dare tread.

Ask yourself this: What is the magical gravitational pull toward 16 teams?  What force in the universe decrees that a conference must get to 16 teams and stay there?  This is entirely a creation of message board imagination; it's a nice round number, people like nice round numbers, and so they imagine themselves a world where that happens.  Somehow they imagine for themselves perfect harmony, cohesion, and symmetry in a world (that of NCAA realignment) that couldn't be more chaotic and entropic if it tried.  Just as there is no magic force pushing conferences to get to 16 teams, there is no magic force that demands they stay there if they do get there.  We live in a world where there are 68 teams in the March Madness tourney, not 64.  The MAC seems to exist, somehow, with 13 teams.  The B1G had 11 for almost twenty years.  The ACC, if left alone, will sit on 15 for quite some time.

Now ask yourself this: Suppose the ACC fell apart in the way that everyone is foreboding for it.  FSU and Clemson go to the Big 12, NC State and VT go to the SEC.  UVA is left apparently adrift in a sinking conference; in that event, I'd probably have a lot of trouble clinging to the idea that the ACC is still the best place for our school.  Reluctantly, B1G membership appears to be the necessary lifeboat.  But wait; the "bus has left the station," because the B1G added two more schools in the interim.  Now suppose UVA, tied at the hip, as you'll recall, with UNC, knocks on the B1G's door.  Do you honestly believe that ACC presidents would say no to the chance to add two elite flagship schools, with a presence in large and growing TV markets, just because they already have 16 teams?

A silly thought.  UVA can afford to wait.  Or, if not "wait" exactly, it can afford to put its chips in with the success of the ACC.  There are too many good schools and good programs in the ACC for it to fail entirely, and UVA is too good a school for university presidents to snub, particularly if UNC is a companion school in whatever potential future changes there are.

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-- So we won at bastyball today.  Yay for that!  More reaction later, but the very quick cliffnotes are that the poise the team played with, on the road in a tough place to win, was extremely impressive, and of course, you have to like the effect it could have on our tournament hopes.  In fact I'll tell you what right now: go 9-9 in the conference, and we're in.  Also, I will have highlights tomorrow.

-- Just as I talk about coaching shuffles, here comes more news down the pipeline: Bill Lazor interviewing for the head coaching job at Georgia State.  GSU will make the jump to the Sun Belt Conference in the not-too-distant future, so it's not a head-scratching move.  If Lazor leaves, Jim Bollman has extensive OC experience.  JUST SAYIN

-- News that Malcolm Brogdon will redshirt the season is not exactly exciting, but it does offer some welcome closure to that situation.  Losing Brogdon for the year takes away a potential future scoring option, but it settles the rotation some and cements Teven Jones (who looked very veteran-y tonight against Wisconsin) as the backup point guard (or starter until Bub is ready for all the minutes.)  The rotation looks as though it's set on nine, with Taylor Barnette the odd man out for now.

-- This article about the gross mismanagement of Maryland's finances is a must-read.  NC State fans might want to be worried about having Debbie Yow for an AD, and one must wonder that, even if the Big Ten offers a clean slate, how many of the issues Maryland had - and has - will be fixed so that they don't run themselves right back into debt.  And how many might be exacerbated.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

i'm not mad, i'm just disappointed

OK, well.  I know I should be all kinds of disappointed this weekend, and, OK, I am, but instead of dwelling on the bad, we're going to start by accentuating the positive around here.  There'll be plenty of times later to recap the myriad ways in which this latest football game could've been won.  (No, one of them is not "more Phillip Sims" on a day when he was 3/7 for 10 yards.)

The larger point is that it could've been won.  And while that's not as good as "actually did win," it represents an improvement.  After nine games in a row, "an improvement" is consolation of the most miniscule sort, but there's a palpable difference between this and the other eight games that comprise this streak.  The last three, of course, have been blowouts, and they all left you with the feeling that not only was the rivalry securely in the wrong hands, it wasn't leaving any time soon.

The last time the game was this close was 2008, a near carbon-copy of this one, right down to the score, venue, and the game-sealing interception at the end.  The main difference: 2008 really felt like a gut punch, because our team was lousy, their team was good, and we had a real chance to pull off a colossal upset.  And it disappeared, and you knew it wasn't coming back because of the gimmicky fashion that got us that close in the first place; you'll remember 2008 as the game where Al Groh finally inserted Vic Hall as a quarterback, and Tech figured out only just in time how to stop him.  (Which turned out to be: make them put Verica back in.)

Mike London has yet to come up with as good a surprise as that, but he almost didn't have to this time.  Throw out the previous eight games and this one just doesn't have the gut-punch to it.  That's because for the first time since 2003, UVA went toe-to-toe with VT.  And for the first time since 2004, UVA lost, but without the ugly feeling of dread that next year will be no different.

Part of that has to do with VT, of course.  Is there a magical rebound in store for the Hokies next year?  They'll probably be better than 6-6, as their defense is still going to be good.  But their invincibility is gone; their O-line is unimpressive and getting worse, and if Logan Thomas bolts for the NFL, Mark Leal is the QB-in-waiting and he doesn't put the fear of God into anyone.

That said, UVA is still a program on an upward trajectory.  Sure, it might be hard to believe when you reverse an 8-4 record in one year, but you don't turn an oil tanker on a dime, either.  We'll get around to looking at what needs to happen to make sure that oil tanker doesn't turn into an oil spill, but the signs are still more positive than negative.  After all, even a down-trending VT is an upward nudge for UVA all by itself.

Further reactions in brief:

-- While the announcers and 90% of the fanbase made a thing of Mike London holding onto his timeouts after Rocco's interception, that bothers me less than you might guess.  If we had 45 or so seconds to march down the field (against the wind), do you really, in your heart of hearts, think we'd have been able to pull that off - particularly after throwing a pick on exactly the kind of pass that would need to be replicated several times in quick succession?  Also, Beamer would have been likely to try for a touchdown, given extra time and a chance to talk over a plan for it.

-- It's that pass that chaps my ass the most.  This is why I think Bill Lazor's playcalling would be improved from the booth; the difficulty of completing that thing would've been much more apparent.  Throwing it across the wind like that makes it a major crapshoot.  Given our general inability to move the ball, the best thing would've been to play for overtime, thus putting us in scoring position automatically.  (And giving us the exact same wind, every time, that Tech had.)

-- I couldn't help but note the irony of seeing the ESPN ticker mention the NFL considering outlawing all blocks below the waist just as Brandon Phelps was being helped off the field after a legal block below the waist.  And I'm still not convinced the block on Brathwaite that took him off was completely legal.

-- Obligatory fake field goal thought: OK on the surface, but objectionable on the same principle whereby I hated the 4th-down plunge into the middle against UNC.  Know your team's weaknesses and stop assuming they'll be fixed in the next twenty seconds.  In this case, special teams is the reason we're not bowling this year, so why are you making them execute something that difficult?

Prediction summary:

-- Tech is held to less than 70 yards rushing.  Largely through volume, this did not come true; taking out the fake punt, VT could not even muster three yards a carry, but they ran the damn ball 57 times.

-- Logan Thomas completes at least one pass of 50+ yards.  Should've looked at the weather; if I had bothered to look at that there's no way I would've said this.  The wind kept everyone from trying anything particularly bold in the passing game.

-- Minus the largest play, Thomas's per-completion average falls well shy of his 14.2 average on the season.  This is where I get credit for correctly predicting a good day in pass defense.  One reason I say the future is bright is that, by and large, the very young secondary had a very good year, and this game was one of the better ones.  Thomas only completed 18 of 38 for a hideously bad per-attempt average of 3.1 and a per-completion average of half his season total.

-- Perry Jones gets five or six pass catches (or more) but is totally ineffective carrying the ball.  Half right - the latter half - but only three pass catches.

-- We lose, and a special teams play is easily pointed to as a major culprit.  I think it's perfectly fair to say a momentum-killing failed fake field goal fits the bill perfectly here.

So I finish the season 24-for-58, which is 41.4%.  Wanna know how I did last year?  To quote myself after last year's VT game: "Three for six gives me 36-of-88 in the regular season, which is a shade under 41%."  And here's the part where I award myself a million points for calling the precise final score.  Picking VT to win put me at 6-6 on the season, so I'm bowl-eligible for nothing at all, 2-7-1 against the spread.

Upcoming posts will include some seasonal postmortems, ACC basketball previews, one blast from last year's past that I just discovered, and a return to a mostly M-F posting schedule.  I have a few ideas for recapping the season, a few of which will be split off into ITA articles so I can fit them all in before hoops season picks up for good and real.  After an eight-loss season, I can't say I'm sorry to be shifting to winter mode.  Chances are I'll be even less sorry come February when the spring teams begin play.

Monday, February 13, 2012

acc baseball preview, part 3 - and a lot more

We begin the second week of our spring preview bonanza by finishing up the ACC's baseball preview, and quite a bit more besides.  Truly a post worthy of returning to the weekday drudge after the weekend.

NC STATE

Last year:

Record: 35-27 (15-15)
ACC tournament: 7th seed; 1-2
NCAA tournament: regional 3 seed; 1-2, eliminated in regional

2012 schedule: skips Miami
Names to know: 3B Andrew Ciencin, SS Chris Diaz, LHP Carlos Rodon

Last year, NC State had enough hitting to get themselves into the ACC tournament, and not enough pitching to do anything else.  And to make a long story short, this year could shape up the same way.

You have to like what NC State returns; though they lose their two best hitters, enough players return to make the lineup solid at least.  Most of the infield returns; the only loss is at first base, but 2B Matt Bergquist and SS Chris Diaz return, along with 3B Andrew Ciencin.  Bergquist and Diaz are what they are; decent-to-good hitters and fielders, but Ciencin is an X-factor that could determine a big chunk of the Wolfpack's fate.  He was a very good producer in his sophomore year (2010), but the new clankbats took away most of his mojo.  And he's not a good fielder.  If he can return to form he'll be a very good middle-of-the-order hitter; if not, it'll leave a hole.

In the outfield, steady producer and excellent producer RF John Gianis returns for his senior year, as does CF Brett Williams.  If Tarran Senay can seize the LF job after moving in and out of the lineup all season in 2011, it'll mean the Pack only have to replace two regular positions in the field (1st and catcher) and one of those could be filled by power hitter Danny Canela, who mostly DHed last year.  Likely first base, as NC State recruited a top catcher in Brett Austin.

But....the pitching.  With Cory Mazzoni moving on after being selected in the 3rd round, the Pack have to turn to freshmen.  Baseball America calls Carlos Rodon the top newcomer (NC State, in fact, has the top two prospects in the conference according to that listing, and three of the top 10) and he'll have every chance to earn the Friday job.  The rest of the rotation will be filled by returning veterans who bounced back and forth from the rotation to the pen in 2011; Ethan Ogburn is probably the front-runner for Saturday, with Vance Williams and lefty Grant Sasser also getting looks.  It's not an encouraging group overall, though, and Wolfpack baseball games will probably end up looking like lacrosse scores again.

This could be one of the toughest teams in the ACC to peg, because of their excellent recruiting class that could start to usurp starting roles.  But the best guess is another season that looks a lot like last year's 7 seed, because pitching is pitching and the Pack, for the most part, lack it.

VIRGINIA TECH

Last year:

Record: 30-25 (11-19)
ACC tournament: no
NCAA tournament: no

2012 schedule: skips Clemson
Names to know: LF Andrew Rash, 1B Ronnie Shaban, OF Tyler Horan, LHP Joe Mantiply

Ah, Virginia Tech.  Leave it to the Hokies to wear the ugliest colors in world history, and then, just to be Hokies, troll the world with unis that look like this and this.  Fortunately, they're not a threat to appear on national TV in Omaha any time soon, so baseball fans everywhere have that going for them.

To talk about VT baseball is to start with LF Andrew Rash, who finished last year with a fantastic .335-18-53 stat line.  18 HRs in 191 ABs is ridiculous, especially with a clankbat and not the old pingbats.  It translates to 56.5 dingers in a typical MLB season.  With 1B Ronnie Shaban and contact-hitting utilityman Jake Atwell in the lineup, Tech at least has a viable middle of the order.  Also expect OF Tyler Horan to play a big role, probably in right; Horan hit .396-3-12 in only 48 at-bats last year and slugged a whopping .771.  (Even Rash "only" slugged .707.)  3B Johnny Morales returns, though he's nothing special really, and IF Chad Pinder should also move into a bigger role after hitting .310 as a semi-regular last year.

The pitching is decidedly mediocre, though.  Veterans Joe Mantiply (lefty) and Marc Zecchino (righty) anchor the rotation, but neither is all that frightening.  DIII transfer Andrew Aizenstadt is the likely choice for the third weekend spot.  Mantiply and Zecchino were Friday and Saturday last year, respectively, but it shouldn't surprise if the order is shaken up a little this year.  Tech has no designated closer; in fact, one of the players tying for the saves lead last year (with three) was Shaban.

VT has a good lineup with the potential to be a very good one.  But like NC State, they'll only go as far as their pitching takes them.  To the ACC tournament?  Possibly - skipping Clemson certainly helps.  But they play in a tough division and won't have much margin for error.

WAKE FOREST

Last year:

Record: 25-31 (15-15)
ACC tournament: 8 seed; 0-3
NCAA tournament: no

2012 schedule: skips Duke
Names to know: LF Mac Williamson, 3B Carlos Lopez, LHP Tim Cooney

Surprise!  Wake Forest has spent some time recently sucking at baseball - especially in 2010 when they were positively horrible - but there they were, a surprise 8th seed in the ACC tournament in 2011 with a respectable .500 record in the conference despite a losing record overall.

How'd they do it?  Great question!  Outside of LF Mac Williamson and 3B Carlos Lopez, the hitting was pretty bad.  As a team they hit .225; the best average was Williamson's .273.  Wake relied on the long ball and timely extra-base hits to score runs; Williamson and Lopez combined for 23 home runs.  Practically the whole team returns; center field is the only significant gap to fill.  Whether that's a good thing goes back to that question about returning bad players; the second-base righty-lefty platoon of Connor Keniry and Mark Rhine batted .197 and .170, respectively.  Brett Armour caught every game and hit .185.  Williamson and Lopez are good players but if you have any kind of decent pitching, Wake's lineup won't scare you.  Or even cause you much stress.

Pitching is why they didn't suck last year; lefties Brian Holmes and Tim Cooney ended up as the Friday-Saturday combo (and will do so again this year) and both were very solid, with ERAs of 3 each.  Cooney is the better strikeout pitcher with 91 last year, but Holmes allowed a .233 BA to Cooney's .265.  And Sunday pitching is guaranteed to be better no matter who it is; they can't possibly have anyone worse than Austin Stadler, whose 8.63 ERA, 2-9 record, and .364 opponents' BA was simply jaw-dropping.

So we've looked at two teams with good lineups and mediocre pitching that will contend for the bottom seeds in the ACC tournament; Wake will be a contender for same with good pitching and miserable hitting.  It'll be interesting to see which results in a better season.

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Now that you've gotten through all that, you're probably wondering: what the hell about our own team.  Your reward for sticking through all that is to hear what the hell about our own team.  Like any coach with national title aspirations, Brian O'Connor doesn't like to speak of "rebuilding," and in fact I think it's perfectly fair to apply the "reloading" label to this team.  We lost a lot of talent to the draft and graduation: Steven Proscia, the school's career RBI leader; David Coleman, an out of semi-nowhere hitting story; John Barr, a steady and extremely consistent left field presence; John Hicks, a terrific defensive catcher who could really mash; Tyler Wilson, the Lowe's Senior Class Award winner; Will Roberts, who tossed the first 9-inning perfect game in UVA history; and some other guy who could also play a little baseball.  Our loss was the Seattle Mariners' gain; the way they drafted they might as well just call us their mid-A minor league team in Charlottesville.  I probably forgot some by accident, but I got work to do so we're moving on.

But this year's group oozes potential, even if it's a little light on accomplishment in places.   Been thinking of what the best way to do this is, and I settled on the old position-by-position standby.  Let's go in reverse order of position numbers, starting with....

RIGHT FIELD

Incumbent: David Coleman (departed)

Likely starter(s): Colin Harrington, Mike Papi

Harrington hit .353 last year in limited time, and is on the cusp of becoming a daily player in this lineup.  But what I wrote about Papi in last summer's baseball recruit post is on the verge of becoming true: "One of the higher-profile players coming to UVA in the fall.... Rated the #84 high school player in the country by Baseball America, Papi will be the biggest freshman hitter coming in the fall if Derek Fisher signs with the Rangers.... look for Papi to be a well-known name this spring."  He hit well in the Orange & Blue WS last fall, he's kept on hitting, and he'll be tough to keep out of the lineup himself.  To start the season, they at least make a good righty/lefty platoon (Papi is the lefty) and if they're both hitting, could be excellent candidates to DH as well.

CENTER FIELD

Incumbent: Kenny Swab (departed)

Likely starter(s): Mitchell Shifflett, Reed Gragnani

Gragnani played the position for most of last year, actually, but was bumped for Swab (who, amazingly, moved out there from playing catcher and proved pretty decent.)  Swab had a better arm and was hitting better as well.

Gragnani is a versatile player and a decent (but unspectacular) hitter who, if truth be told, will be a man without a position if everyone produces to their potential.  He's a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type who could play just about any infield or outfield position in a pinch, but will more often than not find himself outmaneuvered.

However, Shifflett is an enigma.  He had just nine hits in 38 at bats last year - a .237 average - and more of those were bunts than not.  Shifflett was blessed with amazing speed, and was used extensively as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement last year.  But if he fails to master his craft at the plate - and there's been little indication that he'll do so - Gragnani will likely be the regular center fielder.  Shifflett will get first crack at the job, and if he simply hits .240, .250 or so, he'll stick.  But just as likely a possibility is that he'll fail to reach the Mendoza Line.

LEFT FIELD

Incumbent: John Barr (departed)

Likely starter(s): Derek Fisher, Reed Gragnani

Fisher, you probably have heard of, even if you haven't heard of any of the other recruits.  His reputation as a hitter precedes him, and he's done nothing to belie it.  If you believe in this kind of symbolism - and there's no doubt something to it - he was given Danny Hultzen's old #23.  The real deal.  But Fisher is also a top candidate to DH, just to make sure his hitting is in a groove, and if he does, Gragnani is the likely choice to field this spot.  Keep in mind, Gragnani earned a gutsy four-pitch walk at a crucial point in last year's RALLY TO OMAHA.  He's the kind of hitter BOC really likes, so there'll be a spot somewhere.  Depending on who's hitting and who isn't, you might also see Harrington or Papi moved out here.

SHORTSTOP

Incumbent: Chris Taylor

Likely starter: Chris Taylor

REMEMBER THIS?



DAMN RIGHT YOU REMEMBER. Taylor is maybe the best defensive shortstop in the league and a great leadoff hitter.  As a bridge between the last group of stars and the next, Taylor is one of the most important players on the team.  Expect him to play every game at short, minus a couple possible rest games midweek.

THIRD BASE

Incumbent: Steven Proscia (departed)

Likely starter(s): Stephen Bruno, Reed Gragnani

Yes, Gragnani could play this spot too.  However, Bruno is the guy for now, and would probably have to play his way out of the role.  Remember, he won the starting shortstop job last year before injury forced him out of the lineup early in the year; it was only then that Taylor took over.  Bruno is one of the quintessential players that I mean when I say this team has a ton of yet-to-be-realized potential.

SECOND BASE

Incumbent: Keith Werman

Likely starter(s): Keith Werman, Reed Gragnani

There's Gragnani again.  Why is he here?

Well, in an ordinary world, Keith Werman - Ninja, the Werm, the Wermanator, or simply one of the straight-up ballplayerest guys around - would take every ground ball, every DP turn, every pop fly, at his accustomed position, second base.  However, because he's so friggin' ballplayer, and we have nothing but rookie catchers (at least, rookie to this team) Werman will probably see a few turns behind the plate.  (That'll be pretty cool, too.) When he does, Gragnani is the likely choice for second base.

FIRST BASE

Incumbent: Jared King

Likely starter: Jared King

Practically no controversy here.  King is a solid fielder and an excellent hitter, and likely to play out almost the entire season here.

CATCHER

Incumbent: John Hicks (departed)

Likely starter(s): Nate Irving, Keith Werman

Irving, a freshman, greatly outhit juco transfer Chace Mitchell in the fall, and will be the guy taking the most turns here.  Mitchell will probably get a few chances, but the pecking order right now has him third.  Ideally, Irving and/or Mitchell will earn the complete trust of the coaches and Werman can stay at second for good by the end of the season, but it looks likely right now that Irving will take half to two-thirds of the pitches, and Werman will take the rest to start off the season, with Mitchell getting in a midweek game here and there to keep him sharp.

STARTING ROTATION

Incumbents: Danny Hultzen, Tyler Wilson, Will Roberts, Cody Winiarski (all departed)

Likely starters: Branden Kline, Whit Mayberry, Scott Silverstein, Joel Effertz

If we were to simply put the best arms in the rotation, Kyle Crockett would be here in place of Silverstein or Effertz.  But those in the know say he's in the pen to start the year.  Either that's a commentary on the other lefty arms in the pen or a commentary on the indispensibility of Silverstein and Effertz, and I sure hope it's the latter.

Kline is the Friday starter, without a doubt.  He's worked his way through the hierarchy; as a freshman, he began in the bullpen and nudged his way into the tournament rotation at the end of the year.  He was the full-time closer as a sophomore, and gave us a classic pitchers' duel with South Carolina reliever Matt Price in the final game of last season.  Now he's coming into his own as the staff ace, a role envisioned two years ago when he spurned the Boston Red Sox and 6th-round money to fulfull his UVA pledge.  Nobody is Danny Hultzen, but Kline will battle the league's best and his bulldog mentality will make life very tough on opposing hitters.

Silverstein will probably be the Saturday guy, if for no other reason than to go righty-lefty-righty in the order.  He's a guy you have to root for: a rare senior, he came in with great stuff and then never pitched in either his freshman or sophomore seasons, the victim of recurring shoulder trouble.  It would be the story of the year if he could give the scouts something to think about.  That leaves Whit Mayberry for Sundays.  Mayberry doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he's got occasional starting experience and he's always been a steady hand.  He's an inexplicable favorite of mine, and a favorite of BOC's too, because he always attacks the strike zone, which he couldn't get away with if he didn't have terrific control.  Finally, your weekday starter will be Joel Effertz, a perfect replacement for Cody Winiarski because he transferred from the same juco. 

BULLPEN

Incumbent: everyone else

Likely starter(s): "starting reliever"?

To kick things off, the likely closer is Justin Thompson, who's seen quite a few innings of long relief in the past and, as a senior, should have the necessary mentality to get that job done.  Thompson was generally the first guy out of the pen last year (if the ball wasn't handed straight to Kline); that role will likely now fall to the lefty, Kyle Crockett.

Another player who's been talked up by BOC (and BOC is not one to idly talk someone up): Artie Lewicki.  He didn't pitch much last year - only 9.1 innings.  But in that time he only gave up one hit, one run, struck out 10, and pitched in a few very crucial situations to boot.  Lewicki is probably the bullpen's prime right-hander (besides closer Thompson.)

After that - well, your guess is as good as mine.  Or anyone's.  Other than senior Shane Halley, all the other options are either freshmen or sophomores who didn't get much time last year.  Halley isn't really a solution; if he were, he'd've shown out by now.  After Crockett and Lewicki, there's about, oh, 35 innings or so of relief work to be doled out, and it'll be fun to see who steps up.

The season officially starts on Friday in South Carolina; UVA will play games against Boston College and Coastal Carolina on the campus of CCU, and then a game against James Madison in Myrtle Beach.  Assuming BC starts a right-hander, this is what the lineup might-could look like:

SS Chris Taylor
LF Reed Gragnani
DH Derek Fisher
1B Jared King
RF Mike Papi
3B Stephen Bruno
C Nate Irving
2B Keith Werman
CF Mitchell Shifflett
SP Branden Kline

All that said, where does UVA end up in the pecking order?  Here's how I see the tournament pods breaking out:

1 North Carolina
4 Florida State
5 Virginia
8 Wake Forest

2 Clemson
3 Georgia Tech
6 Miami
7 Virginia Tech

5th seed is a real let-down from years past, but you gotta remember what a cliff there is between the top six and bottom six.  If we don't host a regional, don't sweat it; this is a bridge year.  That freshman class could nose its way into some playing time, and by the time those guys are juniors, it'll be time once again to be thinking CWS.  Hell, that's the goal anyway.  I think this team is good for 18-19 wins in the ACC; we'll probably hear some sniping from the peanut gallery about our OOC schedule like in years past, but the tradeoff is a whole bunch of wins.

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Housekeeping:

-- I need to make some updates to the recruiting board, but that'll have to wait til tomorrow. 

-- In the we-can't-have-nice-things-around-here department, Joe Harris has a broken bone in his left hand.  Well ain't that fantastic.  He'll keep playing, and it probably won't affect him too badly; he came out with his hand taped up in the second half against UNC and hit his first shot, but since this is Virginia, and we can't have nice things around here, the key word is "probably."  Just wait til someone makes a point of thwacking his hand when he thinks he can get away with it.

-- Last week we had to put up with the rumors flying about Bill Lazor being a candidate for the OC job in Tampa Bay, under the Bucs' new coach Greg Schiano.  He didn't go, of course.  I tell you this not because I think you don't know about it, but just to remind you that this is now officially our little annual heart attack.  As long as the UVA offense is any good, that's how it's gonna be.  Don't set yourself up for disappointment by demanding to know why London doesn't hire the next Bud Foster, who's been with Tech forever, because Foster is one-of-a-kind.  You know the old saying about how you can have a job done three different ways (good, fast, or cheap) but you can only pick two?  It's like that with coordinators.  You can have young, loyal, or good, but you can only have two.  Good, loyal coordinators are almost always old.  Think Jim Reid.  Good young coordinators, the kind with a long career ahead of them, are upwardly mobile and ripe for the picking at any time.  Think Bill Lazor.  You don't want a young and loyal one.  Think Mike Groh.

-- Want to write a guest column?  Scroll down to Saturday's call for submissions for details.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

weekend review

UVA just beat Maryland, in College Park, to earn bowl eligibility and officially deny Maryland theirs, so I think you'd forgive me if I just rode the high from the weekend and posted a bunch of :)'s and left it at that.  But maybe not.

There are way too many impressive things from this weekend to list them one by one, so how about this: three more Hoos earned player of the week honors in the ACC, one of them being Austin Pasztor, which makes it three out of five starting offensive linemen (so far) that have done so this year. 

Rodney McLeod's three picks made him a no-brainer for defensive back, but honestly, I only liked one and a half of them.  Knock it down on fourth down, man!  McLeod's second pick actually nearly cost the Hoos; two plays later, Rocco threw a pick that gave Maryland the ball at the edge of the red zone.  If he'd have just knocked the ball to the ground, UVA gets the ball inside the 50 instead of their own 20, a 35-yard field position swing.  The third pick was also on fourth down, but in a crowd so batting the ball might have been a risky play; hence, one and a half.

Let's dig into the extensive list of predictions this week.

- UVA running backs total at least 40 carries.
They had exactly 40, but I probably would've cheated a little and counted David Watford's carries too.  Fortunately, I didn't need to.  Once again, Bill Lazor leaned on the run.

- Jones and Parks total at least 30.

They had 36, which qualifies me to start off 2-for-2.  Let me break off into story time here for a second: one thing I loved about growing up watching Michigan football was that Michigan always - always - had a workhorse running back they could rely on game in, game out to pile up the yardage.  Generally a single hoss.  There was Ricky Powers, Tyrone Wheatley, Touchdown Tim Biakabutuka, the A-Train, Anthony Thomas, Chris Perry, Mike Hart.  Perry once toted the ball 51 times in a game.  Running back is my favorite position on the field, and there's no fun quite like watching a dominant one do his thing.

UVA probably will never go with that strategy - in fact, the days of a single workhorse putting the team on his back like that are probably sliding slowly into oblivion - but what we're seeing now is close.  No, nobody's going to average 26 carries a game the way Perry did, but the workload handed these backs is workhorse stuff all the same, and it's just a treat and a half to watch them do their thing.  Plus, UVA is not Michigan and cannot click its heels together three times and make dominant running backs appear out of thin air; this platoon is a great thing for recruiting.  Perry Jones has a terrific shot at getting to 1,000 yards; the fact that he can do so without hogging the depth chart allows Mike London to tell recruits that they can have their cake and eat it too.  Playing time and stats are readily available regardless of the depth chart.  Having a single workhorse is a lot of fun, but it turns your RB recruiting into QB-style recruiting where you can only attract a really good player once every three years or so.  As long as there are this many carries to go around, UVA should be able to do very well for itself in picking up stars to carry the ball.

- All three backs exceed their season averages.

Jones did, but unfortunately for me here, Parks and Richardson did not.  We saw much less of Clifton Richardson than usual and I just chalk that up to Perry Jones having a really good day.

- UVA piles up at least 200 yards on the ground.
And then some - we got to 220.  Maryland's run defense was about as bad as advertised.

- Mike Rocco's season passing average after this game is over 7 yards per attempt.

Rocco had what I think anyone would say was his best game of the year.  His only season high was in yardage (he's put together better completion percentages, passer ratings, etc.) but when it comes down to body of work, this was Rocco's best of his career.  He looked like a seasoned vet and, for one game at least, shed the dreaded "game manager" label and progressed to controlling the game, not just managing it.  And yes, his season average is boosted up to 7.22.  Prior to the Miami game it was down at 6.52; yes, that three-quarters of a yard is a big deal.  UVA's passing attack has jumped from 104th in the country to 73rd in just two games.

- Rocco has about 20 pass attempts for about 170 yards.

That is 8.5 yards per attempt.  Actual stats: 36 attempts for 307 yards, which is about 8.53.  I do not get credit for the prediction because UVA went to the pass almost twice as much as I expected, but let the record show that Rocco played about exactly as well as I expected him to.  And look, Maryland's kinda crappy so don't let your expectations go overboard for when we play teams with defenses like FSU and VT, but averaging 8.53 yards an attempt would make you 11th in the country in that regard.

- In terms of average, C.J. Brown is Maryland's leading rusher.
Should I get credit for this one?  Brown averaged 12 per carry because his day consisted of taking off for a 25-yarder and one carry for -1, which if I remember right was just a fumble that he fell on.  I'll go ahead and say yes because it's plays exactly like that 25-yarder that I was afraid of here, and UVA bottled up Davin Meggett (a 42-yarder and then seven carries for 10 more) and Justus Pickett (didn't do anything much) which was basically what I figured would happen. 

- If Brown is held to less than 20 yards rushing, UVA wins by at least two touchdowns.
Well, he wasn't, and we did.  I'm gonna call this one void and not count it because the "if" wasn't met, and I'll count my blessings that it wasn't, because the reason it wasn't is that Randy Edsall did exactly what I didn't expect.  Brown just wasn't even used as a rushing threat.  That quarterback situation looks eerily like our Rocco/Watford platoon from pre-Miami times, right down to the coach claiming that Brown has certain skills they want to take advantage of, and then just running the same plays for both of them.  Danny O'Brien isn't a bad quarterback, and Maryland would be well-advised to drop the platoon or figure out some better way to utilize it.

- Tight end Matt Furstenburg leads Maryland in both receptions and yardage.

He did not, and wasn't even close.  Maryland's receivers were targeted extremely heavily, and I was gonna say they had a much better day than I expected, except that would've sounded silly after watching them drop O'Brien's throws like they were poisoned.

- Neither Maryland quarterback completes more than 50% of their passes.

Thanks partly to the aforementioned dropsies, this proved true.  Well.  OK, fine.  Mostly true.  Brown was 4-for-7.  Whatever.  The total tally was 20-of-43, which is what I'm gonna defer to here and give myself another point.  O'Brien was probably accurate enough to make me miss this one, but his receivers let him down too much, and catching the ball is half the battle.

- Maryland passes for less than 150 yards.
OK, maybe I was a little overenthusiastic on how well UVA might shut down the Maryland passing game.

- Official attendance is less than 40,000.
37,401.  It was neat how stocked full the visitor's section was and how spotty and barren was the rest of the joint.  Reports from people who attended said that Maryland fans spent their energy berating Edsall, not the visiting fans, which was a welcome change from the usual College Park atmosphere.  The profane jerk-asses don't tend to be the ones willing to sit in the cold watching a terrible team get killed; they'll wait for fair weather, both literally and figuratively.

Mike Rocco had his best week passing, and I had my best week predicting: tally them up and it's 7 for 11.  That brings me to 29-for-70, which looks bad because of the 2 and the 7, but it's 41%.  Getting both the outcome and the spread right gets me to 5-4 both ways.  In case you're wondering, winning 55% of your bets would make you rich if you could do it consistently, so all hail the 5-4 record.

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A busy Senior Seasons week; not as many games going on, but, playoff brackets are getting set left and right.  Here's how your boys did this week:

Victory Christian 58, Santa Fe Catholic 20: Demeitre Brim ran for 227 yards and three scores, and - here's the part you might be more interested in - intercepted a pass as well.  Victory finishes the season 8-2 and district champions, and has a week off next week before the playoffs begin.

St. Joseph 37, Egg Harbor Township 0: Max Valles caught a touchdown pass.  St. Joe's finishes unbeaten at 8-0, and their defense with Valles and one-time UVA recruit Kaiwan Lewis has allowed an average of two points a game.

Franklin 41, Ridge 3: Kye Morgan had four rushing touchdowns and 139 yards, then sat for the second half in a rout.  Franklin finishes the season 6-2 and playoff-bound.

Central Bucks South 61, Central Bucks East 40: As you might expect in scoring 61 points, Matt Johns had a big day, with 291 yards passing and four touchdowns.  CB South is 7-3 and also headed to the playoffs.

Landstown 34, Kempsville 0: Kyle Dockins had four receptions and 101 yards.  Landstown is 8-2.

Ocean Lakes 21, Kellam 12: Eli Harold had five carries and five catches for a total of 158 yards and two touchdowns.  Ocean Lakes is 8-2.

Varina 42, Hanover 3: Maurice Canady went apeshit on Hanover; he carried for 148 yards and three touchdowns, threw for another, and returned an interception 70 yards for yet another.  Varina is 8-1.

DeMatha 21, Bishop McNamara 8 (Michael Moore; DeMatha is 6-3.)
Malvern Prep 17, Haverford School 14 (Michael Mooney; Malvern is 8-1.)
Brenham 28, Stratford 3 (Kelvin Rainey; Stratford is 6-4.)
Worcester Academy 28, Phillips Andover 6 (Canaan Severin; WA is 4-3.)
Hampton 13, Phoebus 10 (Jamall Brown; Hampton is 8-2.)
Green Run 30, Tallwood 0 (Mark Hall; Green Run is 5-5.)
Hermitage 51, Thomas Jefferson 0 (Andre Miles-Redmond; Hermitage is 9-0.)

I should add that two of those games in the "other" list look as run-of-the-mill as the others, but aren't; Hampton's win over Phoebus and Malvern's win over Haverford represent two very large rivalries in which this year's winner hadn't done so for quite a while.  For Hampton I think it's six years and for Malvern it's about the same.  Bravo to the UVA-bound winners.

Playoff situations are mostly lined up now.  Pretty much everyone is going, except for those listed last week.  Most are not favored even in their opening round games, though.  Even some teams that are usually top dog types are lower seeds.  Ocean Lakes, Landstown, and Bayside are all hitting the road.  Hampton will host Green Run next weekend, an elimination game between Jamall Brown and Mark Hall with Hampton heavily favored.  Meanwhile, DeMatha is also in the unfamiliar position of underdog; they'll face Gonzaga again (whom they've lost to two years running) with the winner probably getting whomped by undefeated Good Counsel.  Kelvin Rainey's Stratford team is in the playoffs as well, but likely to bow out in the first round.

Matt Johns and CB South, and Kye Morgan with Franklin, are in a little better position to start the playoffs, but nowhere near the bracket favorite, either.  However, there are some teams in strong position to win a state title.  St. Joseph with Max Valles is the one-seed in a three-team bracket - like Virginia, New Jersey separates the private schools.  They'll have a bye to face the winner of this week's game.  Norfolk Christian is also the one-seed in their VISAA four-team bracket.  Down in Georgia, Buford of course starts the playoffs next week as the heavy favorite.  And Victory Christian has to wait a week to find out their playoff position, but it should be solid.

Four teams are still in the regular season: Malvern Prep, which as a private school is also separate from Pennsylvania's public system; Worcester Academy, as Massachusetts gets kind of a late start; and the two Richmond-area teams, Varina and Hermitage.  Why in the hell Virginia operates that way, with the playoffs starting and some of its teams still in the regular season, is a mystery to me.

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It seems the better the football team does, the less I say anything about soccer.  It didn't help that my inner soccer hooligan wanted to smash a pub window when I read that the men's team's only actual dependable scorer - Will Bates - tore his ACL a couple weeks ago.  But with postseason brackets being lined up, maybe I should get a small word in here.  The women are a regional 2 seed in the 64-team bracket and will start the tournament by hosting Long Island on Friday.  And tomorrow, the men take on GUESS WHO Wake Forest as the ACC 4 seed.  At this point I think it's written in the ACC bylaws that UVA shall play Wake Forest at all conceivable opportunities.  That's cool as long as we win.

Monday, October 17, 2011

weekend review

Here we are seven weeks into the season, and thanks to a rather unforeseen win over Georgia Tech, I'd like to welcome Heather Dinich into the club of believers.  I'm not doing as well as I'd like in the game-by-games prediction department, so I'll make up for it by pointing out that I had UVA getting to the Military Bowl before a single football was ever kicked off.  Protocol dictates that as a fan, I should overreact to everything that happens, good or bad, so here you go: if UVA brings an A game like that to every matchup the rest of the season, the Hoos will have accepted a bowl invite somewhere else long before the Military Bowl gets to choose.  Sure, the score was very close, but the game really wasn't as close as three points, and I think most GT fans would probably tell you that.  If you like, you may pretend the score was 31-14 - the latter number is what GT's previously explosive offense was held to, and the only thing stopping UVA from punching through with a touchdown on the game-clinching drive was the clock and a sense of fundamental non-dickitude.

Effectively speaking, that game reverses the negative effect on our bowl hopes that the Southern Miss loss inflicted.  A few things are more favorable than I thought they'd be, a few things are less, but it all basically evens out, and now we're halfway into the schedule and right where I thought we needed to be in order to make a bowl game happen.

Between the Southern Miss game and this one, somewhere along the line I said there were four legitimately winnable games on the schedule, and we had to get three of them in order to be bowl eligible.  Now we have to get two of them, and those happen to be the next four games.  Here they are with an approximation of our chances of winning each:

NC State - 75% (the Pack really isn't very good.)
Miami - 25% (Miami doesn't suck, it's a Thursday game and they have the advantage of not having to mix travel preps in with game preps.)
Maryland - 50% (the tossup.)
Duke - 75% (Duke is still Duke.)

If you believe those numbers, then there's better than an 80% chance UVA is bowl-eligible at the end of this four-game stretch.

Naturally this comes with the caveat that we don't get two weeks of prep before each game, and that we have to bring our A game every week in order to win.  NC State and Duke are bad teams, yes, but we're not so good we can beat anyone in this conference with a B effort.

A-games this week were brought by the following very long list of people:

-- First, Chase Minnifield and the UVA secondary for shutting down the passing game.  Tevin Washington was 2-for-8 in large part because there was never anywhere to go with the ball.  The fact that UVA was able to shut down GT's passing game with minimal manpower meant that Rodney McLeod could help out in run support, and he clearly made his presence felt with eight tackles.  Awesome job done by Minnifield and the pass defense.

I said this in the game preview: "Let your best cornerback cover GT's one receiver and keep one safety disciplined and deep and you've taken away most of what they want to do."  That's exactly what happened.  David Teel said it much better: "Getting fooled by Georgia Tech’s triple option is a given. Play the Yellow Jackets and you can pretty much bank on a 300-yard ground gouging.  The wild card is Georgia Tech’s passing. That’s what has separated merely good teams from the excellent in coach Paul Johnson’s four-year tenure."  UVA was able to contain the ground game because they took away the air game.

-- The offensive line deserves a ton of credit for tearing through the GT defense like wet Kleenex, but the wide receivers also need to be mentioned for their blocking as well.  Lots of rushing yardage came on the edges where the receivers were making holes happen.

-- Playcalling by Lazor was excellent.  There were a few isolated situations I'd've been happier with something different, but the final play balance, minus kneel-downs and sacks, was about 2-to-1 in favor of running.  We're a run-first team but that's more so than usual - GT had a weakness and Lazor pounded it til it broke.  That's a hallmark of good teams - turning opponents' weaknesses into wins.

-- The running backs looked great too, and not just because of the holes they had.  Given some space to work with, they each put their skills on display: Perry Jones's vision, Kevin Parks's balance, and Clifton Richardson's athleticism.  Running back is my favorite position on the field to watch, and it looks like we got us some damn good ones.

So, given all that, how did I do on the predictions?

-- At least one UVA running back goes over 100 yards.

Perry Jones had 149.

-- The UVA ground game goes over 180 yards.
I almost ought to ding myself for pussing out - I considered saying 220.  I backed way down.  Right either way, though: 272 total.  282 if you remove sacks and kneels, for an average of 6.7 per carry.

-- Watford has about one-fourth of the total pass attempts, but still has fewer yards per attempt than Rocco.
Watford had almost exactly one-fourth of the total - he attempted 5 of the 19 passes thrown.  And yes, he was much less effective than Rocco was, completing just one pass.

-- Orwin Smith or Roddy Jones rolls off at least one big run of at least 50 yards.

-- GT's running game generates between 350 and 400 yards.

The only really big plays Tech churned out were called back on illegal blocks.  Blatantly illegal, in the case of the second one - when you see it happen live and don't have to look for it on replay, it's obvious.  And on neither of those plays were Smith or Jones the ballcarrier.

In fact, those two combined for just nine carries all game - quarterback Tevin Washington had 26.  And GT had 272 yards rushing - exactly the same as UVA, except they never kneeled, so truth be told, we outgained 'em.  I did not expect that.  I did call what needed to be done: "UVA should find ways to discourage the pitch on the option; the ideal result is for Tevin Washington to keep as much as possible."  I just didn't expect us to be able to do it so well and so consistently.  Mission accomplished, but predictions wrong.

-- Tevin Washington completes fewer than 50% of his passes.

He was an ouchful 2 of 8.

The relative success this week bumps me to 19-for-44 and gets me over the 40% mark.  See what happens when we get to teams I recognize?  Because I didn't have the proper amount of faith in my team, however, my punishment is to fall to 4-2 in outcome predictions.  On the other hand, the lines for the game were mostly GT by 7 or 7.5, with a couple stranger ones going higher.  I called GT by 7, therefore I'm giving myself that one against the spread, and going to 3-3 there.

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Time now for Senior Seasons.  You should know the drill by now, and ohbytheway the G.P. South Blue Devils are officially going to the playoffs after a 3OT win last Friday.  Maybe one day we can send someone to the I-A college ranks on a scholarship to some school besides Ohio State, wherein resides the one South Blue Devil on the scholarship rosters.

Victory Christian 53, Orlando Christian 32: Demeitre Brim ran for a 65-yard touchdown and passed for two more in a high-scoring rout.  VCA is 5-2.

St. Joseph 70, Lower Cape May 0: Max Valles caught a 10 yard touchdown and had a 21-yard pick six as well.  Also, have I mentioned that Valles is also St. Joe's kicker?  Because he is.  St. Joe's is 5-0.

Franklin 48, Bridgewater-Raritan 0: Completely unleashing Kye Morgan on a winless team would've been cruel, so he only carried eight times and sat the second half.  He had 132 yards and a touchdown all the same. Franklin is 4-1.

Malvern Prep 48, Germantown Academy 0: Michael Mooney helped pave the way for 315 yards rushing for Malvern, which is 5-1.

Souderton 44, Central Bucks South 42: Matt Johns was 14 for 21 with 310(!) yards and at least two touchdowns in a shootout loss.  Three of South's 2nd-half touchdown drives lasted a total of 57 seconds combined.  CB South is 4-3.

Hampton 49, Warwick 0: Jamall Brown caught a pair of touchdowns, the only ones thrown by quarterback Jeremy Eubank.  Hampton is 5-2.

Norfolk Christian 42, Portsmouth Christian 7: Wil Wahee took a punt 80 yards to the house to put a cherry on the scoring.  NCS is 5-2.

Varina 54, Atlee 11: Maurice Canady's impressive stats: 7-for-13 passing, 212 yards, two touchdowns; 19 carries, 124 yards, two touchdowns.  Over 30 yards per completion.  He's getting used to this quarterback thing.  Varina is 5-1.

DeMatha 13, St. John's 7 (Michael Moore - DeMatha is 4-2.)
Stratford 54, Spring Woods 13 (Kelvin Rainey - Stratford is 4-3.)
Salisbury 21 Worcester Academy 14 (Canaan Severin - WA is 3-1.)
Salem 35, Landstown 0 (Kyle Dockins - Landstown is 5-2.)
Green Run 43, Kempsville 6 (Mark Hall - Green Run is 3-4.)
Bayside 45, Tallwood 14 (Anthony Cooper - Bayside is 6-2.)
Hermitage 38, John Marshall 6 (Andre Miles-Redmond - Hermitage is 6-0.)

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I do have a small confession to make: I'm a little bit of a Neanderthal when it comes to technology.  For example, I have a Twitter account which has never uttered a peep (except for one time when it got hacked - bastards) and which I use to follow the people worth following.  Occasionally some little nugget of info shows up.  Something like 90% of it is the basketball team being excited about it being Friday.

Well, we're taking steps to fix that around here.  Baby steps.  Sometime in the near future (like, probably tomorrow) you'll be able to hear my actual real voice as a guest on a podcast hosted by NC State blog Riddick and Reynolds.  Also, I'm going to try something with this ol' Twitter account.  I've never known exactly what I ought to use the sucker for, other than maybe a link every time I post but that seems lame, but I'm gonna try something this week and see if it's popular enough to keep doing.  Every time I'm watching a game I think a whole bunch of things that I tell myself I'll put in Monday's post about it, but I never do.  Since Twitter is a "micro-blogging" service, I will micro-blog some stream-of-consciousness crap while I'm watching.  Follow @MaizeNBlueWahoo for my internal monologue during the game on Saturday.  If I like how that turns out, I'll keep it up for certain other games too.  Not all, but some.  We'll see.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

game preview: William & Mary


Date/Time: Saturday, September 3; 6:00

TV: ESPN3

History against the Tribe: 26-6-1

Last matchup: W&M 26, UVA 14

Last week: N/A

Line: UVA by 8

Opposing blogs: none

Injury report: none

Well, here we are.  I don't need to remind you about what may or may not have happened last time we decided William & Mary should be on the schedule.  William & Mary is one of the best teams in Division I-AA, which means they'd probably be expected to win against several of the worst I-A outfits.  And which means UVA - as a generally accepted Bad Team among those who don't follow the ACC very hard (and some who do) - is a popular upset pick.  Not that we'd get any special props for winning, of course.  It seems like a relatively unimportant game, then, at least in the grand scheme, but there's this at least: if Virginia doesn't win, we can basically forget about analyzing any further hopes of meeting bowl-related expectations.  Not that this game in and of itself is the tipping point, but if we can't beat William & Mary, #3 rank in the I-AA ranks aside, who can we expect to beat outside of a lightning bolt of an upset?

-- UVA run offense vs. W&M run defense:

We really don't know what Bill Lazor has in store here.  The approach to the run game is going to have to be very different from last year; Perry Jones is the only returning weapon here.  Without a Keith Payne type to get yardage the bashing way, a slight change in philosophy is on tap.  And we don't even know how much of that philosophy will be on display on Saturday; there are quite a few new toys to play with in the running game, but surely Lazor doesn't want to tip his hand as to the extent of their usage.

Among the possibilities for new wrinkles are David Watford in a wildcat-esque formation, or perhaps Dominique Terrell on a reverse.  I expect to see one or two as the coaches get into an experimental mood, but who knows how far they'll take that?  Honestly, the best case would be the ability to get five or six yards out of Perry Jones any time we want it; you don't want to have to get fancy in order to win against your I-AA opposition.

As with most I-AA teams, W&M is undersized up front, with one exception: 300-pound DT Harold Robertson.  Middle linebacker Jake Trantin is 240 pounds; on the outsides, though, UVA's much larger blockers should find an easy path to clearing running lanes.  W&M does have just a ton of experience in the starting front seven with six of them being returning starters, and outside 'backer Dante Cook is a top-notch tackler, but past the starting seven the experience is almost totally lacking.  The two-deep is full of former scout teamers and guys with two, three games of experience.  W&M won't be able to rotate without taking a serious hit to their ability to stop the ball.

So I think UVA will have a clear advantage when the ball is on the ground.  Expect a 100-yard day out of Perry Jones and some experimenting with the rest of the tailbacks, mostly along the lines of spreading out the carries and seeing who looks best in game action.

-- UVA pass offense vs. W&M pass defense:

One thing the Tribe have going for them is a preseason all-conference defender at each level of the defense, and it's pass defense where those guys excel.  DE Marcus Hyde is a good if undersized pass-rusher; Dante Cook defends the pass very well as a linebacker; CB B.W. Webb has nine career picks, although just one last year.

However, the strength of the UVA O-line is at tackle, and it ought to be an interesting sight to watch the 242-pound Hyde battle 320-pound Morgan Moses.  Is Moses quick enough with his feet to handle a bug-sized speed rusher?  Or will he just swallow up the rush with size?

UVA's attack, unlike the rushing game, will look a lot like last year's, because Mike Rocco is going to be awfully similar to Marc Verica.  You don't ask either one to do spectacular things to win the game; just find the open receiver because eventually there'll be one.  The biggest question going in is, how much passing will David Watford do?  There's no doubt among anyone that Watford can make plays with his feet that none of the other QBs can, but how his arm looks in live action is a total mystery.  We don't even have high school to go off of because Watford ran an offense at Hampton that almost never passed.  I do expect Watford to pass the ball at least once or twice, and I'm as curious as anyone to see how that will go.

The matchups will almost certainly involve Webb, a preseason I-AA all-American, covering Kris Burd, and the very experienced Terrell Wells covering whoever else, probably Tim Smith.  Regardless of experience, expect Lazor to have Rocco and Smith - or perhaps one of the wondertwin freshmen - test their deep-ball chops.  Even against a I-AA opponent, nothing would do more for the offense going forward than if they can connect on a bomb.

The prediction here is that Rocco is efficient but not eye-popping, connecting on about two-thirds of his passes with stats very similar to Verica's against Richmond last year.  As Rocco's safety blanket, I think Burd has a big day, too, and we should get to see, at least once, one of the freshmen receivers, Terrell or Jennings, do something exciting.

-- W&M run offense vs. UVA run defense:

One of the reasons Billy & Mary is expected to contend for a national title is their running game, and their tailback, Jonathan Grimes.  Grimes is a true workhorse; he's the CAA preseason co-OPOY and on the Payton Award watch list - the I-AA version of the Heisman.  W&M center James Pagliaro is also a preseason all-conference player.

Most of the rest of the line is underexperienced, though, and if W&M falters this season because of that, they would hardly be the first team to do so.  It's a long and humble list of teams that've had expectations dashed by an inexperienced O-line.

Regardless, the Tribe will lean on Grimes, Grimes, and Grimes some more, and at some point he will probably break one.  It happened last year; UVA kept Richmond's Kendall Gaskins in check most of the game, except for the pesky 70-yard touchdown early in the game.  Grimes, too, will probably end up with a big run.  The key will be to at least make sure it happens outside where at least, we expect it.  If the defensive middle is as strong as I think it is, then W&M's one ace, at center, can be nullified, and Grimes will be forced to test our outside defenses instead.

-- W&M pass offense vs. UVA pass defense:

Quarterbacking the Tribe attack is Mike Paulus, a name you might recognize; Paulus (besides being the brother of Duke basketball standout Greg) used to play QB at UNC, where he was horrible.  He transferred to W&M last year and was playing very well before a shoulder injury ended his season - against UNC, incidentally, in a game where he was playing exceedingly well before the injury.

The Tribe's second-leading returning receiver is - uh, Jonathan Grimes, who's a big threat in the passing game.  The wide receivers are returning backups turned starters: Ryan Woolfolk and D.J. Mangas; the actual biggest threat is preseason-AA tight end Alex Gottlieb.  UVA's corners should by and large be able to shut down the receivers; the real test will be of the linebackers' abilities to cover Gottlieb, who along with Grimes represents the Tribe's best chance at moving the ball through the air.

Because of that, and because of the relative inexperience on the line - particularly at right tackle where they have Robert Gumbita who only played in five games last year - expect W&M to try and move the ball in short bursts rather than large chunks.  There's an opportunity here to exploit matchups on the line and let the pass rush really shine, and Paulus will probably pick up his share of grass stains.

-- Outlook:

Remember when I said this seems like an unimportant game?  It only seems like it.  Truth is, Mike London has been picking up a lot of results on the recruiting trail by selling the notion of UVA as a program on the upswing.  That line won't work for a third straight year if you can't prove it.  The best way to prove it is by not losing to the same lower-division team you made headlines by losing to last time.  The second best way is by going bowling when everyone expected you not to.

To put it more bluntly, UVA can't prove it's on the upswing just by winning this game, but neither can it prove to be on the upswing if it loses.

-- Prediction summary: (gleaned from the above paragraphs)

-OFFENSE
- UVA's biggest advantage will be when they are running the ball, as W&M's front seven is too undersized and unable to rotate players effectively.
- Perry Jones will carry for more than 100 yards.
- Kris Burd will have more than 100 yards receiving.
- Mike Rocco's day will look a lot like Marc Verica's against Richmond in 2010.
- David Watford will throw the ball at least once or twice.

-DEFENSE
- Jonathan Grimes will have at least one big run.
- W&M will find little running room inside.
- W&M will have some success passing the ball in the short game to Grimes and Alex Gottlieb, but the receivers will be, by and large, shut down.
- UVA's pass rush will give Mike Paulus trouble.

- Final score: UVA 31, W&M 13.

Monday, November 29, 2010

weekend review

The end of the football season means the end of this post as a regular thing, but it'll still go up every now and again when needed. To do things differently just for the sake of it, we'll start with the recruits and their playoff exploits:

Hermitage 17, L.C. Bird 14: Anthony Harris got Bird in front, 14-10, with a touchdown run, but Curtis Grant recovered a fumble in the end zone for Hermitage to advance them past Bird and give them the Central Region championship.

Phoebus 12, Hampton 7: Daquan Romero starred in Phoebus's region-clinching win over David Watford and Hampton. Romero, playing TE, caught Phoebus's only touchdown, and sacked Watford to set up a safety for Phoebus on the next play.

H.D. Woodson 44, Dunbar 12: Darius Redman caught a late touchdown to help Woodson to the DCIAA Turkey Bowl title.

Stone Bridge 35, Hayfield 7 (Rob Burns)
Wilde Lake 21, Damascus 14 (Brandon Phelps)

Phelps's season ends just shy of the state finals. Three teams of interest remain: Stone Bridge plays Osbourn next week, Phoebus plays Dinwiddie, and the winners of those two games will meet at Scott Stadium for the Division 5 title. Hermitage goes against Bayside (where hopefully-future Hoo Demetrious Nicholson plays) in the Division 6 semis; the final is also in Charlottesville.

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News you can't really use, but you can still read and maybe even enjoy it:

- David Watford hopes to enroll in the spring. The 25-yearly scholarship limit is almost as big a concern as the 85-total limit at this point. In fact, we're already to the point where every new commit means another attrite from the current team, so the 25 limit might even be a bigger concern. If Admissions lets Watford in for the spring semester, one extra player can be squeezed into the class. Not to mention the extra practice time would be a huge help blah blah blah. This is where the influence of new president Teresa Sullivan could be a big help, no?

- Speaking of Sullivan, the latest UVA alumni magazine has a nice profile spread on her, with this relevant quote:

Sullivan is a strong supporter of collegiate athletics and is an avid football fan, telling one alumni gathering that she hopes the University will one day host ESPN College Gameday.
When Sullivan was hired I theorized that her experience at Texas and Michigan could only be beneficial to the athletic department. Sullivan has spent the last two decades plus at two of the best schools in the country at using athletics - football especially - to maximize and enhance the school's overall brand. Football is one of the best ways of doing this: when you think University of Miami, do you think of their highly underestimated academics, or do you think of swagger and Da U? (Yeah, I know: major sampling bias here.) Sullivan, I think, understands this as well as any college president can. There's good reason to believe she'll be a stronger supporter of football and athletics than Casteen was. Casteen was a good president, but I think he saw athletics as something that schools don't get a lot of return on investment from. I think Sullivan, unlike Casteen, sees the important distinction between compromising for athletics and sacrificing for athletics.

- The all-ACC teams are out, and Chase Minnifield made 1st team and Keith Payne made 2nd. This is entirely fair. It's good especially to see Payne get recognition for the bounceback year.

- Bill Lazor back to the NFL? Lazor says no, the rumortubes say yes. The rumors are that Lazor is looking for a job in the NFL (and will try and get one when the NFL season ends) and Lazor's refutation says (in essence) that he hasn't been contacted for one. Unfortunately a coach's word in the media must always be parsed for loopholes, and it's not hard to find them here. But Lazor is awfully stringent in his denial. Despite what I've read, I don't think there's any concrete reason to believe Lazor won't be back next year. Yet. I do know what the offense looked like last year and what it looked like this year and who's largely to thank for it, and it's gonna be awfully hard to get this rebuilding project off the ground without some continuity at a critical position. That's why London asked for a two-year commitment from his staff. You can never keep a successful coordinator around forever (the Riker-esque refusal to seek a head job of his own on Bud Foster's part notwithstanding) so three, four years down the line, yeah, I think we'd need to look for another OC. But by then there'd be something to build on. There isn't yet.

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Part of the reason this post comes a little late is because of basketball awesomeness, but partly it's because I was waiting for good news on the recruiting front. People keep hinting at it. Crossing my fingers for Jay Whitmire myself, the way the hints have been going, although nobody's mentioned any names. Alas, we'll have to wait. Not many changes to the recruiting board then:

- Removed WR Daniel Adams from green (New Mexico commit.)

- Removed QB Lafonte Thourogood from red (VT commit.) Almost a fait accompli after we picked up Watford.

- Moved CB Jeremiah Hendy from yellow to red, since Maryland's been winning and we haven't.

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Much more extensive hoopstravaganza tomorrow, but ESPN's always good for some amusement and this seems like an appropriate finish:

Speaking of Virginia, just how bad are the Cavaliers in Tony Bennett's second year? The Cavaliers already have three losses .... Virginia hasn't looked competitive any time it's faced a major-conference team not named Oklahoma. (The Sooners don't count. That might be the worst BCS conference team in the country.) Now UVA travels to the barn to face a quality Minnesota team. In the words of Scooby Doo: Ruh roh.
UVA 87, Minny 79, as Craig Littlepage spends the rest of the evening amusing himself by digging up old message board threads and, uh, blog posts expressing our fondest hopes of hiring Tubby Smith. I mean, I thought we'd lose to Minnesota too, but I don't get a paycheck to say that.

Oh....for those hoping to see the weekly AP poll study results, I crave your indulgence. The work was a casualty of the holiday weekend. Publishing will be tomorrow.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

game preview: Florida State

Date/Time: Saturday, October 2; 12:00

TV: ACC Network (formerly Raycom)/ESPN3 for those of us blacked out

History against the Seminoles: 2-13

Last matchup: FSU 33, UVA 0 - game vacated by FSU

Last week: UVA 48, VMI 7; FSU 31, WF 0

Line: Florida State by 7

Opposing blogs: Tomahawk Nation, Scalp 'Em

Injury report:

OUT

TE Jeremy Dollin
WR Bobby Smith
WR Tim Smith
WR Eric Thornton

DOUBTFUL - none

QUESTIONABLE - none

PROBABLE

OT Landon Bradley
WR Kris Burd
RB Raynard Horne
S Corey Mosley
S Brian Oden
LB LaRoy Reynolds
TE Joe Torchia

Uniform combination: blue jersey, white pants

Other useful stuff:
Q&A with Tomahawk Nation
Other half of the Q&A
FSU season preview

Things looked a lot different last time we saw this. Two old dudes roamed the sidelines in Bobby Bowden and Al Groh, and FSU was ranked in the top 5. In fact, the last time FSU came to Charlottesville not ranked in the top ten is probably never. Now Groh is gone, and so is Bowden (significantly decreasing FSU's dislikability factor), and for the first time, UVA fans aren't looking to next week's game with this one already written off as a loss.

There's also a lot of looking back, of course. "Florida State at Virginia" brings back pleasant memories of two of UVA's best upsets since the Welsh era began - heck, maybe the two best ever. It's a disappointing side effect of the expanded ACC that the opportunity to really relive 1995 and 2005 will now come up just once every five years, but that's the way it is. In 1995 I hadn't yet added orange to my maize-and-blue loyalties, but I do have pretty strong and exciting memories of an autumn evening in 2005 - which you would admit is impressive if you'd seen the roughly gallon-and-a-half of beer I'd imbibed through the afternoon. The date has special significance for UVA fans and Michigan fans alike, so combined with the Boston bar-hopping it's been the football Saturday by which all other football Saturdays are judged in my book. Can similar memories be made on Saturday?

HOW WE CAN WIN

- Christian Ponder isn't much of a deep thrower. His triceps are probably better than they were, but they're still not 100% and I still don't expect a lot of big bomb-type throws. Roughly 10 yards per completion against Wake - that's a fairly low number. Combine Ponder's wonky triceps with the likely absence of LT Andrew Datko, and FSU's likeliest course of action in the passing game is quick slants and dinking and dunking their way down the field. That means plenty of throws to possession receiver extraordinaire Bert Reed, Ponder's favorite target. Reed will probably match up with Chase Minnifield, but what I'd really like to see is Minnifield on Taiwan Easterling and the comparatively monstrous Ras-I Dowling on Reed. (Reed is teensy.) If Dowling has regained his quicks, he can use his size to limit Reed. I think Minnifield can hang with Easterling. Additionally, we'll need outstanding side-to-side play from our linebackers.

- Because of the short passing game, I don't expect the pass rush to be a huge factor unless the cornerbacks are really doing a good job on the FSU receivers. So more run-stopping beef on the D-line - that is, more playing time for Matt Conrath and Nick Jenkins over John-Kevin Dolce, except in obvious passing downs - should be of greater help against the very efficient FSU running game.

- Is there a weakness in the FSU defense? The only team yet to find one is Oklahoma, which doesn't have a monster running game but did shred FSU through the air. Nobody's really run successfully on FSU this year, and my thought is UVA will need heavy doses of the pass to keep the run defense honest. Getting the tight ends open will be key. FSU has very, very good linebackers, but they can't step up for run defense if they're in pass coverage against our tight ends. A successful offensive attack might start with a few strikes to TE's Torchia and Phillips, and draw plays when Lazor wants to run the ball.

HOW WE CAN LOSE

- The worst thing that can happen is for FSU to be able to establish their running game. Not unlike Payne and Jones, FSU has a quality tandem of big-and-small running backs. Level of competition obviously has to be taken into account when considering the impressive run-game results, but the only team to date to stop FSU has been Oklahoma, and, you know, we're not Oklahoma.

- Under no circumstances whatsoever should Greg Reid be allowed to field a punt.

- Remember how, before the season, every preview of the offense written anywhere began with "if the offensive line...."? This is why. USC aside (and UVA wasn't especially effective on offense there), this is really the kind of game that that phrase was meant for. FSU will just bulldoze the offense if they're allowed to and it'll be the kind of long, frustrating afternoon that ends up with a score of 34-6 if the O-line doesn't give the skill players room to work. Their defense is more than good enough to just shut us right down.

HOW THE GAME WILL GO

Really, it'll hinge on the two O-lines. And Ponder. UVA's is healthy but still of questionable ability - we don't really know yet if they're a good, ACC-caliber unit or not. FSU's is not healthy and in a little bit of flux: Datko, their top tackle, is out, and Zebrie Sanders may or may not move to left tackle for the game.

Ponder, meanwhile, is a bigger mystery than Verica. FSU pushed him as a major-league Heisman candidate, but that was borderline silly. Ponder isn't a Heisman-caliber quarterback. But he does have the ability to drive the offense down the field and hurt you. He also has the capacity to miss receivers he should hit. Verica's a wild-card in a different fashion - you know the giant brainfart is coming, you just don't know when and you hope it doesn't hurt you too bad. But otherwise Verica is Verica and you know what you're getting. Sometimes with Ponder, the whole game is a lost cause, though that sort of thing is getting less frequent as he gets older.

Really, FSU should win this game. There's still a talent gap. But even though both teams are under new management, there's a difference in the change. As FSU fans will point out, the team is being coached again. Bobby Bowden, the thinking goes, didn't do much of that. Fisher's introducing plays and schemes and stuff, and the thought process no longer stops at the assumption that being Florida State is enough to make them bigger better faster and that's all it takes. Contrast that to the change here at UVA, where the problem was not undercoaching, but overscheming. The schemes of Mike London, Bill Lazor, and Jim Reid are still schemes and they're still coaching, but they demand much less thought, much less "if A then B" going on inside a player's head while the play goes on around him. Makes playing easier. For this reason, you will see UVA overachieve relative to expectations, while FSU has ups and downs, good games and bad, and may or may not play up to their talent level while they get used to being coached again.

And don't forget the overlook aspect: FSU has Miami next week. We're just little ol' Virginia. You always beat us. No need to get too excited.

So I'd be surprised to see a blowout. UVA may still lose - in fact, I think the chances of that are better than even. But since we've been reminiscing about FSU's past trips to Charlottesville, let's talk about 2003. The Hoos lost, 19-14, playing a very solid game (particularly on defense) but were done in by one really glaring, ugly weakness and a couple ill-timed mistakes. In that team's case, the weakness was punting and the worst mistake was a poor snap that ruined a crucial third down. This seems like the kind of game we're in for. Fortunately, nothing on this team is as bad as the punting was in that game, although there's no Matt Schaub or Ahmad Brooks, either. But - eliminate the mistake(s), and what happens instead? A Virginia win may be the answer. It'll be close enough that we might just get to find out.

REST OF THE ACC

Miami @ Clemson, 12:00
Virginia Tech @ NC State, 3:30
North Carolina vs. East Carolina, 3:30
Duke @ Maryland, 6:00
Georgia Tech @ Wake Forest, 7:00
Boston College vs. Notre Dame, 8:00