Coming off the biggest win of the Mike London era, the Hoos are riding high. They sit at 4-2, and 1-1 in the conference. This weekend, they face the Wolfpack from North Carolina State, who are 3-3, and 0-2 in the ACC.
The win last week was great. But they need to keep it going. They need to build on it. The way to build up a program to string wins together. Winning this game will get the fans excited. Winning this game will get people talking about the program. Winning this game will help keep the players confident. Probably most importantly, winning this game moves us to within one game of bowl eligibility.
Standing between us and that is a Wolfpack team that has lost 45-35 to the team we just beat. That should bode well for our outlook, right? NCSU hasn't beaten a good team yet this year, but they are coming off a bye week after beating Central Michigan.
So, how's it gonna turn out? Can we keep up the momentum? Check back after the jump...
Virginia on Offense
The UVA offense is, apparently, very good. We have gained over 400 four times in six games. That is impressive. Last week, the ground game was unstoppable, piling up 274 yards and nearly 6 yards per carry. Against Idaho, the ground game wasn't as successful, but we passed for 335 yards. That balance and ability to move the ball both on the ground and through the air will make it very difficult for defenses to game plan against us.
Of course, NCSU's defense probably isn't good enough for it to matter much. They rank 88th in the country in total defense, and 89th in scoring defense. Their rushing defense is 77th and passing defense is 83rd. So, at least they are consistently bad. They do have an opportunistic defense, having forced 17 turnovers and racked up 15 sacks. The Hoos will need to hang on to the ball and not give up big plays to the NCSU defense.
I imagine that after seeing us gash the Yellow Jackets for nearly 300 yards on the ground, the Wolfpack will attempt to load up against the run, and force us to win the game by throwing the ball. This plays to their defensive strength, which is their secondary.
Three of the top 4 tacklers on the NCSU defense are DBs. Junior safeties Earl Wolff and Brandan Bishop are 1 and 3 respectively and sophomore CB David Amerson is 4. The other CB is junior C.J. Wilson. Amerson is a 6'3" 200 pound CB, and he has 6 interceptions already on the season. He is a big physical corner, and also plays a big role in run support. Bishop is also big, at 6'2" 210 pounds, and he has 3 interceptions already. Bishop and Emerson normally play on the same side of the field, so I would prefer to see Michael Rocco focus mostly on the opposite side. Wolff and Wilson aren't quite as big, but both have pretty decent size for DBs. All 4 DBs are more of the physical type, and will generally play off the receivers and look to make plays once the ball is in the air.
The pack's DL is also a strong unit, led by sophomore DE Darryl Cato-Bishop. Cato- Bishop leads the team with 3 sacks. The other starting DE is junior Brian Slay, and freshman Art Norman will see time at both DE spots. Slay and Norman have combined for 4.5 sacks, meaning that the DEs have half of the teams sacks. Obviously, OTs Oday Aboushi and Morgan Moses will have their hands full on passing downs. Of the 3, only Brian Slay provides much in run support.
The talent at DT is hurt by the injury to J.R. Sweezy. He was the best interior DL NCSU had last year, and still would be this year if he was healthy. Without him, the starters will be senior Markus Kuhn and freshman Ty McGill. Kuhn is a good solid space eater, and McGill has been reasonably productive in his first action. Still, neither of those two scare me much, and I think we should be able to have success running the ball in the middle of the field. With the interior OLs not having to deal with any real playmakers in the middle, we should see more of the trap and sweep plays that involve Austin Pasztor and Luke Bowanko pulling and making blocks on the edges.
Finally, we get to the LBs. NCSU got very strong play from a beleaguered LB corps last year, but then had to rebuild it again this year. Senior Audie Cole made the switch from OLB to ILB for this year, and he is the playmaker of the LB group. Cole is second on the team in tackles, first in TFLs, has 2.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 passed broken up. Cole is kind of a jack of all trades, although there isn't any one thing he is great at. On the outside, we will see junior Terrell Manning and sophomore D.J. Green. Manning is the more dynamic of the two, and will make plays in the backfield. Green is more of a coverage LB, but has good instincts there, and will probably spend a lot of time watching Perry Jones run routes out of the backfield.
NCSU plays an aggressive style of defense that uses a lot of blitzes to get pressure on the QB. Terrell Manning and Audie Cole will come on various types of blitzes, in any situation. This puts pressure on the secondary, as well as opening up the types of delays and counter running plays that Bill Lazor likes to run. Knowing that we want to run the ball, we may see more run blitzes and a somewhat safer defense, with more zone. The NCSU DBs are good, but none of them are real speedsters. If we can get Tim Smith lined up against man coverage, he could have success running some deep routes. Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell man also have some success against these guys.
NCSU's defense doesn't really stop people, but makes people stop themselves. They excel at creating turnovers and putting offenses into rough situations. They will take gambles, so we have to be careful. We've been prone to turnovers this year, and we've been prone to penalties. NCSU wants to force both of those. We will definitely be able to move the ball, but the key will be converting those yards into points.
Virginia on Defense
Those points that I just referenced will be key, because NCSU has a good offense. It isn't as good, statistically speaking, as Georgia Tech's was. But, it is more balanced, which will be a much different challenge. NCSU is just 77th in the nation in total offense, but they are 40th in scoring offense. Some of this is due to the turnovers that they have forced on defense. Some of it is due to big plays.
Junior QB Mike Glennon has thrown 16 TDs this year versus only 4 INTs. He has completed over 64% of his passes, for almost 1500 yards. As you may have heard, Russell Wilson left NCSU after last year, and is now leading the #6 team in the nation. Head coach Tom O'Brien said that Mike Glennon was ready, and so far he has been proven right.
Glennon has had to be good, because NCSU is basically playing without their top 2 RBs. The leader coming into the season was sophomore Mustafa Greene, but he has yet to see the field this year. The next choice was senior Curtis Underwood, but he is also out. Junior James Washington has been asked to pick up the slack, and he has been up to the task, for the most part. Also missing from the RB corps is freshman Tony Creecy. Washington has rushed for 409 yards and 5 TDs. He is undersized, and is much more of a perimeter threat than a between the tackles threat. He is also a very (very) good receiver out of the backfield. Washington, in fact, leads the team in receptions with 23. A lot of those are dump offs and flares. But they will also run screens, so the OLBs need to pay attention to Washington as plays develop.
Washington may have the most receptions, but he is just 3rd in yards. That is because NCSU has some dynamic WRs. The most dynamic is senior T.J. Graham. Graham averages 23 yards per reception, and has an 87 yard TD to go along with an 82 yard punt return TD. Let's just say that he is fast, and leave it there. Starting opposite Graham is another senior, Jay Smith. Smith is 6'2" 210 pounds (whereas Graham is just 6'0" 180 pounds. So, I expect to see Chase Minnifield lined up on Smith and Demetrious Nicholson lined up on Graham. I realize this goes against the grain somewhat, but Tra has had problems all season long against bigger WRs, and I'm afraid that Glennon and Jay Smith might abuse him. Chase can shut down Smith on his own and we can provide help for Nicholson covering Graham. I have been up and down on Nicholson this year, but he's got the talent and this matchup is actually a good one for him.
NCSU will run a lot of 3 WR sets, with Tobias Palmer being the 3rd WR. Palmer is a junior and has a lot in common with Graham. NCSU also has an All-ACC performer at TE, in senior George Bryan. Bryan has 10 receptions and 2 TDs thus far, but he had 35 catches a year ago.
As evidenced by their 95th ranking rushing offense, and 108th ranking in sacks allowed, the NCSU offensive line has not lived up to expectations. That only shows just how special Glennon has been, that he has put up the number he has without much help up front. The line is big and experienced, they just haven't played all that well. Senior LT R.J. Mattes is the best of the bunch, but even he has struggled with quicker DEs. Cam Johnson could have success against him, but that is nothing compared to the field day Johnson could have against Senior RT Mikel Overgaard. At C, junior Camden Wentz is a good solid pass blocker, but the two guards are better in run blocking than in pass blocking. I think the reason the OL has struggled was because, despite being pretty good individually, their strengths do not mesh well.
Our DL played a superior game last week, and have to be very confident right now. If they can play like that again, our defense will have success. Glennon is dangerous, and any production they get from the ground game will just make it that much easier. Our primary focus should be getting pressure on Glennon and making sure that he doesn't have time to get the ball downfield. We can live with short passes and dump offs to Washington, but we do not want to give up big plays to the Wolfpack WRs. Obviously, this will put a lot of pressure on the DBs to play good coverage while the pass rushers are doing their thing.
A loss in this game pretty much erases last week's excitement. I think the Hoos know that. NCSU is a solid team, but they aren't more talented than we are. This game will come down to execution, and I think being at home gives us an advantage there. As usual, I see us having success running the ball, with a couple of big plays coming from the passing game.
I also see a defensive TD in our future. We've been close a couple of times, and I think this is the week we break free. I think it might be Nicholson, I just think he's due.
The key is going to be not turning the ball over. In a game like this, a punt is ok, but a turnover isn't. Our special teams has struggled some, but they were better last week. This week is another step up for them.
The line has us favored by about 5, which doesn't seem far off.
Prediction: Hoos 30, NCSU 21