Monday, September 28, 2015

always look on the bright side of life

Oh come on guys.  That wasn't so bad.  You act like nothing good comes out of a game like that.  Well I got news for you.  Lots of positives to take away from that shellacking mildly disappointing outcome.

-- Chrome helmets!  Siiiiick.  Players think that kind of thing is totally sweet.  I know because I hear it all the time from fans who think that kind of thing is totally sweet.  (UVA's only actual good performance this year has come in the classy and traditional regular blue helmets, blue jersey, and white pants.  Just sayin'.)

-- Chrome helmets bonus!  You couldn't see the V-sabre logo on them, which means slightly less association with that disaster mildly disappointing outcome.

-- Olamide Zacchaeus blew away the UVA record for kick return yardage in one game.  That's what we call taking advantage of your plentiful opportunities!  Plus he didn't let loose any embarrassing quotes afterwards, distinguishing him from the guy whose record he broke.**

-- Consistency, and lots of it.  Boise's line score was 17-12-17-10, the symmetrical halves marred only by Matt Johns's intentional-grounding safety.

-- I mean c'mon, it wasn't that bad, it wasn't even the worst embarrassment mildly disappointing outcome, margin-wise, of the London era.  It wasn't even the second-worst.

-- Boise State's not in our conference, so we still control our own destiny in the ACC.  Unlike, oh, say, Georgia Tech.

**Marquis Weeks and his hilariously infamous "just like running from the cops" blurt.

So now that I'm fresh out of smoke to blow up your ass, I was thinking.  What did I like least about that....thing?  Was it the usual run-game incompetence?  Was it Matt Johns's Verica-esque decision to start the game?  It sure sets an awful tone when your offense's first act is to try and get its own quarterback killed and for him to respond by panicking.

No, I think it was the players' behavior, themselves.  T.J. Thorpe doing a little dance after scoring his touchdown....ok, the game is not at all out of reach and you've just done something to halt the nasty momentum you've built up.  Fine.  I'm thinking more the second half.  I'm thinking Tim Harris, down 20-some points, emphatically signaling incomplete pass at the Boise bench, having had very little to do with said incomplete pass but it happened near him so I guess that's all the excuse you need to strut.  I'm thinking Zach Bradshaw, twice in a row, flirting with a roughing-the-passer call that he probably deserved.  I'm thinking Keeon Johnson getting a personal foul penalty on a kick return - and Mike London's first instinct being to whine at the refs instead of chew out Johnson.  Who, by the way, was sent right out on offense.

This team is in theory saying all the right things; we know we're better than we showed, we can still reach all our goals for the year, we just have to move on and get it right, etc. etc.  The unfortunate thing is that when you combine it with all the peacocking they're doing out there, they give off the undeniable impression that they're the most overconfident crappy team in history.

I suspect they're in play-for-each-other mode at this point.  Usually that comes around November when bowl eligibility is no longer a thing.  But this wasn't the first time Mike London has been miked up for a pre-game speech.  They never fell quite so flat in the past, though.  Past speeches, you've also seen the team responding enthusiastically.  Friday?  They stood still as stone, letting London motivate the camera while they impassively absorbed his "who do you play for?" speech.

It's an un-encouraging sign for the London tenure.  One of hundreds, yes.  One I may be wildly misinterpreting, yes.  I don't think I'm missing the significance, though.  56-14 means the team was not motivated.  A sack-averting interception on the first play from scrimmage means not motivated.  Armchair psychology though this may be, it seems plain that London has lost one of his major remaining selling points.  The last one that remained to affect any results in-season, actually.

A wildly undisciplined and unmotivated football team, cocky for no reason, uncoached in fundamentals and unable to execute most plays, even on the rare occasion those plays are well-called and well-timed, coached by a staff that reportedly** doesn't even get along with each other too well - mortgage the house and bet that there are more mildly disappointing outcomes on the horizon.

All that's left to look forward to is the cleaning house, and the truest sign of the toxic fecklessness of the architects of this mess is that nobody's even sure that'll happen.

**very much only message board talk, but the kind that you at least cock an interested ear to.

Friday, September 25, 2015

game preview: Boise State

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


Record against the Broncos: 0-0

Last meeting: N/A

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

Line: Boise State by 3

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

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

-- UVA run offense vs. BSU run defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- UVA pass offense vs. BSU pass defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- BSU run offense vs. UVA run defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- BSU pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- Favorability ratings

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

Average: 4

-- Outlook

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

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

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

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

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

Final score: BSU 30, UVA 26

-- Rest of the ACC

Byes: Clemson, Florida State, Miami, Pittsburgh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 21, 2015

the wrong lesson

Occasionally, an argument you hear in favor of "scheduling for success" is that a losing team needs to "learn how to win."  That is, if you find yourself in a dogfight, it's better that said dogfight be against a little puppy instead of an ugly junkyard dog, to increase the odds of winning.   Then, when you fight the junkyard dog you'll have winning experience and you'll know what it takes to win.  "Walk before you run" is another way of putting it.

If that game was a lesson in how to win, it should get the teacher fired.  It's like if your driver's ed teacher just put on an hour's worth of clips of Ronin and The Bourne Identity and then tossed you the keys.

Frankly, I'd rather the team learned nothing at all from beating William & Mary than any "how to win" lesson.  If that game drove home "how to win," they'll go 1-11 this year, because the lesson is: You can get outmuscled, outsmarted, outcoached, and badly outdisciplined, and still win as long as the opponent lets you break open a whole bunch of big plays.

Two weeks ago, post-UCLA, I wrote about how nothing had changed, and we just keep going back to that.  Mike London has succeeded in stamping an identity onto the team just as well as Tony Bennett has.  Those identities are 180 degrees from each other on the discipline spectrum, but there it is all the same.  You can count on Tony's teams to come up with a big stop when they need one, and you can count on one of London's seniors to take an incredibly stupid penalty at a crucial moment.  (Kwontie Moore, step on forward.**)

Worse yet is that for an entire half and a good portion of the second, UVA was dominated in the trenches.  By William & Mary.  Dominated.  The Tribe ran all over them.  They double-teamed David Dean and nobody else could shed a block.  The UVA offensive line and that wonderful power rushing game which was never going to happen, was putrid.  Lemme state this once more for effect: William & Mary dominated UVA in the trenches.

That's how you almost lose to them.  UVA was rescued by its athletes, which is basically London's recruiting gameplan.  Unfortunately, the other ACC teams have good athletes too.

**Mike Moore was hit with the penalty, and he's kind of culpable, but the reason it looked like he ran over the quarterback on that roughing-the-passer call was because Kwontie Moore gave him a totally unnecessary shove, into Mike's path.  Totally asinine.

-- First bullet point has to be this: Why in the blazing blue fuck can't this coaching staff figure out how to substitute????  How basic is this?  How did any of them get an actual coaching job not being able to do this?  Why is the whole lower deck screaming at them to put an 11th man on the field?  Normal teams have to burn a timeout, I dunno, maybe once every other game or so, over a little substitution confusion.  Even most lousy staffs can handle this.  This staff burns all three timeouts of the half with that problem.  Un-flippin'-believable.  If the complete unpreparedness for onside kicks and total lack of discipline by seniors didn't clue you in on the attention to detail paid by this staff, the chronic inability to execute a fundamental aspect of football should help you figure it out.  "Uncompromised Excellence" has devolved into "Uncompromised Incompetence."

-- I'd feel a lot more confidence in the offense if they put together more drives like the first drive of the day. Big plays are neato, but if you can consistently march methodically down the field like that, you're in business.  They sputtered a bit at first, but then the ball just kept on going, right through the red zone as if their usual red zone issues didn't exist.  I liked it a lot better than Taquan Mizzell's screen-pass touchdown, which was nice but not repeatable.  W&M blitzed a screen pass and Mizzell is faster than anyone they got, that's all.

-- How bad was the running game?  Mizzell busted a big play which was rather well-blocked.  But you always take out the biggest play - if you still average 3.5-4 yards after that, you're doing well.  Take that out, and take out Jordan Ellis's touchdown run which was incredibly poorly blocked and 100% Ellis's efforts (Ellis ran 39 yards on that play, 38 of which were after contact), and also take out anything Matt Johns did because those are sacks and scrambles.  Here's what you get: 33 yards on 21 carries.  Power running game!

-- Have to like seeing the passing game opened up lately.  I don't have any confidence in the running game, but this team will pull off a couple surprises - hell, they could still go bowling, despite everything - if they put the game in the hands of Matt Johns.  Incredibly boneheaded interception aside, Johns is quietly playing like one of the top QBs in the conference.  Only Miami's Brad Kaaya has more passing yards.  Good thing Johns is doing so well, because Greyson Lambert is absolutely tearing it up for UGA.  Johns is on pace to set the UVA single-season record for passing yards, and the way he's going I'd be more surprised if he missed it than if he made it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

what's new is old again

Welp.  Didn't take long.  It hardly seems worth writing about the latest chapter in the Mike London story because it's so uncannily similar to most of the other ones.  Talk up the latest new schemes, surprise with some swaggy hype-azz uniformz, lose by the book, chapter and verse.  OK, sure, it lacked a little something in the clock-management dumbassery department, but London did burn at least two timeouts that I can remember just because of play-call confusion.  So let's check that box.

Other boxes to check: annoying playcalling, offensive line depth biting us in the ass again, undisciplined penalties committed by seniors, crappy special teams, red zone ineptitude.  The list goes on.  A whole offseason and literally nothing has changed.  I sound surprised here, which I guess I am a little, because this time I'm really gonna get to kick that football.

I really hated those helmets, by the way, which you can chalk mostly up to my reflexive get-off-my-lawnism about uniforms.  UVA seems to be working on building a pretty solid brand identity.  You can instantly recognize those gorgeous home whites the baseball team wears, and the school uses a uniform wordmark across most other teams, if not all of them.

Football?  There's no brand identity anywhere.  The navy blue helmets would work at least to anchor the zillion other looks they think are wonderful attention getters.  Naw, let's ditch 'em and go with the marshmallow look.  And the look on Saturday was a horrible mishmash.  The pants are pure throwback - literally, because they come from the 1960s throwbacks they wore a while ago.  The jerseys are a clean, unadorned, modern take on a classic look.  And the helmets were $WAGGY HYPPPEEE, Oregon $tylez.  Pick a look.  (Preferably not swaggy hype.)  There's absolutely no attempt at a brand, an identity, a foundation, it's just "hey this would be a cool idea," and they slap it up there and there's no reason to do it or even any connection with the rest of the athletic program.

I wouldn't usually spend two paragraphs on the uniforms, but if by now you can't get the connection to the actual state of the program then we'll just have to leave you here.

Notre Dame comes to town next weekend.  Of the three difficult OOC games this is the one I expected to be toughest.  They just got done steamtrucking Texas, so I think I'm still thinking that.  If UVA is to steal an OOC win in one of those three games, Boise State is the place to look.

Some player-focused observations:

-- I was surprised Kelvin Rainey was credited with only five tackles.  He seemed to be all over, making tackles in front of the secondary and generally being much more visible than you'd expect from a first-year starter.  I liked it.  And it looks clear too that Micah Kiser is the real deal.

-- I was much less pleased with the defensive ends.  Mike Moore didn't look like a senior.  Kwontie Moore was hardly visible.  Trent Corney showed off his athleticism by actually juking his blocker, but then looked surprised that Josh Rosen actually moved away from the pressure.  Fortunately, he kind of moved toward the rest of the defensive line, but Corney's tackle attempt on that particular play looked like he still hasn't picked up a lot of fundamentals.

-- Matt Johns reminds me of a youngish NASCAR driver who clearly can drive in the lower series but moves up to the big time and is stuck on an underfunded team with an uncompetitive car, which he can't crash because they can't afford replacements.  He might compete for the winner's circle if he was allowed to drive aggressively into the corners, but he's just being asked to circle the track.  That's Steve Fairchild's playbook in a nutshell.  Johns can play quarterback, it's clear, but too often, he's not really allowed to.  Sure, he threw a pick when he cut loose, just like the driver might find a wall or two the hard way.  But in reading up about UCLA, one quote I saw was along the lines of Josh Rosen being handed the keys to a Ferrari, he just had to not crash it.  Well, Rosen took a shot downfield the very first chance he got, and it's obvious he's not just driving the Ferrari around the block.  Johns needs to be cut loose more too.  He's capable of making it work.

Until then we'll just keep throwing screen passes on every third-and-long of the game which they totally won't be expecting this time.

-- One game in and the offensive line is already a smoking wreck.  Eric Tetlow and Jake Fieler, out for the year.  Ryan Doull and Sadiq Olanrewaju, no telling when they'll be back.  Jay Whitmire, not ready to go full speed yet or he'd be out there at one of those positions somewhere.  The interior line was absolutely owned; UCLA's DTs were exactly the problem I thought they'd be, and the "power running game" went exactly as far as I thought it would.  I was openly skeptical of the power running thing; if I'd known we'd be missing four linemen going into the first game, I'd have been downright derisive.

That's OK, I'm sure we'll just recruit us a few more cornerbacks to make up for it.

It's pretty much official, I've skipped the optimistic, maybe-things-gonna-be-OK phase of the season and gone straight to snark.  With any luck that'll last the next eleven (or twelve, if Lucy doesn't pull that football away again) games and we can minimize the burning apathy, which is all that's left at the end.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

game preview: UCLA

Date/Time: Sat., September 5; 3:30

TV: Fox

Record against the Bruins: 0-1

Last meeting: UCLA 28, UVA 20; 8/30/14, Charlottesville

Last weekend: N/A

Line: UCLA by 20

Injury report: N/A

Here we go.  I have to admit, when this series was scheduled, I was really happy about it.  UVA was coming off a bowl season, one of the best in a while, and the London era was at its peak.  UCLA was stashed in a holding pattern of mediocrity.  They looked like exactly the kind of opponent UVA should be scheduling on the regular: a name brand that would provide a challenge without being a threat to establish a dynasty any time soon.

Now the Bruins are sort of like the LA Clippers with tradition.  They're the new "it" program in So-Cal, while their more acclaimed neighbors get used to the back seat.  UVA's program has all the it factor of Ball State, except people are trying to hire Ball State's coach.

This is a rematch of the game in which Matt Johns set in motion his own ascendance to the starting QB job.  Johns almost succeeded in pulling off a comeback last year against a UCLA team expected to roll.  That hasn't changed the sharps' expectations for this one; UVA is a massive underdog out in the storied Rose Bowl.  It's an uphill climb for UVA right from the get-go.

-- UVA run offense vs. UCLA run defense

(all stats 2014)

Top backs:
Taquan Mizzell: 64 carries, 280 yards, 4.4 ypc, 2 TDs
Daniel Hamm: 17 carries, 75 yards, 4.4 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:
137.75 yards/game, 3.67 yards/attempt
102nd of 128 (national), 11th of 14 (ACC)

UCLA defense:
147.92 yards/game, 3.81 yards/attempt
34th of 128 (national), 4th of 12 (Pac-12)

We've heard the noise about how Steve Fairchild wants to establish a "power running game."  I'll be Doubting Thomas on that one til I see it.  The offensive line does appear improved over last year; it's more experienced and, because it's early in the season and nobody's had the chance to blow anything out, deeper.  (Plus, you have people like Jay Whitmire back.)

Still, the personnel we have doesn't favor power running.  Taquan Mizzell isn't going to lay the hammer down, and neither is Daniel Hamm, who's more of a one-cut-to-the-hole back - which implies a hole.  Albert Reid isn't exactly fullback-sized, but he's probably the best bet to fit in the power game.  Could Jordan Ellis contribute along those lines, too?  Wouldn't rule it out, but we haven't seen his game plan meet the enemy yet.

UCLA's personnel is set up to fit a 3-4 scheme, because that's what Jim Mora has been running.  The Bruins hired Tom Bradley to run the defense this year, and Bradley is a long, long-time 4-3 guy.  You might remember him as Penn State's interim choice to replace Joe Paterno in the wake of their scandal.  Bradley had been at Penn State for thirty-jillion years and got very, very entrenched in the 4-3.

That said, he's got the personnel he's got, so UCLA will probably not make that switch immediately.  Two absolutely massive D-linemen - Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenny Clark - anchor the front-seven, both weighing in at well over 300 pounds.  They're not just there to occupy space; both had at least 50 tackles last year.

UCLA is otherwise a bit inexperienced on the D-line, and has a pretty solid plethora of experienced linebackers, another reason the 3-4 front is worth preparing for.  They're led by veteran linebacker Myles Jack, taking over leadership of the defense from second-round NFL pick Eric Kendricks.

The biggest concern though, no pun intended, is the presence of Vanderdoes and Clark.  Is Steve Fairchild planning on trying to slam right into that front with offensive linemen who've shown time and again they struggle with straight-ahead power blocking?  Fairchild has a dilemma - he can either try that, or, after an offseason of touting his "power running" focus, abandon it in game one and set a waffling tone for the season.  I'm guessing the latter.  I don't see it working if UVA tries the hammer; they'll find the nail unwilling to move.

-- UVA pass offense vs. UCLA pass defense

(all stats 2014)

Matt Johns: 89/162, 54.9%; 1,109 yards, 8 TDs, 5 INTs; 6.85 yards/attempt, 122.6 rating

Top receivers:
Canaan Severin: 42 rec., 578 yards, 5 TDs
Taquan Mizzell: 39 rec., 271 yards, 0 TDs
Andre Levrone: 15 rec., 248 yards, 2 TDs

UVA offense:
236.4 yards/game, 6.6 yards/attempt
91st of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

UCLA defense:
250.6 yards/game, 6.6 yards/attempt
32nd of 128 (national), 3rd of 12 (Pac-12)

The Hoos catch a break here.  Senior cornerback Ishmael Adams, who'd started 26 straight games before losing his starting job in fall camp, decided it was a good idea to steal a cellphone belonging to an Uber driver, and was promptly arrested.  It leaves a big hole in UCLA's nickel defense.  Adams is a heck of an athlete - he totaled 115 return yards on two picks last year and was a kick returner too.

UCLA still has all sorts of talent and experience in the secondary, though, and some guys who really hurt UVA last year.  Not least is linebacker Myles Jack, who broke up Matt Johns's fourth-down pass in the red zone that could've set up the tying score.

It remains to be seen how Tom Bradley will change the defense, but UCLA wasn't very aggressive against the pass last year.  They were effective, but they didn't register a lot of pressure on quarterbacks.  They didn't get a sack on UVA (partly because in one instance Greyson Lambert managed to heave the ball into a defender's hands as a sack-avoidance tactic, but still.)  Plus most of their sack-masters graduated, the only returning threat being linebacker Deon Hollins.

Matt Johns did have something figured out against this defense last year, though.  I expect he'll still have time to operate; the Bruins lack a proven pass-rush threat from the front three (or four.)  If this game is going to go anywhere good, Johns has to be sharp all day long.  UVA's pass offense - with Lambert at the helm, mostly - generated most of UCLA's scoring last year.  The Bruins will definitely take advantage of mistakes, and the run game will be of little help, so the only path to victory here is for Johns to make none.

-- UCLA run offense vs. UVA run defense

(all stats 2014)

Top backs:
Paul Perkins: 251 carries, 1,575 yards, 9 TDs
Nate Starks: 31 carries, 141 yards, 2 TDs

UCLA offense:
209.54 yards/game, 4.89 yards/attempt
34th of 128 (national), 2nd of 12 (Pac-12)

UVA defense:
120.67 yards/game, 3.36 yards/attempt
19th of 128 (national), 4th of 14 (ACC)

UCLA loses a major dimension to their run game with the graduation of Brett Hundley.  It doesn't make a lot of difference in comparing to last year; the Hoos bottled up Hundley quite well and their doing so was what kept them in the game.  Without Hundley, UCLA will have to open up the depth chart a bit because Paul Perkins, workhorse that he is, won't be carrying the ball 500 times, and Josh Rosen isn't going to get those carries.

Perkins, though, is a tough customer.  He'll get a whole bunch of carries, and runs behind a very experienced offensive line.  Four starters return along the line for UCLA, most especially center Jake Brendel, who's a fifth-year senior and has only missed one start in all the games his team has played the past three years.  Perkins was effective in last year's game, averaging five yards a pop against UVA's perfectly good run defense.  It may help that the Hoos can just gear up to stop him and not worry about the quarterback, but UCLA is happy to put strength on strength here.  It won't be spectacular; Perkins can break an occasional big one, but most games his longest run was like 15 yards.  But he's certainly a test for a reloaded linebacker corps.

-- UCLA pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

(all stats 2014)

Josh Rosen: (no stats)

Top receivers:
Jordan Payton: 67 rec., 954 yards, 7 TDs
Devin Fuller: 59 rec., 447 yards, 1 TD
Thomas Duarte: 28 rec., 540 yards, 4 TDs

UCLA offense:
258.3 yards/game, 7.7 yards/attempt
38th of 128 (national), 5th of 12 (Pac-12)

UVA defense:
232.5 yards/game, 7.1 yards/attempt
71st of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

Interesting to see what happens here.  Josh Rosen was probably recruiting's biggest deal last year, as a no-shitter of a five-star QB.  He's being handed the keys to an offense that doesn't need much of a spark.  Besides that veteran offensive line, UCLA returns receivers galore.  Jordan Payton's stats speak for themselves up there, and the Bruins have multiple big play threats.  Thomas Duarte averaged almost 20 yards a catch last year, and three different receivers - Payton, Devin Fuller, and Eldridge Massington - had catches of at least 80 yards.

I've seen lots of UVA fans with a really simplistic approach to this: "Oh, he's a freshman, we'll just get some heat on him and rattle him."  It's not going to work quite like that.  Tenuta will certainly try, and probably succeed at times, but Rosen isn't the starter by just default, and most of our own pass rush from last year has hit the road too.

The good news is that all these returning receivers means they're the same receivers UVA covered with some success last year.  Payton burned the UVA defense with eight catches, and the Bruins pulled off some big plays, but UVA isolated those plays and they accounted for most of UCLA's passing yards.  And there is something to be said for the fact that it's a freshman and not a senior looking for the open guy.  All in all, I see this as a pretty balanced matchup.  UVA has a deep enough secondary to cope with the weapons UCLA brings to the field, and UCLA's line should be able to cope with the UVA pass rush.

-- Favorability ratings

(on a scale from 0 to 10 - the higher the better)

UVA run offense: 2.5
UVA pass offense: 4.5
UVA run defense: 6
UVA pass defense: 5

Average: 4.5

-- Outlook

UVA is a 20-point underdog, which sounds like a hell of a lot.  And it is, but there's a catch, too - last year, they were 21-point underdogs at home.  That's a seven-point swing in the right direction when you figure in the assumed three-point margin for the home team.

Then you have the London factor, which actually is a positive for UVA early in the season.  September is his month, and most of UVA's best wins have happened in the first month of the season.  That's a damning thing to say 11 months of the year and a pretty good thing when you're actually in September.  Is it enough to overcome the talent UCLA brings to the table?  Probably not.  They're also on the road, facing one of the Pac-12's top offenses and a defense pretty well-equipped to handle their own attack.  This game will be very interesting, but not quite interesting enough., and UCLA pulls away in the second half.

Final score: UCLA 27, UVA 14

-- Rest of the ACC

North Carolina vs. South Carolina - Thurs. 6:00 - First game of the I-A season.

Wake Forest vs. Elon - Thurs. 7:00 - Fighting Christians vs. Demon Deacons is exactly why that school should still be called the Fighting Christians.

Georgia Tech vs. Alcorn State - Thurs. 7:30 - Eh.

Duke @ Tulane - Thurs. 9:30 - People who say Duke "schedules for success" forget that they do that because they have to drop down to Tulane before they find a school that will give them a home-and-home.

Syracuse vs. Rhode Island - Fri. 7:00 - Would make a much better basketball matchup.

Clemson vs. Wofford - 12:30 - Clemson smash.

Boston College vs. Maine - 1:00 - Would make a much better hockey matchup.

Pittsburgh vs. Youngstown State - 1:00 - There's a Rust Belt joke here somewhere, but I'm not going to be the one to make it.

Louisville vs. Auburn - 3:30 - Games like this - in the Georgia Dome - are why Louisville was so keen on joining the ACC - and why the southern portion of the conference was so keen on picking them over UConn.

Miami vs. Bethune-Cookman - 6:00 - Eh again.

NC State vs. Troy - 6:00 - Eh one more time.

Florida State vs. Texas State - 8:00 - Eh yet again boy I can't wait til UVA schedules these teams all the time can you.

Virginia Tech vs. Ohio State - Monday 8:00 - The Hokies get the chance to relive the greatest win in program history.