Thursday, October 31, 2013

game preview: Clemson

Date/Time: Saturday, November 2; 3:30


Record against the Tigers: 8-37-1

Last meeting: Clem. 34, UVA 21; 11/21/09, Clemson

Last weekend: GT 35, UVA 25; Clem. 40, Md. 27

Line: Clemson by 18

Injury report:


OUT - OL George Adeosun, CB Maurice Canady, CB Demetrious Nicholson, TE Mario Nixon, DT Brent Urban, S Wil Wahee



PROBABLE - OG Conner Davis, K Ian Frye


OUT - DB MacKensie Alexander, OL Patrick DeStefano, DT Kevin Dodd, RB Tyshon Dye,  LB Kellen Jones, WR Charone Peake, CB Garry Peters, DT Carlos Watkins



PROBABLE - RB Zac Brooks

What were you doing in 1999?  I'd guess your life was a lot different back then.  Three presidential terms have come and gone since then, and then some.  According to my high school yearbook, the Sega Dreamcast came out then.  This was 14 years ago.  I bring this up because the next time Clemson visits Charlottesville will be 14 years from now: 2027.  That's when V for Vendetta takes place FFS.  This is the brave new, stupid ACC.

Of course, Clemson might be a poor example of a team we should play more often, given the sound thrashing they're about to lay on our football team.  This week will put a merciful end to the season, afte which point the team will perhaps be playing for nothing more than to save their coach's job.

-- UVA run offense vs. Clemson run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 144 carries, 614 yards, 4.3 ypc, 9 TDs
Khalek Shepherd: 38 carries, 248 yards, 6.5 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:
162.63 yards/game, 3.86 yards/attempt
92nd of 125 (national), 11th of 14 (ACC)

Clemson defense:
144.13 yards/game, 3.79 yards/attempt
41st of 125 (national), 7th of 14 (ACC)

The likely return of Conner Davis is a small piece of good news for a running game that proved mostly impotent against Georgia Tech.  UVA has tried a lot of combinations, but this one, with Davis at LG and Whitmire at RG, has proven to be, on balance, the best of an unpalatable array of choices.

The drawback is that Luke Bowanko's snap issues are returning.  Part of the reason he makes a better guard than center is because of his erratic shotgun snaps, which tend to be high and throw off the timing of the read-option as well as just plain regular runs out of the pistol.  When your main back is Kevin Parks, whose acceleration isn't top-level stuff, it makes everything run a tick slow, and that in turn just piles up the issues on an offensive line that has a tough time as it is with holding blocks for long enough.

Adding to the difficulties is that bane of the UVA offense, a quality defensive tackle.  For Clemson it's Grady Jarrett.  They also have a pair of excellent linebackers in Spencer Shuey and Stephone Anthony, the two leading tacklers.  Two-thirds of the way through the season and they already have 78 and 80 tackles, respectively.  I'm less impressed by SLB Quandon Christian, and I think UVA would have more success running to that side than the other.  But Clemson's defensive line is more than good enough to cover any weaknesses among the linebackers - not that there are many.

Other than an inexplicable meltdown against Syracuse and the opening game against Georgia, teams haven't been real successful running the ball against Clemson.  It's unlikely ours is the team to break that trend.  I don't think Parks will manage more than 60 yards, and the rest of the running attack will fall in place behind.

-- UVA pass offense vs. Clemson pass defense

David Watford: 191/314, 60.8%; 1,715 yards, 7 TDs, 9 INTs; 5.46 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Jake McGee: 31 rec., 265 yards, 2 TDs
Kevin Parks: 29 rec., 285 yards, 1 TD

UVA offense:
219.9 yards/game, 5.3 yards/attempt
124th of 125 (national), 14th of 14 (ACC)

Clemson defense:
230.6 yards/game, 7.4 yards/attempt
81st of 125 (national), 11th of 14 (ACC)

Why is Clemson looking upwards in the Atlantic Conference race?  Because of the 444 yards they gave up to Jameis Winston.  David Watford isn't Winston and has nothing close to the surrounding talent, but this remains the weaker point of Clemson's defense.

Actually, it doesn't mean they're not dangerous, though.  Clemson's 29 sacks are tops in the country, and their 13 picks are tied for 8th.  Cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland and Darius Robinson have three picks apiece, and speed-rushing DE Vic Beasley has ten sacks.  GT's Jeremiah Attaochu abused right tackle Eric Smith, sometimes simply by juking him without ever being engaged in a block, and Smith will have his hands full again; no doubt Clemson paid attention to the film and won't bother lining up Beasley across from Morgan Moses.

Clemson, though, is also prone to allowing the big play.  They sit near the bottom of the national rankings in this regard.  That means if UVA is even going to keep this thing close(ish), Tim Smith needs to repeat his performance of last week.  Having Jake McGee back will be a big plus, but Watford needs multiple options to stretch the field or there just won't be any point to this at all.  It's Smith who has emerged as a downfield threat - not in terms of the one big lightning strike, but he can create 20, 25-yard plays.  Consistency is a problem, of course, as he's yet to really do anything two games in a row this year.

Watford is likely to have a tough time with this pass rush.  Consider it experience for the VT game.  Clemson averages more than 3.5 sacks a game, so predicting three, as I was planning on doing, starts to look pretty weak; let's say four.  I think Watford can continue to top 200 yards and the Hoos should be able to move the ball in fits and starts, but expecting a repeat of last week would be too much.

-- Clemson run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Roderick McDowell: 119 carries, 607 yards, 5.1 ypc, 2 TDs
Zac Brooks: 47 carries, 234 yards, 5.0 ypc, 2 TDs

Clemson offense:
175.88 yards/game, 3.94 yards/attempt
87th of 125 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
182.0 yards/game, 4.56 yards/attempt
84th of 125 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)

Tailback Roderick McDowell is a decent back, but let's face it, even as the starter he's essentially Tajh Boyd's change of pace.   A great deal of the Clemson run game is the read-option run between Boyd and McDowell, and Boyd has 72 carries for 334 yards once you take away sacks.

In that sense it's a good deal for us that the defense has been seeing the read-option in practice.  The basics of defending it are to do one of two things: have your defensive tackle kick some ass while the DE pops out to take the QB (but there's no Urban) or crash the DE to take the RB and "scrape" the linebacker outside.  I have, however, no idea what Jon Tenuta is doing with linebackers these days, given the strange appearance of this week's depth chart.

One thing seems sure: Max Valles as anything other than a situational pass-rusher seems like a bad idea.  Valles is inexperienced and it showed badly against GT; against the read-option I'd rather stick with the experienced and trustworthy Romero and Coley.  And if Tenuta blitzes up the middle, that's great except that Boyd will probably just keep and head outside for a big gain.

Clemson will get their yards here; they've been pretty successful all season without being spectacular.  Steady is the word, as the run game gets its share of room just from teams hanging back, understandably scared of the pass.  I'm not too worried about there being a big play here, but there's no reason the Tigers shouldn't just continue to be able to do what they do, which is pick up five yards whenever they want to.

-- Clemson pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Tajh Boyd: 168/263, 63.9%; 2,243 yards, 17 TDs, 5 INTs; 8.53 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Sammy Watkins: 58 rec., 813 yards, 5 TDs
Adam Humphries: 30 rec., 368 yards, 2 TDs

Clemson offense:
319.6 yards/game, 8.1 yards/attempt
36th of 125 (national), 7th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
211.8 yards/game, 6.6 yards/attempt
39th of 125 (national), 7th of 14 (ACC)

No Nicholson, no Canady, going against Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd.  There's no need to overthink this.

-- Favorability ratings

UVA run offense: 2.5
UVA pass offense: 3.5
UVA run defense: 3.5
UVA pass defense: 1

Average: 2.63

-- Outlook

For the cliff notes, just reread the pass defense segment.  I cannot think of a single reason this should go well.  It's possible to look at UVA and see a team scrapping for a win and continuing to improve but tragically coming up short each time.  It's also possible to see a reeling, injury-riddled, often undisciplined team with unsolvable weaknesses, going up against a legitimate top-ten team in the country.  The improvement might just result in one win, maybe against Carolina or VT's putrid offense.  For now, Tivo will come in handy should I want to see any play in particular; I'll be watching Michigan-MSU.

-- Prediction summary

-- Kevin Parks fails to reach 60 yards on the ground.

-- David Watford passes for over 200 yards.

-- Watford is sacked at least four times.

-- Sammy Watkins needs 187 yards to reach 1,000 for the season.  He'll get them all Saturday.

Final score: Clemson 51, UVA 17

-- Rest of the ACC

Virginia Tech @ Boston College - 12:00 - Any team that plays a decently disciplined defense against VT is an upset risk - and BC does.

North Carolina @ NC State - 12:30 - UNC is 2-5, and could easily finish the regular season 7-5.

Wake Forest @ Syracuse - 12:30 - A likely Bowl Eligibility Bowl in the Atlantic.

Pittsburgh @ Georgia Tech - 7:00 - GT can clinch a postseason trip.

Miami @ Florida State - 8:00 - Possible preview of the ACCCG.

Byes: Maryland, Duke

2013 hoops preview: players, part 2

The second half of what got begun last night.

#12 - Joe Harris - Sr. SF

2013 O-rating: 111.1

Besides shoot threes, which he does really really well, there isn't a lot that jumps out about Joe Harris's game that's exceptional.  He's fairly average, athletically speaking; his defense is solid but he's not going to lock anyone down.  He's got a nice handle, better than you'd expect til you see it in action, but it's not like he's got the Allen Iverson crossover.

But he fills the bucket.  A lot.  How?  One of the best shooting touches in the league from anywhere on the court, and a healthy dose of moxie.  Enough to get himself voted to the preseason all-ACC team.  This was Harris's team last year and it showed - particularly in the big games, like oh say Duke, in which Harris scored a crazy (especially for Tony's pace) 36 points.

Now he's in his second year as the team go-to guy.  That's a luxury few teams have, getting an undisputed do-everything leader back for seconds.  Harris may well see his production decline - he scored 16.3 points a game last year and thanks to a wider array of options this year, don't be surprised to see him not reach that level again.  But there's little doubt he'll be deferred to in crunch time again this year, quite possibly even to the extent of once again having him bring the ball up the court while trying to protect a lead.  Highly flexible and unflappable in any situation, Harris is like a glue guy who scores a lot.

#13 - Anthony Gill - So. PF

2012 O-rating: 100.2

If there's an X-factor this year, this is it.  We can pretty reasonably expect a certain level of improvement from guys like Mike Tobey and Justin Anderson.  Joe Harris is a well-known quantity, as is Akil Mitchell to a large extent.  But Gill - we don't have much to go on.  Just a freshman season with a shitty South Carolina team and some very glowing reports from practice last year, during which Gill couldn't play due to NCAA transfer rules.

The numbers from his freshman season are good but largely unremarkable.  Despite often being described as a true power forward, he can shoot an occasional three as well.  Should be rangier than Akil Mitchell in terms of shooting locations.  As for the rest - well, if you believe all you heard last year and into this one, Gill and Mitchell could sub in and out for each other and there would never be any dropoff.

On the other hand, last year we saw some early potential in having a dynamic combination of power forwards with Mitchell and Darion Atkins on the floor.  Before Atkins got hurt it was an at times devastating combo.  With Gill, you could make it any two of three, picking and choosing as you like.  One thing we do know for certain: Gill makes it four bona fide frontcourt players, something Tony has not had in his tenure here.

My best guess is that Gill doesn't make the starting lineup, not early on; the starting frontcourt probably consists of Tobey and Mitchell.  Gill and Mitchell is possible depending on the matchup, but Gill stands a great chance of instead being the first guy off the bench.  Gotta rotate those frontcourt guys and keep them fresh.  The scary part is what happens then if Gill really is a minimal dropoff from Mitchell - going against opposing second-stringers could be awfully unfair.

#15 - Malcolm Brogdon - So. PG

2012 O-rating: 92.9

Another guy counted among the reinforcements this year, Brogdon was shut down early in the season when it became clear his broken foot was healing too slowly.  Brogdon has flat feet, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little concerned that his feet could be a chronic problem because of it.

Plans are to make him the starting point guard; his more natural position might be the two, and indeed I'd be very surprised if he didn't play off the ball some this year.  The more Teven Jones or one of the freshmen develop, the more that can happen.  But to start, Brogdon will be handed the duties.  He's big for a 1, of course, so, his ability to defend the position might occasionally be called into question.  But he's a heady player and few doubt his ability to understand the offense.

Plus, he's a much more versatile threat on offense than Jontel Evans was.  He'll probably drive about as much as Evans did, but the style will be different; Evans was much smaller and had to go around defenders more than Brogdon will have to.  But Brogdon, obviously, will shoot a jump shot more than once a month, and won't freeze up at the stripe.  Evans was a nifty passer and I think the jury's out on how Brogdon will do in that regard.

I think, at times, Brogdon will fall short of Evans as an operator of the offense in ways that won't be evident to the casual observer.  Missed opportunities that come and go in a second, that sort of thing.  Evans, for his flaws as a player, was still a senior and knew his way around the court.  But in more visible ways, Brogdon will be an improvement.  It wouldn't be a stretch, either, to call him the most important player on the team; if for whatever reason he proves unable to handle the point guard job once the games become real, the remaining options are scary for reasons of freshmanness.

#23 - London Perrantes - Fr. PG

Commitment post

If there's such a thing as momentum for players on a depth chart, you'd have to say London Perrantes has it over Devon Hall in the freshman point guard derby.  With the exception of a minor injury thing that's kept him out of action lately, the vibe seems to be that if only one freshman guard plays, right now it'd be Perrantes.

That's unsurprising if you buy the scouting reports from his high school days, which credited him with an elite basketball IQ and a pass-first mentality.  Perrantes probably will not come out lighting up any score sheets, and might yet be 3rd in the rotation behind Brogdon and Teven Jones, and of course, repeat after me, it depends on his defense.  If he plays significant minutes, and early on I would consider 6-8 significant, we're looking for assists, not points.

I'd say we'll know if Perrantes is successful in Tony's eyes if Jones's minutes start dwindling in favor of Perrantes, and we'll really know he's successful if Devon Hall starts working out some off the ball.  The opposite is not true for Hall, because Hall has more flexibility in his game.  With Perrantes it's kind of point guard or bust.  Regardless, as long as Brogdon is even reasonably good at point guard, we'll have the luxury of seeing both freshmen brought along slowly and placed in situations where they can succeed and learn at the same time.  Once Evans got back from injury last year, that's what we were able to do with Jones; we saw how problematic the results could be when we weren't able to take it slow.  That's kind of a rough blueprint for how the freshmen will be handled this year, too.

#25 - Akil Mitchell - Sr. PF

2013 O-rating: 111.0

Mitchell was one of the best stories out of last season.  Joe Harris's emergence on the ACC scene was excellent, and Justin Anderson had some moments.  Lots of moments, actually.  But Mitchell is, so far, the best testament to the staff's development skills.  Mitchell came in as the biggest project of the six players in Tony's vaunted first recruiting class.  Labeled the best athlete of the bunch but also the rawest, he was a little bit of a forgotten man while a lot of the attention went to more court-ready scorers.

Now it's Mitchell doing the scoring.  His first two years, he was all gangly-armed defense and putback offense.  As a junior, suddenly there were actual moves.  Akil has a little hook shot that confounds his defenders, and he's learned to harness his athleticism and put it to use as a rebounding machine, low-post scorer, and shot blocker.  Mitchell takes a lot of pride in that rebounding, and has a green light from Tony to hit the offensive boards as well.

Along with the development of his offense has come the development of his passion.  To be honest, he wasn't the most visible player on the court his first two years, perhaps feeling overshadowed (understandably so) by Mike Scott.  Last year there was more of an edge to his game, a little more authority in his dunks.  There was no mistaking his presence on the court last year, and it went a long, long way in softening the blow of losing Scott to graduation and the NBA.  The team is Harris's, but Mitchell is now essentially the leader and elder statesman of the frontcourt players.  Like Harris, his productivity in terms of raw numbers could go down, just thanks to the depth on the roster, but it's also correct to say that Mitchell has more room than Harris to grow his game, too.

#32 - Darion Atkins - Jr. PF

2013 O-rating: 95.4

With apologies to Evans, probably the most disappointing injury of 2012-13 was Atkins going down with what essentially amounted to severe shin splints.  Atkins had five games of double-digit scoring in the nonconference portion of the schedule, with a breakout performance against Wisconsin.  He and Mitchell combined to give UVA a pair of long, rangy, bouncy forwards who had a nasty habit of being all over the court at once, and opposing teams were at a loss to figure out ways to attack the pack-line when it was being manned by this kind of athlete.

When the shin thing set in, though, the difference in Atkins's game was palpable.  He had nowhere near the lift or range or speed that he had before.  He was just a guy trying gamely to get in people's way.  It sucked watching him play when you knew what he'd been doing before he got hurt.

Should we expect the same thing now that he's healthy?  I'm not sure I see him getting 35 minutes in any game this season (barring injury elsewhere) the way he did against Wisconsin; in fact I'm sure he doesn't.  It's that depth again.  But that relentless streak will be his key to the court.  Especially - all together now - if it returns to his defense.  I'm not worried, mind.  He's already displayed his talent for, as I so eloquently put it after the UNC game, "making dunk go bye-bye."  However, there are so many scoring options on this team that Atkins moves down the ladder in that regard.  He will make his name this year on defense or see his minutes trickle away to Anthony Gill.


If the referees get serious about calling hand-check stuff the way they've been making noise about, there won't be a team in the country that doesn't run into tons of foul trouble.  That'll be good news for a team as deep as ours.  Let them call the fouls; not many teams can run out four frontcourt players as talented as Tobey, Gill, Mitchell, and Atkins.  The constant barrage of fresh forwards and one true center should be a huge weapon with the potential to bludgeon a lot of teams into submission.

In fact, if all pans out, this team will be able to score from anywhere it likes.  Harris and Nolte, and to a lesser extent Anderson and Brogdon will be downtown threats.  Tobey and Jones can do some of that too.  The frontcourt is an obvious strength.  And there's nobody - seriously, nobody - who makes you groan when they step to the stripe.  And none of this breathless optimism has taken into account the defense yet, which is getting close to take-for-granted territory.  Pundits basically do, by now.  You play Virginia, you're not gonna score much.  You just aren't.

Previews almost always tend toward believing the best of every player, though, so it should definitely be cautioned that there's a lot of variance.  Only Harris and Mitchell can truly be called known quantities.  Gill and Brogdon are coming off a year on ice; Atkins was slowed too much by injury last year to get a good sense of his full-season potential; we're counting on a nice steep improvement curve from Anderson and Tobey; Perrantes and Hall are freshmen.  And you know what I say about Nice Things, so someone will probably get hurt this year.  But the reason you can still be excited about the potential is that this is finally a team with the depth to withstand a body blow or two.  Not everything has to go just right for this year to be a lot of fun.  If it does all go just right - hello, world.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

2013 hoops preview: players, part 1

Fin-al-ly.  10 days from now, the basketball season opens in earnest against JMU, and Tony Bennett gets to unveil the most talented team he's ever coached at Virginia.  This is a team that people are noticing.  I thought the media ranking UVA fourth in the conference is pretty high praise - and it is - but that was until I saw ESPN projecting UVA second.  Dan Hanner's projections have us 11th in the country.  (!!!!!!!!)  KenPom has us 19th, as does Andy Katz.  People are looking.  Everyone is looking.  Pacism is evaporating.  (Slowly.)  Expectations are rising.  I think, for the first time in a long time, the media is more bullish on the Hoos than our fans are.  I think that's a good thing.

All this comes at a time when the ACC is returning to the gauntlet of land mines that it was in the past.  For a time there, many of the conference's teams had saddled themselves with junk coaches - Paul Hewitt, Sidney the Big Red Coach, Oliver Purnell, yes, and Dave Leitao too - and the league's fortunes suffered.  Now the league is bigger, with three new and very good additions, and the league is getting better coaching from guys like Brian Gregory at GT and Steve Donahue at BC.  Now you play 18 ACC games instead of 16.  Duke and UNC haven't gone anywhere, wish as we might that they would.  So being near the top of all this is exciting.  Even if it is just blather at this point, before the rubber hits the hardcourt.

The season preview will be split into four parts.  Today and tomorrow, we'll take a look at each of the players and what they bring to the table.  Next week, a look at the teams on the nonconference schedule, and then a compilation of the various preseason ratings for the teams of the ACC.  KenPom is essentially the pioneer, but advanced metrics are beginning to explode for college basketball and there are several to be used - and what the hell, we'll throw in the media poll despite its position on the opposite end of the scientific spectrum.  I'd have liked to switch the order of that, but TeamRankings isn't quite finished yet with their look.  Later on in the year, after we've had a chance to get a handle on things (it's cheating and I don't care because it's great filler for when there's little else to talk about, since, you know, no bowl game and all) there'll be the individual team previews for the ACC teams.

Let's get a move-on with the roster.

(Quick explanation on O-ratings: they are KenPom's and they measure a player's offensive efficiency.  Higher is better.  Roughly, 100 is about average, over 105 is good, over 110 is very good to excellent, over 115 is brilliant, and over 120 is elite - assuming the player in question has played enough minutes.)

#0 - Devon Hall - Fr. PG

Commitment post

That post was a bit more breathlessly optimistic than the current outlook on Devon Hall, given the line, "No doubt, of course, that Hall will be thrown into the fire right away, and could very well start every game he plays at UVA."  That's not likely to happen, with a direct competitor in London Perrantes, and Malcolm Brogdon looking very likely to handle the brunt of the point guard responsibilities.  The development of Teven Jones is a factor too.  Not to mention that most of the recruiting services backed off their early ratings and bumped him from four to three stars.

I did get one thing right: Hall, at the time, was listed at 6'4", 180, and I figured he'd hit 6'5", 200+ by the time he got here.  He's now 6'5", 210.  That separates him somewhat from the pack, except for Brogdon who's also big for the PG role.  Size in your point guard is a plus in Tony's defensive system, assuming the player in question still has the requisite quickness to stay on the ball.  And you know how it goes: if you can defend, you play.

So we'll see if Hall can defend.  He's no sure thing to be in the rotation, though.  If not, he'll either redshirt or fans will spend most of the season wishing he did.  If Hall does win a spot, you're not looking at a 25-minute player, and he won't be a tremendous scorer yet.  ESPN, in their final scouting report, called him "cut from the Kendall Marshall mold" which is to say he's a pass-first, -second, and -third point guard.  If he's good at that (and if he can defend, which you can just assume is attached to everyone these days) he ought to find his way into the lineup and could even increase his minutes as time goes on.  But holding world-beating expectations for Hall right now is a huge overcalculation - and the bottom line is, that's a good thing because speaks to the team's depth rather than Hall's own skills.

#1 - Justin Anderson - So. SF

2013 O-rating: 106.3

Changing his number from 23 now that Jontel Evans (the former occupant) has graduated, Anderson is one of the players who's being looked at to really elevate UVA into the top tier of squads in the country.  Anderson's fun factor is tops on the team - he's a supremely athletic player who's been known to be on either end of an alley-oop (which certainly includes the reverse jam off a Jontel Evans lob during last year's Clemson curbstomp) and he's the most emotional and usually smilingest player on the court at any given time.

He happens to be a very good defender too.  Last year, with the frontcourt depth all but shot to pieces, he was asked to take on Maryland's 7'1" center (and eventual #5 overall pick in the NBA draft) Alex Len, and shut Len down entirely despite giving up seven inches.  He's a good shot-blocker and doesn't foul a ton either.  The emotion and electric plays are what make you notice him, but he's down there doing the grit and grunt work too.  That game against Maryland impressed me more than anything else he did last year.  His defense that day was textbook Tony, and that and the way he blossomed as the year went on (rather than bursting immediately on the scene) give high marks to his coachability.

Are there weaknesses in his game?  Naturally.  He's a mediocre three-point shooter at best, barely nudging over the .300 mark last year.  His own handle is decent but could be improved, though he's a good passer off the dribble and his assist rate showed it.  He loses efficiency fairly quickly as he gets further away from the rim.

Nevertheless, his strengths far outweigh his weaknesses.  And a small uptick in his mid-range shooting percentage could go a long way, because only 25% of his 2-point jumpers were assisted last year; raise the mid-range shooting percentage (still only about 30%, just as with his three-pointers) just a little and defenses will have no choice but to pay too much attention.  Either way, his combination of energy and athleticism ought to be a tremendous challenge for most opponents this year, and it could be scary to see what he can do as he gains experience and the game continues to slow down for him.

#5 - Teven Jones - So. PG

2013 O-rating: 91.2

One of the team's most experienced point guards.  Scary, a little, when you think about that, since Jones is only a sophomore, but this team, for all its accolades, has eight underclassmen, three upperclassmen, and none of the latter are point guards.

Jones, rather frankly, lacks the athleticism of the rest of the competition at PG, or at least, didn't put it on display last year.  He was a rotation mainstay while Evans sat out early with an injury, logging 25 minutes in four nonconference games and scoring a season-high (for him) 13 against North Texas.  As the season wore on into the conference portion, though, Tony leaned heavily on Jontel at point and Jones sat out entire games on occasion; after that 13-point effort against the Mean Green, he would score more than 6 points only once the rest of the year, and that against Norfolk State in the NIT.

When asked to carry the load, Jones was usually ill-suited to the task.  As his responsibilities eased, Jones improved.  Part of that naturally ought to be attributed to facing other second-stringers, and part also simply to a freshman getting more comfortable on the court and learning the game, just as Justin Anderson did.  Jones was much steadier later, generally selecting good shots and making them plenty often enough; in fact, since Evans would not have shot a three-pointer even with a fifty-foot cushion, bringing Jones in introduced a refreshing and exciting new element to the game.

That won't be the case this year, so Jones will have to find a new way to distinguish himself.  Much like Hall, Jones will have to fight for minutes.  He can get them by limiting the negatives; it seems unlikely Jones will ever be a full-time starter, but if he can be relied on for 5-10 minutes of steadiness per game, he won't be a forgotten man, either.

#10 - Mike Tobey - So. C

2013 O-rating: 109.1

Tobey is another reason the wonks are high on UVA.  He turned in a very good, efficient year last year; in fact, KenPom's "most similar" season to Tobey's 2013 was Kosta Koufos's 2007-08; Koufos was a one-and-done center for Ohio State who went in the first round after that season and started 81 games last year for the Nuggets.

Tobey proved to be a matchup problem for opposing centers because of his mid-range proficiency; he's one of the best seven-foot (OK, almost seven-foot) shooters in the entire country.  Tobey even canned three of five three-pointers, and at 44%, was the team's best 2-point jump shooter.  Better even than Joe Harris.  His face-up game evoked Mike Scott in Scott's brilliant senior year, except Tobey has a couple inches on Scott.

That may sound like hyperbole, and it is a little bit because Scott was a crazy 53% shooter from midrange.  Tobey has a little ways to go.  Nevertheless, Tobey does all the good things you want centers to do - rebound some, block some shots, that sort of thing - only he's a better shooter than most any center you can find, and you can't foul him either because he hits those shots too.

Here's the exciting part though: last year, he was listed at 227 pounds.  Now he's at 253.  Zounds.  Your head should now be filled with imaginings of all the great things that will do for the traditional-center parts of his game.  The defending and posting-up and all that stuff.  Tobey's a sophomore and is now toting around an NBA body.  And don't forget the shooting.  And the fact that he did what he did last year, in the later portions of it anyway, while fighting off the ill effects of mono.  Unleashing him on the ACC ought to be fun.

#11 - Evan Nolte - So. SF

2013 O-rating: 114.1

Rather than being a traditional power forward or small forward, Nolte is what I call a mismatch forward; you don't want to guard him with a four because he's too quick and you don't want to guard him with a three because he's too big and will shoot over top.  The mismatch forward is really in vogue these days.  Nolte's style opens up some intriguing possibilities on the offensive end, especially if he develops a bit of a handle, as he was largely a catch-and-shoot guy in 2012-13.

The problem is on defense.  The mismatch works the other way, as Nolte was not strong enough to guard a four last year and not quick enough (not nearly quick enough) to guard threes.  This yin and yang makes Nolte's minutes very much a high-ceiling, low-floor kind of stat.  That was borne out last year in spades; he might play 4 minutes one game and 21 a week later.  And with Justin Anderson metamorphosizing into a complete player and the addition of Anthony Gill to the lineup, Nolte could get squeezed.  Even more squeezy: if one of the freshman point guards emerges so nicely that they can move Malcolm Brogdon off the ball, which in turn would move Joe Harris as well.

However.  From a team-wide perspective, bringing Nolte off the bench for, like, 12-18 minutes a game, that could be money in the bank.  He can't guard many starting three-forwards, no - but I somehow can't see any second-stringers guarding him too effectively, either.  Nolte can shoot like crazy, after all (although this is mostly from three; he was atrocious from two once he got away from the rim) and he takes care of the ball very well.  This latter is partially a function of him just not dribbling around all that much, but still.  Remember, based on what we saw last year, we all liked the idea of being able to bring Taylor Barnette off the bench for a little instant heat.  Barnette has transferred, but Nolte is a much bigger player and rather more talented, with the ability to frustrate opposing coaches deciding how to get their 6'4" backup small forward to close out fast enough.  While Nolte is one player whose minutes are not guaranteed, it'll be really damn hard to relegate him to the outside of the rotation entirely, and I think we should expect both some forgotten-man games as well as some really big ones.


We have 11 scholarship players; that was five.  Gonna make you wait til tomorrow for the guy who makes it all go.

Monday, October 28, 2013

weekend review

Let's get jump-started this week with Senior Seasons.  I need to keep things interesting, two-thirds of the way through a poop football season.

Upland 45, Alta Loma 20: Jeffery Farrar picked off two passes and took one to the house in a game where Upland leapt out to a big lead and never looked back.  Upland is 5-3.

Norcross 24, Peachtree Ridge 20: Norcross is one of the county's top teams, and they held Jordan Ellis to 61 yards on the ground.  Peachtree Ridge is 6-2.

Oscar Smith 62, King's Fork 12: Andrew Brown picked off a shovel pass in another Oscar Smith blowout win.  Oscar Smith is 8-0.

Central Catholic 44, Admiral Farragut 3 (Caanan Brown) - CCC is 7-1.
Parkview 21, Central Gwinnett 13 (Darious Latimore) - Central Gwinnett is 2-6.
Cummings 44, Bartlett Yancey 13 (Will Richardson) - Cummings is 3-6.
Episcopal 28, Springside Chestnut Hill 20 (Evan Butts) - Episcopal is 8-1.
Bayside 28, Kempsville 6 (Quin Blanding) - Bayside is 4-4.
Spotsylvania 14, Chancellor 12 (Steven Moss) - Chancellor is 1-7.
Woodgrove 38, Dominion 0 (J.J. Jackson) - Woodgrove is 5-3.

How about this for a fun fact: Last week at this time there were five undefeated teams in all of D-I soccer, men and women both.  They were:

Notre Dame, Cal, and Washington men
UVA and FSU women

Cal and Washington lost this weekend, Cal to San Diego and UW to UCLA.  The other two non-UVA teams just happened to both be playing UVA - and both just happened to lose to UVA.  That leaves just the UVA ladies, sitting at 18-0 - unbeaten and untied.  Notre Dame had been ranked #2 in the country before their loss to UVA, and the women, with their win, clinched the #1 seed in the ACC tourney.

The only thing that stands in the way of a nifty narrative of UVA knocking out the last two other unbeatens in the country is the West Coast time difference; Washington's game ended on Sunday after the UVA-FSU match.


That will be about it for this week, except to point out that, with VT's loss to Duke this weekend, I feel oddly confident in saying that the VT game is probably our best shot at a win the rest of the season, even though we play a much worse team in UNC before then.  Scoring 10 points on Duke is pretty bad.  Pretty, pretty bad.  If we don't get Brent Urban and Demetrious Nicholson back, it ain't happening, but with those two, hey.  Our own offense is trying to rise, zombie-like, from the dead, and it doesn't take much defense to stop VT.  The major hurdle will be VT's pass rush, which will be the toughest one David Watford has seen all year, plus trying to gain more than 10 yards all game on the ground.

The cut-short content today will be made up for this week with much basketball preview action.  The season opener is less than two weeks away.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

the stat sheet says we won

And the scoreboard says we lost.

We will jump right into the bullet points because there's no need to construct a narrative here.  376 yards of passing and a +5 non-desperation-time turnover margin, and a loss, says all that needs to be said.  It takes a pretty awful team to lose under those circumstances.  So.  Bullet points.

-- It was mentioned during the game that David Watford set new UVA records for completions and attempts.  The interesting part was that he broke the completions record before the attempts record.  The other interesting part was that both previous records were set by Matt Schaub, in another loss to Georgia Tech some 11 years ago.

-- I think Steve Fairchild called some occasionally stupid plays (you're trying to pick up a critical fourth down and you call for a pass to Billy Skrobacz?  Not to demean Skrobacz, but he's a fullback, and therefore not particularly likely to be open unless the defense fails to account for him entirely.  There wasn't another playmaker somewhere on the roster?)  But overall Fairchild's scheme is starting to work nicely.  Some "too horizontal" criticisms should be laid to rest.  Clearly, if Fairchild has the WRs to stretch the field, he'll use them, as evidenced by Tim Smith's excellent day.  I consider 13 yards per catch the dividing line between short-field possession receivers and long-field deep threats; Smith finally averaged over 15, and given the day from him and Darius Jennings, plus a couple of fine catches by Canaan Severin, I gotta give the receivers an A this week.

-- That said, before checking the box score I would have sworn that Watford's average yards per throw was much higher than 6.1.  Seemed like there were plenty of downfield throws, and Watford completed over 70%.  But nope.  Barely six yards per throw again.  So not all the concerns are laid to rest.  But Watford laid in a few really nice throws, and if he can bring on the consistency in that department he'll change the dynamic quite a bit.

-- OK, the big issue: second-quarter clock management.  The refs pretty ridiculously let five seconds run off the clock before deigning to acknowledge Mike London's timeout.  But if you're going to call a run play, it doesn't really matter; neither six nor eleven seconds are enough time to run the ball and then get the field goal unit on.  Nor is eleven seconds even enough time to run the ball and then spike it, given the time needed to untangle the pile.

The run play is mildly defensible since, you know, give the ball to your best player.  Kevin Parks had already had a touchdown that entirely consisted of yards after contact.  But on the other hand, you're putting the game in the hands of your weakest unit (the O-line) and you know this shit didn't work against Maryland so why would it now?

-- I would've also liked to see an onside kick after the touchdown and 2PC that made it 28-25, but I can see the argument for not doing so.  Just get a three-and-out and you're fine.

-- Watford might've had an even better day throwing the ball, but Eric Smith had his worst day at right tackle.  Jeremiah Attaochu abused him all day long.  I haven't noticed Smith a ton, and for a freshman RT, that's a general plus, but Saturday was not his day.

-- I really wish the defensive game plan against the option focused on forcing the keep rather than forcing the pitch.  Help is closer when the QB keeps and the GT run game never busts big plays except on the pitch.  (Or the middle handoff.)  Vad Lee and Justin Thomas combined for seven yards on eight carries.

-- I got in from seeing the Lions beat the Cowboys in way-awesome fashion (and now I get to make fun of people who left the game early), and other celebratory activities, and then had to write this depressing stuff.  What a hobby.  This is where we are, man; Saturdays suck (unless Michigan wins, then they halfway suck) and I turn to the Lions to make the weekend better.  The Lions.  That is a bad Saturday state of affairs.

Prediction review:

-- The UVA running game fails to top 125 yards.  Yup.  Even in taking out -17 from sacks and such, the running game didn't exactly rack up yards.  Part of this was game plan; London claimed that the plan called for tilting the balance toward the pass because they felt GT had a good run defense but a sucky pass defense, and there ended up being more than twice as many called passes as runs.  Part of that was also due to playing from behind, but still.

-- David Watford again tops 6 yards a pass.  Yeah, I mean, barely, but he did.  And like I said - I would've sworn he was closer to eight just from watching.  I was surprised to see the final number so low.

-- Both David Sims and Zach Laskey have 100+ yard rushing days.  They did, and I'm especially proud of myself for this one.  This one's going out on a limb since, as pointed out in the comments, they platoon.  But yeah, no middle at all without Brent Urban, who can't get back soon enough.

-- No GT receiver has a catch of 30 yards or more, unless it's mostly YAC.  Dammit.  An elusive perfect day ruined by one lousy wheel route.  Robert Godhigh's 38-yard catch, despite him being a running back and all, spent too much time in the air for me to count this one.

Moving to 19-for-40 on the season gets me close to 50%, a number I haven't beaten since I started doing this.  Ten points was exactly the spread, so I have to stick at 4-3-1 ATS but move to 5-3 straight up in my overall predictions.  Fish in a barrel, man.

Friday, October 25, 2013

game preview: Georgia Tech

Date/Time: Saturday, October 26; 12:30


Record against the Jackets: 17-17-1

Last meeting: GT 56. UVA 20; 9/15/12, Atlanta

Last weekend: Duke 35, UVA 22; GT 56, Cuse 0

Line: GT by 10

Injury reports:


OUT - OL George Adeosun, CB Maurice Canady, CB Demetrious Nicholson, TE Mario Nixon, WR E.J. Scott, DT Brent Urban, S Wil Wahee

DOUBTFUL - WR Kyle Dockins

QUESTIONABLE - G Conner Davis, K Ian Frye, TE Jake McGee

PROBABLE - LB Daquan Romero

Georgia Tech:

OUT - WR Anthony Autry, OL Morgan Bailey, OL Ray Beno, C Freddie Burden, S Jamal Golden, DT Shawn Green, LB Anthony Harrell, OL Errin Joe




Yeah, Paul Johnson, I bet you have nobody banged up in the slightest aside from the guys who'll miss the game.  Not a single tweaked ankle, twinged shoulder, or sore knee.  Somebody is not conforming to the intent of the ACC injury report.  Meantime, that is the worst UVA injury report I've ever seen.

It all just makes a tough game tougher.  Georgia Tech is always a difficult matchup if your defense isn't well-prepared, and last week is proof they can demolish lousy teams - as if last year's game in Atlanta wasn't proof enough.  The road doesn't get any easier after last week, and with the losses piling up it's fair to wonder if this team will find another win all season.

-- UVA run offense vs. GT run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 131 carries, 560 yards, 4.3 ypc, 8 TDs
Khalek Shepherd: 32 carries, 233 yards, 7.3 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:
176.14 yards/game, 4.03 yards/attempt
82nd of 125 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

GT offense:
124.00 yards/game, 3.98 yards/attempt
57th of 125 (national), 11th of 14 (ACC)

Conner Davis's presence on the injury report is a disturbing sign for the offense; it was his absence in the first place that triggered a lot of the offensive line troubles.  Cody Wallace is listed as Davis's backup with Eric Tetlow behind Jay Whitmire on the other side, but keep an eye on this.  Wallace was pulled for Tetlow against Pitt, and Tetlow could get the call.  The offense would probably run better if so.

Georgia Tech's defense has been somewhat like a chameleon, matching their play to the level of opposition.  If the opponent is good, they've gashed the Jackets.  If the opponent is lousy, they get shut down.  Duke Johnson and Miami absolutely destroyed them; on the other hand, Virginia Tech's running game didn't exist except for what Logan Thomas did.  Which wasn't much.

The Jackets just don't get into the backfield much.  Nose tackle Adam Gotsis is a nasty customer in this regard with six run-game TFLs this season, but otherwise nobody else has very many, and GT is 110th in the country in TFL.  That said, a nasty defensive tackle was all it took for Pitt to destroy UVA's offense, and three-tech tackle Euclid Cummings is good enough that over-doubling Gotsis will probably cost the Hoos.

GT's linebackers can be tough too; there is no particular holy terror but no weak link either, with all three starters - Brandon Watts, Jabari Hunt-Days, and Quayshawn Nealy - all in the team's top four in tackles.

If Davis does play, he'll probably be limited, so I can't express a lot of hope for the line either way.  UVA isn't going to find itself totally shut down, but shouldn't expect to move the ball as easily as they did in the first half against Duke, either.  The best chance: Watford.  GT has shown a tendency to allow yards by a running quarterback, as both Logan Thomas and BYU's Taysom Hill were able to move the ball this way.  Watford doesn't keep much on the read option, though.  I was brimming with optimism for the run game last week against Duke; their failure to come through combined with injury troubles at guard and another tough DT gives me much less faith, and I can't figure the run game for more than 125 yards or so.

-- UVA pass offense vs. GT pass defense

David Watford: 148/253, 58.5%; 1,339 yards, 5 TDs, 8 INTs; 5.29 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Jake McGee: 31 rec., 265 yards, 2 TDs
Kevin Parks: 25 rec., 270 yards, 1 TD

UVA offense:
197.6 yards/game, 5.1 yards/attempt
122nd of 125 (national), 14th of 14 (ACC)

GT defense:
203.7 yards/game, 7.3 yards/attempt
75th of 125 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

Bad news, everyone.  We're no longer last in the country in passing!  Wonder if it'll matter this week; we've known for a couple weeks now that Jake McGee is banged up even though he didn't show up on the injury report against Duke.  The Maryland game made it clear enough.  Now listed as questionable, McGee's status is firmly up in the air.  I would guess he plays, but we'll see.  No McGee would mean a big, big role for Zach Swanson, and, no disrespect to Swanson, but a pretty big detriment to the passing game.

It won't have much effect on the stat sheet, but Kyle Dockins looks very likely to miss the game given his injury report status.  Dockins isn't targeted much, but his absence means the coaches will have to dig deeper into the underperforming-veterans well and give more playing time to Tim Smith or Darius Jennings.  Any more drops by Jennings and he's going to end up the fanbase's least favorite player; his chronic case of stone hands this season has been one of the year's most frustrating developments.

Defensively, Tech brings a solid pass rush from Adam Gotsis and defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu, though Attaochu's production on the year is decidedly down from what it was.  They present a tough matchup in that their linebackers, Quayshawn Nealy in particular, are good pass defenders.  Nealy plays the weak side, though, so won't likely be matched up with McGee much.  Brandon Watts on the strong side is less skilled in pass defense, so McGee (or Swanson) should be able to find room.  Cornerback Louis Young is the top player in the secondary, and given our receivers' inability to get open, should be a blanket all day.

I think it's fair to upgrade our assessment of our passing game a tick - but only a tick, as Watford is still far too inconsistent and the receivers haven't shown any indication of upgrading their game.  If they didn't do it against Duke, I have no idea when they ever will.  GT isn't overall a great pass-defense team - the rush is OK, and Young is the only playmaker among the starters in the secondary, though backup safety Chris Milton also has two picks.  Logan Thomas, he of the scattershot arm, had a really nice day passing against the Jackets.  Tech might present some matchup problems with linebackers who can defend the pass (Nealy may be a problem in trying to get the ball to Kevin Parks) and a pass-rushing DT, but Watford should continue to nudge his trend upwards, even if only slightly.

-- GT run offense against UVA run defense

Top backs:
David Sims: 84 carries, 409 yards, 4.9 ypc, 6 TDs
Zach Laskey: 45 carries, 261 yards, 5.8 ypc, 4 TDs

GT offense:
304.43 yards/game, 5.27 yards/attempt
19th of 125 (national), 3rd of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
151.71 yards/game, 3.98 yards/attempt
56th of 125 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

Each week I've sort of taken to naming which of the four sections of the game should provide the decisive factor.  This week it's here, because against GT it's always here.  You know the drill about what they do.

Unfortunately, defending it is going to be a son of a bitch this week.  We don't have our best DT, so we'll have a tough time holding the middle against the fullback dive part of the option.  We're short on options at DE because our run-stopping DE is playing DT (and is a little overmatched there due to size.)  Two very solid run-stopping tacklers at CB are out.  We do have some high-quality linebackers whose strengths just happen to include play diagnosis - but only two.

Adding to the complication is what Jon Tenuta will do.  Remember, Tenuta, despite his past tenure at GT, didn't coach there under the current regime, and so doesn't have any special insight.  If I had a time machine I'd go back and watch old NC State-GT games (despite the crossover, Tenuta did coach against the Jackets twice while at NC State) to see what his philosophy was.  It didn't work out especially well; Tenuta's defense gave up 28 and 35 points, while the Pack split the crossover series in 2010 and 2011.

If he decides to be Mr. Aggressive as usual, that could pay wicked dividends at times and get him burned super-crispy at others.  Blitzing Coley up the middle could help dissuade fullback dives, and sending an OLB or a CB from one side could either flood the area with defenders (good) or leave huge running lanes (bad.)  Tech isn't real big on throwing over the middle, so having Anthony Harris filling the middle while Coley finds a gap to get through could be a helpful strategy, especially since the depth at DT is hurting.

Tenuta's going to have to wizard his way through this one, though, and ultimately, GT has a major upper hand here.  With so many key personnel out, UVA will be depending on a patchwork of less-experienced players.  I think GT will have a ton of success up the middle.  I fully expect to get gashed there.  If the Hoos can force Vad Lee to keep - he's only averaging three yards a carry - they'll be in better shape, but I don't think they can do that consistently.

-- GT pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Vad Lee: 44/99, 44.4%; 846 yards, 8 TDs, 5 INTs; 8.55 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
DeAndre Smelter: 14 rec., 211 yards, 2 TDs
Robert Godhigh: 10 rec., 188 yards, 2 TDs

GT offense:
125.6 yards/game, 7.9 yards/attempt
42nd of 125 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
225.9 yards/game, 6.4 yards/attempt
33rd of 125 (national), 6th of 14 (ACC)

You have to give Paul Johnson this: He's incredibly consistent in his pass-offense playcalling.  In his first four years as GT coach, his teams attempted 165, 168, 168, and 167 passes.  Last year they went all pass-wacky with 194, but this season, Vad Lee is on pace for 170 attempts.  Consistency.

I bring up this factoid just because there's very little to talk about in defending GT's passing game.  All it takes is a solid cornerback and some discipline at free safety.  (That would be really cool if we had Demetrious Nicholson, or even Maurice Canady.)  If you have those two things, GT will not be able to throw the ball against you, because they like to wait until you're overplaying the run.

Then again, we might be forced to overplay the run if the assigned defenders can't stop it.  Plus, this season, GT is actually spreading the ball between WRs a little more than they used to, when in the past they would have one big dude making all the plays and the second WR would just be a very fast, very widely split offensive tackle.  And then some occasional throws to the RBs.  This year, DeAndre Smelter has 14 catches, but Darren Waller has 10.  Both are very, very tall in the usual Paul Johnson mold; Smelter is 6'3" and Waller 6'5".  Ordinarily this would not be a bad game to break in Tim Harris in his first game as a starter, but Harris may be tested a few times, particularly given his inexperience.

Lee, however, has not been the more-accurate passer he was advertised to be, connecting on only 44% of his passes.  And UVA has, with just a few ugly exceptions, defended the pass rather well.  If GT beats us, it won't be through the air.

-- Favorability ratings

UVA run offense: 3.5
UVA pass offense: 4
UVA run defense: 1.5
UVA pass defense: 6

Average: 3.75

That said, it'd really be fairer if I half-weighted the pass defense and double-weighted the run defense.

-- Outlook

Here's the recipe for beating Georgia Tech's offense.  You need:

-- a really good defensive tackle that can command a double team and even slash into the backfield, to discourage the fullback dive part of the option
-- defensive ends that are both disciplined and able to hold the edge against a blocker
-- a cornerback that sticks like glue
-- a free safety you trust implicitly
-- linebackers who can fill gaps ASAP and move side-to-side with ease.

We have one out of five.  We would have four out of five if not for injuries.  This is not a good omen.

-- Prediction summary

-- The UVA running game fails to top 125 yards.

-- David Watford again tops 6 yards a pass.  Progress.  Baby steps.

-- Both David Sims and Zach Laskey have 100+ yard rushing days.

-- No GT receiver has a catch of 30 yards or more, unless it's mostly YAC.  (This represents success in one realm of the matchup, at least.)

Final score: GT 35, UVA 17

-- Rest of the ACC

Wake Forest @ Miami - 12:00 - A likely rout, but then, that's what I thought Maryland would do to the Deacs last week.

Pittsburgh @ Navy - 1:00 - I labeled Pitt the worst team in the Coastal and they're two wins from eligibility; probably one win after this week.

NC State @ Florida State - 3:30 - The Pack have occasionally had the magic touch against FSU, but not this year.

Clemson @ Maryland - 3:30 - The Terps will have other chances at bowl eligibility, but it won't be this week, and being rolled for the second week in a row - not to mention losing their whole receiving corps to injury - could send them into a death spiral.

Boston College @ North Carolina - 3:30 - I picked BC to go to a bowl this year when nobody else would, and even I didn't figure they'd be the only team in this matchup with a conference win.

Duke @ Virginia Tech - 3:30 - Semi-unstoppable force meets immovable object when Duke has the ball.  Wet noodle meets half-eaten jelly roll otherwise.

Bye: Syracuse, busy licking their GT-induced wounds.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

the recruit: Jordan Ellis

Name: Jordan Ellis
Position: RB
Hometown: Suwanee, GA
School: Peachtree Ridge
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 210

24/7: 87, three stars; #50 RB, GA #65
ESPN: 76, three stars; #98 RB, SE #397, GA #77
Rivals: 5.4, two stars
Scout: three stars; #95 RB

Other offers: Miami (Ohio), Western Kentucky

Offered in May, Jordan Ellis didn't take very long to decide where he wanted to go to school; Ellis visited UVA about two weeks later and committed on the spot, rather than wait to find out if any of the other interested schools would bother offering.  Arkansas and Mississippi State recruited him slowly for several months, but never came through.  That's about the extent of the interest he got, outside of any feelers that probably came his way now that he's proving himself to be a lock for 100 yards every time he takes the field.

Why the lack of interest?  Measurables, most likely.  Also, Ellis wasn't his team's primary back last year, at least, not to start the season.  That was a fellow by the name of Walden Davis, who is more notable as a cornerback prospect these days; perhaps he got Wally Pipped a little when Ellis ran for 200+ yards while Davis was out with injury.  These days, Ellis is the workhorse.

About those measurables: I didn't find a 40 time I trust, not that I trust most 40 times, though 24/7 lists him with a 4.5.  I sort of doubt it.  Ellis highlight reels never show him outrunning a crowd.  He outruns slow non-college prospects but clearly that's not his game.  Nor does he ever put on a juke display.  In fact he almost never shakes a tackler out of his jockstrap.  The stuff he does will never pop your eyes out.

There's some other stuff he never does in his highlights, too: Never runs backwards.  Never gets taken down by just one guy.  Once past the line of scrimmage, really doesn't bother to run sideways, either.  The statistics I keep quoting in Senior Seasons ought to lead you to the same conclusion as the highlight tapes would.  Ellis very infrequently breaks one open, but always carries the ball a lot and always has yardage under his belt when he's done.  He's just plain productive.

Kevin Parks was like that in high school, although on a much higher level.  Parks set national records.  Ellis won't be doing anything like that, but such comparisons can be fuzzy and unreliable.  If eventually given the chance to get the kind of work Parks is getting, we'll see a lot of the same.  Ellis probably will never hit a home run, but he should develop into a very, very consistent singles hitter.

As for when that will be, probably not for a little while.  If Ellis is to maximize his potential, he'll have to redshirt; there are two true freshman and one of the redshirt variety on the scholarship rolls, plus Daniel Hamm.  None, except perhaps Hamm, have Ellis's very straightforward style, but that doesn't mean they can't also carry the load.  Best case for Ellis is to put a gap between him and the rest; since all of the true freshmen have burned their redshirt, they'll be juniors when (if) Ellis is a redshirt freshman.  It'll be easy to redshirt Ellis since Parks will be a senior in 2014 and there's no need to duplicate Parks's skills.  We also shouldn't discount the possibility that Ellis could get recruited over; in fact, it's still not out of the question (though I'd say unlikely) that the staff brings in a second running back.  However, Ellis runs with a toughness that's difficult to find and is uniquely difficult to bring down, so sooner or later there's a great chance he'll carve out a role of some kind.  Big or small, but he won't be left behind.

Monday, October 21, 2013

weekend review

Well well.  Let's start this off with what must be the first piece of good football news in weeks: a recruiting board update that includes a commitment.  Whoda thunk it?  Here's the new score:

-- Added CB Darious Latimore to orange.  Latimore is a guy I did know about, and with SEC offers fairly close to home, didn't think would be worth adding.  A guy who likes us better than Tennessee is a guy who I think has his head on straight and probably nobody else does.  But a guy who's willing to commit now has to know the score and doesn't care, instantly making him the safest commit on the whole list.

Latimore is a consensus mid-to-low three-star guy with mid-three-star offers: Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech, and Kansas State.  Assuming Jeffery Farrar is also a cornerback, he makes the second in the class, which in turn is just about the sweet spot for that position this year.

-- Moved DE Melvin Keihn from blue to green.

-- Moved OT Alex Bookser from green to yellow. 

-- Moved DT Derrick Nnadi from yellow to red.  These three are reflective of the poor shape of the win-loss record and roughly what I think the effect is on the recruiting board.

I still rather expect that Mike London will find another Mason Thomas type somewhere in-state to fill out some numbers, because that's what he does; whether such a player will be impactful is generally up in the air, although it should be noted that Divante Walker has been making appearances on both special teams and defense this year.


Sock-hair.  And more good news!  Not as much in the men's department, where they managed only a tie in Blacksburg.  Virginia Tech is a team you'd like to beat, but the Hokies are 1-2-5, so draws are kind of their thing.  The ladies, on the other hand, went down to Chapel Hill - without USWNT member Morgan Brian, earning her third cap against Australia - and did something extraordinary.  According to the official recap: "the Cavaliers [handed] North Carolina just their second multi-goal loss since 1986, a span of 690 games."

That's amazing.  In 27 years UNC has lost by more than one goal just twice - one of them last week.  Carolina has a surprising three ACC losses this year, but still.  UNC was also missing a top player to USNWT action, but still.  This ladies' team is a mighty offensive powerhouse, with some real depth - there are three players in Brian, Makenzy Doniak, and Brittany Ratcliffe who are crushers of dreams and a full complement of forwards and midfielders who know how to find their playmakers.  In Brian and Danielle Colaprico, UVA has the top two assist leaders in the ACC.

The impression I've had from watching this team - admittedly against the two worst squads in the ACC, Pitt and a portion of the NC State game - is one that attacks not with relentless aggression, but with a calm self-assuredness.  As if they know that as long as they keep the pressure on, they're better than the defenders and eventually something will go in.  They play with confidence, knowing they don't need to be flying forward at all times in order to score.  It's fun to watch a Virginia team that is better and knows it.


A couple of news notes:

-- It looks like Miami will finally hear the word from the NCAA.  Sanctions come tomorrow.  Guaranteed nobody will be happy.  After the NCAA botched the investigation, it's not likely the punishment will appease people who want to see blood for, you know, allowing players to live like pimps on delicious booster cash.  Meantime Miami president Donna Shalala is being a colossal whiny bitch, claiming that "we have been wronged in this investigation."  So if the punishment is no dessert for a week, she'll appeal.

-- You remember Trae Golden, maybe.  He was recruited fairly heavily by UVA, then went to Tennessee where he suited up against the Hoos in JPJA last year - and will now do so again at Georgia Tech.  GT could be solid this year.

-- Basketball media days were last week - and I consider the result a surprise.  In a show of respect for what Tony Bennett has put together, the Hoos are 4th in the preseason media poll.  Given the amount of impressive new blood joining the league - the lowest-ranked new member in the poll was Pitt at 6th of 15, with ND 5th and Cuse 2nd - that is high praise indeed.  It says "we expect you to make the ACC semis and, obviously, the NCAA tournament."  Like, 4 or 5 seed stuff in the NCAA tournament.  Plus they put Joe Harris on the preseason all-ACC team - and not a single Tar Heel.

We all know what the media poll really means once the rubber hits the hardwood, but there's another truism about college programs: they're only as good as their publicity.  If the media says you're awesome, people start to believe it.  This isn't the same as constant TV coverage with Dick Vitale and all the rest, but it's a little bit something regardless.  It says there are expectations, and that the games we play will be Big Games for reasons besides the opponent.  You have to back that up obviously, but it's a start.

And just as a footnote, that other team in Virginia is last.  With 65 points from 54 voters, a minimum of 43 media types figure the Hokies for the worst team in the ACC.  Playing them a guaranteed twice a year is going to be a little advantage over the rest of the league for the foreseeable future.


Darious Latimore joins the club just in time for this week's Senior Seasons feature.  It's easy for me, too, because I can use the same source I use for Jordan Ellis.  They're from the same region of Georgia and their schools are not terribly far apart.  They don't play each other, though.

Episcopal 30, Penn Charter 0 - Evan Butts scored twice, once on a conventional reception and once on a fumble return as a defensive end.  He also racked up 98 yards receiving.  Episcopal is 7-1.

Upland 27, Los Osos 10 (Jeffery Farrar) - Upland is 4-3.
Central Catholic 47, Calvary Christian 23 (Caanan Brown) - CCC is 6-1.
Brookwood 23, Central Gwinnett 14 (Darious Latimore) - Central Gwinnett is 2-5.
Cummings 37, Carrboro 20 (Will Richardson) - Cummings is 2-6.
Oscar Smith 42, Grassfield 0 (Andrew Brown) - Oscar Smith is 7-0.
James Monroe 42, Chancellor 12 (Steven Moss) - Chancellor is 1-6.
Loudoun County 31, Woodgrove 28 (J.J. Jackson) - Woodgrove is 4-2.

Oscar Smith also beat Nansemond River 48-7 last Monday in a rain-delayed game that didn't make it into last week's update, and Chancellor lost to Caroline 26-20 on the same date.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

unfavorable comparison

I have to admit I've been unsure how to start this post.  I have all sorts of great ideas for how to finish it, each more spiteful than the last.  Maybe I'll go with the anecdote of the Cleveland Browns fan who died this past summer and wrote in his obituary that he wanted some of the Browns to act as pallbearers for his funeral - so they could let him down one last time.

I only hope I can maintain that kind of phlegmatic humor for the next 15 months, because they're going to be awful ones as far as football is concerned.  Probably the next 12 after that too since it looks likely that a new coach will take a minute or two in getting up to speed as well.  Hopefully that guy can coach his way out of a brown paper bag, because he's going to get here and find a lot of fans wearing them.

This season is a lesson, really.  I'm starting to feel awfully vindicated, in a grotesque way. The UVA-fan conventional wisdom has always been about "building for the future" by pulling experienced players the moment the season starts to go south and putting in wide-eyed freshmen to "get their reps" because it will "pay dividends down the road."  When Marc Verica was starting, fans wanted Ross Metheny or Mike Rocco instead.  When Rocco was starting, fans wanted David Watford instead, and then they wanted Phillip Sims.  Now we're doing exactly what this breed of fans has always wanted, because we have no choice - and it's pissing the future down the drain.  Every loss brings us mercifully closer to the end of the Mike London era, and sends recruits scurrying elsewhere.  Melvin Keihn has liked UVA for a long time and he comes from a very pro-UVA school, and he will probably not go to UVA.  London has been working on Jamil Kamara for three years, and his current leader is Wisconsin. (This said, Kamara seems to be the type of recruit whose leader is the last school he visited.)   Tim Settle is a crucial 2015 recruit, whose recruitment is getting more and more wide open by the day.  2015 needs to be a huge class, because there will be jillions of seniors next year, and London is going to walk into that recruiting cycle with one foot in the lame-duck grave.

Watford may yet bloom in 2015, of course.  Can't rule that out.  The play-for-the-future crowd certainly doesn't have that part wrong yet.  I couldn't decide whether he would progress or regress during this Duke game, I just didn't anticipate him doing both.

At any rate, we are now in dangerous territory.  It could've been avoided simply by not shitting the bed with the lights on in the second half.  The danger is not so much that the London era might be over soon.  I'm taking it for granted that it will be.  You're to take for granted now that I don't have any more faith in his coaching abilities.  I say this reluctantly and with a twinge of regret, even, because he seems like good people, and a guy who genuinely gives a shit about his players.  But I've given him the same slack one gives a player - and in a player's fourth year, we expect him to stop making stupid freshman mistakes because he ought to have grown up enough by now.  Well, here is London's senior year, so to speak, and he hasn't figured out shit.  I'm not going to spend every week ranting about it because I accept that he's not going anywhere after this season.  Just read into everything I say an assumption that London doesn't know how to fix the problems.

No, the real danger is that London's tenure, five years long if we continue down this path, is going to go down in history as even worse than that of the most vilified figure in UVA football history.  Al Groh at least started off pretty well.  Sure, he might have been micromanaging, overly self-assured, and totally inflexible; sure, he irritated a few high school coaches; sure, he pissed off a few people on the way out, and again by letting Georgia Tech structure his contract so we were paying him to coach there; sure, he helped dry up the instate recruiting pipelines; sure, he went to one bowl game in his last four years.  But you have to give this to the man in the glass: He had a winning record against fucking Duke.


Prediction summary:

-- Kevin Parks gains 100+ yards.  Parks sputtered out with lame blocking and generally bad decisions from Watford on the read-option, and gained only 50.

-- The UVA run offense generates about 200 yards.  I really thought we were well on our way here, but again, thppbbbtt, and again, exactly half what I expected.

-- David Watford averages over six yards a throw. (Whee.)

-- Watford tops 200 yards passing. (Whee, again.)  Watford did succeed in both endeavors; the Duke pass defense was pretty awful and Watford looked very good early in calmly finding the guy that some Duke safety or linebacker would leave wide open in a futile all-out rush at the QB.  Unfortunately, Watford got happy-armed as time went on and started overthrowing everyone in sight.

-- Duke's passing game tops 300 yards.  It "only" got 292.  Can I have that one?  I'm having that one.  Largely the reason it didn't is because Boone looked like crap early.  He settled in nicely, though, eh?  And he'd have blown past 300 easily based only on how our defense played.

-- Neither team comes up with a turnover all game long.  Both quarterbacks threw a pick, so, no.

Going three of six - a very dubious three of six, but whatever, the Tigers lost and the Lions lost and the Red Wings lost and UVA lost and I had the restraint not to drive into a bridge embankment so the third prediction is my prize - makes me 16-for-36 on the season.  Also, I came damn close to nailing that final score, so I'm 4-3 both straight up and against the spread now.  This might be unfair, though, at this point; all I have to do is pick us to lose every week and at least then I'm guaranteed a winning record.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

game preview: Duke

Date/Time: Saturday, October 20; 3:30


Record against the Blue Devils: 33-31

Last meeting: Duke 42, UVA 17; 10/6/12, Durham

Last weekend: Md. 27, UVA 26; Duke 35, Navy 7

Line: UVA by 3

Injury report:


OUT - OL George Adeosun, PK Ian Frye, CB Demetrious Nicholson, TE Mario Nixon, DT Brent Urban, CB Wil Wahee



PROBABLE - LB Daquan Romero, RB Khalek Shepherd


OUT - CB Jared Boyd, LB Kyler Brown, QB Thomas Sirk, OT Tanner Stone, DT Jamal Wallace


QUESTIONABLE - WR Johnell Barnes

PROBABLE - QB Brandon Connette, DT A.J. Wolf

I can't believe I'm still using the word "bowl" anymore, but I'm stupid like that, and if UVA wants to get there, this game is basically a must-win.  Most games are these days; Mike London is finding the recruiting trail colder and colder.  The losses will do that.  Yet another loss to Duke would be another pile of ammo for opposing coaches.  Even better, UVA will have to go after this game without two of its best defensive players.  This is what the beginning of the end of a coaching regime looks like; the Hoos need a win here to stave that off.

-- UVA run offense vs. Duke run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 116 carries, 510 yards, 4.4 ypc, 6 TDs
Khalek Shepherd: 29 carries, 223 yards, 7.7 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:
188.83 yards/game, 4.24 yards/attempt
69th of 125 (national), 8th of 14 (ACC)

Duke defense:
178.00 yards/game, 4.12 yards/attempt
67th of 125 (national), 11th of 14 (ACC)

You just wonder which offensive line will show up this week.  The one that couldn't move a wad of cotton candy, or the one that has paved the way to consecutive 240-yard (ish) running games?  Probably both, actually; the question might be better put as, how will Steve Fairchild scheme this out?

For all the Duke-sucks-at-defense publicity out there, the run defense is not completely terrible.  Much of the yardage they've given up has been at the hands of Georgia Tech and Navy, the triple-option warriors.  Other teams have found room, but not a wide world of it.  Duke is getting respectable linebacker play from Kelby Brown and David Helton, and the defensive line has at least one very good all-around player in defensive end Kenny Anunike.

However, Duke is far from dominant, even if their stats are skewed somewhat by the triple option.  And despite the last couple games, UVA is far from dominant as well.  This is one of those matchups that is just there.  UVA will have a fair amount of success and none of it is likely to swing the game one way or the other.  With the season slipping away, the offense is going to lean hard on what's been working and experiment furiously with what hasn't.  Kevin Parks is one of those things that's been working.  Khalek Shepherd may have earned a few extra carries against Maryland, as he ran the ball well when given a chance, but I think those will come at the expense of Taquan Mizzell, not Parks.

So you'll probably see Parks settle nicely in to another grinding 20-carry, 100-yard game.  I think the 240-yard success they've been having isn't especially sustainable, but I'm sufficiently de-traumatized to think that between Parks, Shepherd, and some Watford scrambles, the offense should be able to grind out around 200 or so.

-- UVA pass offense vs. Duke pass defense

David Watford: 128/215, 59.5%; 1,076 yards, 4 TDs, 7 INTs; 5.01 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Jake McGee: 27 rec., 233 yards, 2 TDs
Kevin Parks: 19 rec., 182 yards, 0 TDs

UVA offense:
186.7 yards/game, 4.8 yards/attempt
125th of 125 (national), 14th of 14 (ACC)

Duke defense:
208.5 yards/game, 7.4 yards/attempt
80th of 125 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

You'd have to be blind not to see the improvement in David Watford the past two weeks - and equally blind not to see the very incremental nature of that improvement.  It's a cruel way to make me have to try and predict what'll happen next.  Anything from regression to another jump forward is possible at this stage of Watford's development.

As Tom Savage at Pitt proved, it's possible to utterly shred Duke's pass defense.  Troy was able to do the same, which is why Duke's game against them was close.  It takes a good quarterback to pull that off (which is sort of circular reasoning in that if you can pick up 400 yards through the air you're considered a good quarterback) but UVA could roll up many fewer yards than Pitt or Troy and it would still be considered a good sign of improvement.

Duke's top cornerback Ross Cockrell is a quality player, but that's basically the full list of them in the secondary.  Freshman nickel corner Bryon Fields has been outplaying fifth-year senior Garett Patterson.  Safety Jeremy Cash does have two interceptions, but UVA's not-deep-at-all pass game tends to leave the opposing safeties out of it.

Kenny Anunike at DE is a good pass-rusher as well as run-stopper, so he'll be Watford's main concern here; Duke will also bring in speed rusher Jonathan Woodruff on passing downs in the other DE position, and he too has a few sacks to his name this year.  There's otherwise no real threat, so Watford should have more time than he's used to as long as the tackles keep their man in front.

I don't know how many passes it'll take, but Watford ought to be able to reach 200 yards for the third straight game.  I may even be setting the bar too low.  I'm definitely exhibiting some low-ass standards when I say that he should also be able, for the second straight game, to top six yards per attempt.  That's such a weak number to aim for but since he's getting no help at all from his receivers, it's what we got.

-- Duke run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Jela Duncan: 56 carries, 292 yards, 5.2 ypc, 3 TDs
Josh Snead: 46 carries, 280 yards, 6.1 ypc, 0 TDs

Duke offense:
183.17 yards/game, 4.58 yards/attempt
54th of 125 (national), 6th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
147.00 yards/game, 3.96 yards/attempt
53rd of 125 (national), 7th of 14 (ACC)

A big reason for Duke's renaissance has been the development of a respectable offensive line.  It's very cohesive and has started all six games for Duke in the same configuration.  Must be nice.  Anyway, they've been doing a nice job paving the way for running backs Jela Duncan and Josh Snead.  The competition hasn't been bad, either; Memphis, for example, is a surprising seventh in the nation in run defense.

So, going at this without our top defensive lineman is going to be a challenge.  There's a pretty clear step down in results when you ask true freshman Donte Wilkins to step in for Brent Urban.  It's no knock on Wilkins, who will probably develop into a pretty good player, but Urban is Urban.  His loss will be huge.

I don't like seeing Daquan Romero on the injury report either, even if he is listed as probable.  I damn near threw something at the TV when I saw Romero being tended to, because that made him, Jake McGee, and Urban the subject of the trainers' attention against Maryland.  Pick the three players we can least live without.  Probably those three.

Anyway, I digress.  Duke will present a challenge and a half here, more so depending on how they use backup QB Brandon Connette.  Anthony Boone is a small threat to run; Connette is a bigger one.  Before Boone broke his collarbone and Connette's ankle kept him out of last week's game against Navy, Duke liked to use both.  Connette averages about 12 carries a game and even had a 101-yard day against Pitt.  It's a wrinkle that'll make the task all the harder.

If we had Urban, I'd feel good about holding Duke down here.  Good defenses have been able to limit them.  Urban is the kind of guy who can win matchups on his own and free up others to watch the pass.  Without him, that favorability rating is going to drop a notch or two, and I think Duke can move the ball just enough to open up their dangerous passing game.

-- Duke pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Anthony Boone: 58/74, 78.4%; 570 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT; 7.7 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Jamison Crowder: 47 rec., 618 yards, 2 TDs
Brandon Braxton: 21 rec., 206 yards, 2 TDs

Duke offense:
265.7 yards/game, 8.3 yards/attempt
33rd of 125 (national), 7th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
214.8 yards/game, 6.3 yards/attempt
29th of 125 (national), 6th of 14 (ACC)

Once again this becomes the game determinant.  Anthony Boone has been extraordinarily efficient.  Brandon Connette has been good too, but Boone will be the starter and the primary passer.  He had a terrific game against a pretty good Navy pass defense last week, and that 78% completion percentage is outstanding.

Boone will get the ball out quick, which was the bane of our existence against Ball State.  The Ball State game is not without its parallels here.  Duke's receivers are capable of big plays but will probably be targeted quickly rather than Duke having Boone sit in the pocket waiting for the play to develop.  Jamison Crowder is the favorite target of both quarterbacks, and has two double-digit reception games with Boone throwing to him.  Ordinarily we'd have Demetrious Nicholson on him and that would be a pretty big matchup, but now, I guess we'll have to see.

Brandon Braxton does a nice job complementing Crowder, and Duke will use some huge targets over the middle as well.  Tight end Braxton Deaver is a key part of the attack, and Issac Blakeney is a massive possession receiver at 6'6", 235.  The array of weapons presents a big challenge.  Additionally, because of the scrambley nature of Duke's quarterbacks, and their quality offensive line, teams have had a tough time getting to them on the pass rush.

I do not like our chances one bit here.  Jon Tenuta's aggressive style kind of demands that the opponent take a little extra time finding a receiver.  That would be hard enough with Nicholson.  Now you've got no Nicholson and upheaval at the free safety position; I won't be the least bit surprised if the Duke passing game racks up 300 or more yards.  If we can stop them from doing that, that's the biggest chance we have at a win.

-- Favorability ratings

Run offense: 4
Pass offense: 4
Run defense: 3.5
Pass defense: 2.5

Average: 3.5

-- Outlook

That's a lot more pessimistic than Vegas is, since they - for whatever reason - have us favored in this game.  It's a home game, that's why, and we're favored only by the three points given to home teams.  But we've got two colossal injuries on defense and our starting placekicker is out as well, and we've yet to see that the offense has any quick-strike ability at all.  It doesn't, to be honest, which means having to march down the field if we want to score.  Nor have we seen much evidence that London can coach his way to a win, and David Cutcliffe can be a cagey bastard.  "Duke's defense sucks" is the only reason anyone might have to predict a UVA win, and what evidence is there that UVA can take advantage enough to win the inevitable shootout?

-- Prediction summary

-- Kevin Parks gains 100+ yards.

-- The UVA run offense generates about 200 yards.

-- David Watford averages over six yards a throw.  (Whee.)

-- Watford tops 200 yards passing.  (Whee, again.)

-- Duke's passing game tops 300 yards.

-- Neither team comes up with a turnover all game long.

Final score: Duke 38, UVA 24

-- Rest of the ACC

Miami 27, North Carolina 23 - Thu. - The Coastal Conference is doing its damndest to clear a red carpet for the Hokies' path to the ACCCG; Miami had to salvage this one in literally the last minute.

Syracuse @ Georgia Tech - 12:30 - Cuse is fresh off what was considered an upset win over NC State, but that "upset" status will be re-evaluated after the season; Cuse isn't great, but the Pack definitely aren't.  GT is likely to expose the Orange here.

Maryland @ Wake Forest - 3:30 - Hope you like seeing the Terps get bowl-eligible.

Pittsburgh vs. Old Dominion - 7:00 - With the London recruiting train coming to a crashing halt, you really don't want ODU to be able to say, "Look who beat Pitt."

Florida State @ Clemson - 8:00 - Being called the biggest ACC game since UNC-FSU in 1997 on ESPN's "Judgment Day."  Of course the stupid conference scheduling office would have the game in October.

Byes: Boston College, NC State, Virginia Tech

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

midseason review

The sun is dark in my eyes and I relish neither the taste of food nor the release of sleep, yet we must press on with duties regardless.  Here we are halfway through the football season, and it's time to take stock of what's been going on.  The traditional way is position by position, and why break with tradition?

-- Quarterback

Grade: D+

On purpose, I didn't do anything resembling a best-case-worst-case thing for the positional previews this year, after having done that for a few years running.  (I found that in many cases I wasn't being imaginative enough on what constituted a worst case.)  Had I done so, I'd probably have found that what's going on under center these days is pretty close to whatever worst-case scenario I could've dreamed up.

David Watford is saved from a worse grade by displaying tangible improvement over the past two games after bottoming out against Pitt, and because his scrambles are a significant source of offense.  However, it's clear by now he's the worst passer in the conference. By a lot.  His QB rating of 101.2 is 14 points worse than the next guy up, NC State's Pete Thomas.  Watford hasn't even flashed the ability to go through progressions, and his accuracy is little more than a prayer when asked to throw the ball more than 10 yards in any direction.

Granted, Watford would look a lot better if his receivers were playing better.  But the reason there isn't a clamor for change is twofold: one, fans are fed up with the quarterback carousel after it was a major failure last year, and two, Greyson Lambert hasn't been able to hit the broad side of a stamping plant.  Barring anything spectacular and unforeseen, the upcoming offseason will once again feature an all-out quarterback competition.

-- Wide receivers

Grade: F

The whole damn unit has been replaced on the depth chart.  That says all you need to know right there.  I've been impressed with Keeon Johnson simply because he seems to be on the receiving end of a target from Watford whenever the play breaks down and Watford is trying to make chicken salad out of chicken shit.  This tells me that at least one receiver, somewhere, is working his butt off to help his quarterback.  This should also tell you how low my standards have dipped for quality receiver play.  They should all be doing that.

To say I'm disappointed in the play of the receivers is to say something at Chernobyl went bang.  It's possible some of their lack of production has to do with the Fairchild offense, but even so, if Fairchild knew he had receivers that could mess with the heads of opposing DCs, he'd use them.  I suggested the top two receivers should combine for 1,300 yards this season.  They're on pace for 552.  That's pathetic.

There's no excuse for it.  Not with the across-the-board four-star talent sitting there.  These guys are just murdering the offense and letting their QB down.  They're dropping passes, quitting on plays, and completely failing to get open.  I don't mean to single out Kyle Dockins since he shouldn't be at the top of the depth chart, but he is, even though he has one catch for six yards.  That's not a knock on Dockins - it's a really, really damning statement about the guys who should be starting.

-- Tight ends

Grade: B-

They don't block well, and that's a sizable demerit.  Zach Swanson is probably the best all-around blocker of the group, and he's OK.  However, without their skills in the receiving department the passing game would just be a bunch of guys sitting around staring at the wall plus the occasional screen.  Swanson, for starters, has looked good catching the ball, and he presents the kind of big, hittable target you want out of your tight end.

Jake McGee was a major dropsies culprit during the Pitt game, but he's otherwise done a good job living up to the standard he set last year.  He continues to make impossible catches and he's a significant matchup problem for opposing DCs.  And he has more than twice the receptions of almost anyone on the team.  I'd like to see these guys make a better contribution to the run game, but overall I can't complain too much.

-- Running backs

Grade: B+

This is the highest grade of anyone on the offense, and for good reason.  To make it higher there would have to be someone who strikes genuine fear into the opposition.  We have nobody like that.  None of these guys have shown us any breakaway speed and elusiveness (in the case of Taquan Mizzell, we hope we can at least add "yet" to that statement.)

However, at the halfway point here, Kevin Parks has 510 yards, which puts him on pace to be the first 1,000-yard rusher in a while.  Parks has developed into a real workhorse, earning the lion's share of the carries and running well when given room.  Parks also breathes some life into a moribund passing game.  And Khalek Shepherd is starting to prove himself as a very viable change-of-pace option.  If given workhorse-level carries, I don't think he'd average anywhere near the 7.7 yards he's making, but two games in a row now with good numbers suggest that he's bringing to game day the good work he's done on the practice field.

-- Offensive line

Grade: C-

I don't know what to think.  Did you know that UVA is among the better teams in the conference (and country) at protecting the quarterback?  Or that the run game has averaged 239 yards each of the last two games?  Consecutive 100-yard games for Kevin Parks?

Yet when you line this group up in a power formation in short-yardage situations and try to slam ahead for half a yard, invariably they end up sitting on their butts in their own backfield.  That's been a pretty big handicap for the offense and it cost us Maryland.  The line seems highly capable of executing the technical side of their game.  The run game is becoming fairly effective out of the shotgun, because the linemen are steering their assignment in a direction rather than shoving him the hell out of the way.

However, there's a ways to go in just plain ol' cloud-of-dust football.  That, plus the miserable showing early on, keeps this grade from being any higher.  However, given the right scheming from Steve Fairchild, there's also the biggest chance of improvement of any unit on the offense.

-- Defensive line

Grade: B+

I just - I can't give out an A-something regardless of how badly I want to here.  They got gashed a little too often against Oregon and didn't generate enough of a pass rush against Ball State.  I guess I'm nitpicking some, but that's a third of the season there.

Still, when this unit is on, it's a terror.  Brent Urban is nasty and has knocked down eight passes.  The entire defense is going to suffer for his absence.  He and David Dean have been making themselves at home in enemy backfields.  Dean is a better pass rusher, and Urban has been a complete monster against the run.

This is not even to speak of Eli Harold, yet.  Harold has taken a few silly penalties, but they're almost (almost) excusable because they're mostly emotion penalties.  5.5 sacks at the halfway point, man.  Harold has become exactly what he was advertised to be: a holy terror on the edge.  And I'd be awfully remiss not also singing the praises of Jake Snyder, who has broken up some passes himself and is an excellent strong-side end, and very strong against the run.

I just wish we could see their Pitt performance every week.  That was amazing.  They made the line of scrimmage completely theirs.  A little more consistency is demanded, and there's a pretty clear drop-off between the starting four and the next four.  The Pitt game was A+ stuff - if they add that consistency to their game and if I see a few plays here and there out of guys like Mike Moore and Donte Wilkins, this group will be in the A-range by the end of the year.

-- Linebackers

Grade: A

It's an entertaining three-way race between Ant Harris, Henry Coley, and Daquan Romero for the tackles lead; they have 45, 46, and 44, respectively.  I can't count Harris's production here, on account of he's a safety, but Coley and Romero deserve every accolade they get.

These are two players who know something about being in the right place at the right time. Their tackling is outstanding, and so is their diagnosis of plays.  Romero has been outstanding at sniffing out screens and such.  Coley fills his gaps exceedingly well and as an MLB, moves side-to-side better than Steve Greer did.  Coley won't finish with as many tackles as Greer because his counterparts are snarfing up too many, but that's a good problem to have.

I suppose Max Valles is technically a linebacker, so his pass-rushing gets a mention here, but I don't know how sustainable that is, as Valles is still working his way out of one-trick-pony territory.  Coley and Romero have played so well that the only backup that gets much time is Demeitre Brim; he's playing solidly but only gets into the game in fits and starts.

-- Cornerbacks

Grade: B+

A little downgrade here for never coming up with any picks; Demetrious Nicholson has the only one of the unit.  However, these guys have played well, particularly Nicholson, whose absence was pretty heavily felt against Maryland.  The sooner he gets back the better.  Nicholson has been very good in coverage.  Maurice Canady and Drequan Hoskey are competing very, very hard with each other for playing time, and they've both been rewarded for their efforts.  Canady has more pass breakups (six) than Hoskey, but I always seem to get this feeling that when one makes a play, the other isn't far behind.  Like brothers determined not to be outdone by the other.

Overall it's been a very good unit.  Like the D-line, a few holes here and there.  The Ball State game, as with all defensive units, could've gone better.  But they're not the reason for the four losses, either.

-- Safeties

Grade: B

Harris, we've already mentioned.  Doing a good job in run support, and has two picks as well.  He gets around the field quite a bit and is really thriving in Jon Tenuta's defense, which is really demanding on a strong safety.  Tenuta is asking Harris to be everywhere from the offensive backfield to thirty yards deep in coverage, and he's doing it.

I don't know what to think about free safety Brandon Phelps.  There's a feeling on message boards that Phelps isn't making plays and therefore isn't doing his job.  I don't fully agree with it; an invisible free safety is the best free safety.  Usually if you know who your free safety is, it's because the TV shows him from the back, failing to catch up to the receiver he just let by him.

That said, those long pass plays are starting to show up where they didn't before.  Maryland confounded Phelps somewhat and was able to find their receivers deep, and UVA allowed too many big run plays to the Terps in which Phelps was nowhere to be seen.  This is probably the (simplistic) reason that Phelps finds himself competing with Rijo Walker for the starting job these days.  I'm not anti-Phelps by any stretch, but I don't think it'd be too much of a shakeup to increase Walker's playing time, either.


Overall, the defense carries a 3.38 GPA - pretty decent honors-level stuff - and the offense sits at 1.8.  Not even good enough to stay eligible.  Barely a C-minus.  But what do you expect at 2-4?  Both must get better if a bowl season is to be scrounged from the jaws of defeat, because the defense has been on something of a downward trend the last two weeks and the offense hasn't improved nearly enough to make up for it.