2013 Virginia Football Previews: VMI

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Hoos entered their bye week coming off a 59-10 drubbing by the Oregon Ducks. Still, at 1-1, they are ahead of where many fans thought they'd be at this point. This weekend, they face the VMI Keydets, who are 1-2 and are coming off a home loss to a DII school called North Greenville State. We don't really know what the Hoos are right now. But I think we can safely say they are better than VMI.

The Hoos go from facing the #2 team, and perhaps the fastest, team in the nation, to facing a 1-2 VMI team that is coming off a home loss to the North Greenville State Crusaders. VMI also lost 34-0 to Richmond earlier this season. Over the past 120 years, the Hoos have beaten VMI 56 times in 82 meetings. The Hoos haven't lost to VMI in my lifetime, and I'm the oldest writer here at STL.

The Hoos are also coming off a bye, and despite some tumultuous seasons under Mike London, the Hoos are 3-0 coming off a bye under their current head coach. One of those wins came over VMI, a 48-7 win in September 2010. A similar outcome here sure seems likely.

VMI on Offense

QB: #14 Eric Kordenbrock - 6'4" 220 lb, Senior; #17 A.J. Augustine - 6'3" 208 lb, Senior

TB: #39 Derrick Ziglar - 5'9" 230 lb, Sophomore; #21 Jabari Turner - 6'0" 210, Junior; #2 Deon Watts - 5'11" 197 lb, Junior

WR: #18 Doug Burton - 6'1" 195 lb, Junior; #15 James Rogers - 5'11" 190 lb, Sophomore; #80 Sam Patterson - 6'5" 205 lb, Sophomore; #85 Aaron Sanders - 6'2" 180 lb, Freshman; #6 Dane Forlines - 5'9" 180 lb, Freshman; #83 Alec Thompson - 6'3" 200 lb Senior

TE: #87 Mario Thompson - 6'3" 235 lb, Senior; #46 Bradley Hann - 6'2" 235 lb, RS Freshman

LT: #66 Iyan Roseborough - 6'3" 325 lb, RS Freshman; #70 Emmanuel Cooper - 6'5" 293 lb Junior
LG: #74 Patrick Goulden - 6'3" 275 lb, Senior; #62 Patrick Doucette - 6'1" 285 lb, Freshman
C: #51 Will Lucas - 6'2" 260 lb, Senior; #52 Tommy Payne - 6'3" 295 lb, Sophomore
RG: #63 Nate Murray - 6'2" 290 lb, Sophomore; #55 Mike Maloney - 6'1" 253 lb, Junior
RT: #75 Andy Marcotte - 6'8" 325 LB, Junior; #61 Stephen Miller - 6'2" 260 lb, Freshman

For many years, VMI ran a triple option offense, like some of the other service academies. However, in 2010 they hired a new offensive coordinator, Matt Campbell, and instituted a pro-style offense. Eric Kordenbrock was a freshman then, and saw limited action in 9 games, completing exactly 50% of his passes, with 3 TDs and 7 INTs, averaging about 5.4 ypa. For the past two years, Kordenbrock has been the primary QB for the Keydets, but his numbers have stayed about the same. For his career, he's completed about 54% of his passes, for 5.7 ypa. He's thrown 28 TDs and 28 INTs. He's a decent athlete, but not a guy who is going to beat you with his legs. Backup QB A.J. Augustine is a much better athlete and will take off and run. Kordenbrock threw for 369 yards and 2 TDs in last week's loss. He's just 277 yards away from being VMI's all time leading passer. I'm betting he doesn't get there this week.

A year ago, Jabari Turner led the team with 375 yards rushing, plus 4 TDs. This year, he's second on the depth chart. Derrick Ziglar has taken over as the primary back. As a RS Freshman last year, he rushed for 239 yards at just 3.5 ypc (Turner was at 3.4). Ziglar is a bigger back, and he's tough to bring down. He's averaged nearly 6 ypc so far this season. Turner missed some of the offseason with an injury, and that's part of why he lost his starting job. He will still get some touches, and he's really VMI's big play guy. Ziglar leads the team in receptions this year with 13, including a 56 yarder. We'll likely see all 3 RBs.

The team's top receiving option is Rogers. He had 32 receptions last year, with a long of 80, but averaged just 10 yards per catch. Turner was 2nd with 25 receptions for 12 ypc and 2 TDs, including an 81 yarder. Turner is dangerous on screens and as a safety valve. Rogers has deep play ability, despite his low average. Thompson, the TE, is also a dangerous receiver, and is tied for 4th on the team with 6 receptions already this year. He's especially dangerous in the red zone. He has a knack for finding open spots in a zone. After Rogers, the rest of the VMI WR corps entered the season with 12 combined receptions (6 of those from Patterson). Rogers didn't start last week, and I don't know why. He played and had 3 receptions for 72 yards including a 59 yarder. Patterson led the team with 6 receptions for 77 yards and a TD. The VMI staff is very high on the sophomore.

Last week, VMI started 2 TEs and 2 WRs. (This may be part of why Rogers didn't start, although it seems like a pretty bad idea to sit your top WR for an extra TE. LT Iyan Roseborough also played but didn't start, so maybe there's something more to it.) In week 2, they started 4 WRs and one TE, with no RB. The depth charts entering each week did now show these changes, so perhaps they are simply changing formations to match up against different opponents. For what it's worth, the depth chart for this week shows 3 WRs, one RB, and a TE, which is their standard lineup.

So the Keydet's offense is made up of a QB who's talented but not very accurate, a trio of RBs who each averaged under 4 yards per carry last season, and an inexperienced WR corps. No wonder they had the 117th ranked offense in the nation last season. They were 118th in rushing and 71st in passing (but 103rd in passing efficiency). Through 2 games this year, they have been better (it would be hard for them to be worse). They are 75th in total offense, 107th in rushing and 25th in passing (37th in passing efficiency). Keeping in mind that those numbers include 2 games against Division II opponents, it's hard to think that the VMI offense is really any better than it was last year.

VMI's OL returns just two starters from last year, Lucas and Marcotte. Lucas spent 2 years as a TE before moving to C, where he's simply too small to be able to consistently block a guy like Brent Urban. I expect Urban to be in the backfield all day long, or at least until he's sitting on the bench while the youngsters get some reps. Marcotte is a good one, and could possibly play on Sundays. He's big, strong, and getting better technically. He's probably never seen a guy as quick as Eli Harold though. The right side of the line, with Marcotte and Murray is the stronger part of the line. The left side will struggle with a redshirt freshman and a converted DT.

The Hoos defense has played pretty well, despite giving up 59 points to Oregon. For the first half, they pretty much kept the team in the game as well as they could, getting 5 stops on 9 Oregon drives. VMI will not provide the same challenges. The Keydets offense is really still learning the pro-style system they've put in place, and they simply do not have the speed and playmaking ability that Oregon has. The Hoos under Jon Tenuta are an aggressive, blitz-happy defense. But the Hoos DL is good enough to generate pressure on Kordenbrock without having to bring extra defenders. Sure, DaQuan Romero will come on a blitz now and again, but the Hoos will likely spend much of the game in a vanilla defense, using their superior athleticism and talent to overwhelm the VMI offense. I could see the Hoos coming up with a shutout, at least a shutout until late in the game when the 2nd units are playing.

VMI Defense

DE: #97 John Washington - 6'2" 255 lb, Junior; #90 Robert de Wolff - 6'3" 250 lb, RS Freshman

NT: #99 Joe Nelson - 6'3" 265, RS Freshman; #92 Walker Hays - 6'1" 265 lb, Freshman

DE: #91 Justin Smith - 6'1" 255 lb, Senior; #84 Connor Mays - 6'3" 234 lb, Junior

OLB: #30 William Hyman, 6'2" 235 lb, Senior; #59 Chris Copeland, 6'2" 215 lb, Sophomore

ILB: #57 Weston Reber, 6'3" 235 lb, Senior; #45 Miller Williams, 6'1" 220 lb, Junior

ILB: #33 Ty Garvin, 6'3" 215 lb, Junior; #47 Calen Lindsey, 6'1" 220 lb, Sophomore

OLB: #41 Logan Staib, 6'1" 241 lb, Junior; #28 Tyler Owens, 6'1 220 lb, Junior

CB: #9 James Fruehan, 5'9" 187 lb, Junior; #19 Doug Moore, 5'9" 190 lb, Sophomore

SS: #3 Calen Furlow, 6'2" 200 lb, Junior, #25 Alex Keys, 5'10" 185 lb, RS Freshman

FS: #20 Alex James, 5'11" 190 lb, Sophomore; #1 Eric Johnson, 5'8" 185 lb, RS Freshman

CB: #7 Damian James, 6'1" 190 lb, RS Freshman, #34 Brendan Bock, 6'0" 180 lb, Sophomore

VMI runs a base 3-4 defense that really needs the DEs to make plays in order to be successful. Last year, the top 5 tacklers were all LBs or DBs. But the 4 guys tied for the team lead in sacks were all DLs. Unfortunately for VMI, 2 of those LBs, 1 of the DBs and 2 of the DLs are gone. That is a lot of lost production that is going to have to come from somewhere.

The Keydets were 78th in FCS in total defense last year. They were 104th in rushing defense, but 30th in passing defense. However, they were 88th in passing effiency defense. I guess that if you can't stop teams from running the ball, they don't need to throw it. They gave up over 30 points per game, with 3 opponents (Richmond, Navy and Stonybrook) breaking the 40 point barrier. They didn't even face an FBS team last season. Considering the defense wasn't all that good, perhaps losing so much of it isn't such a bad thing. Then again, so far this year, they are 103rd in total defense (in FCS), 85th in rushing defense and 105th in passing defense (87th in passing efficiency defense). Again, considering 2 of those games came against DII teams, maybe losing so much off last year's defense does hurt.

The two DEs are about the same height, they are the same weight, and they tied for the team lead in sacks, and finish 1-2 in TFLs. Smith had more total tackles, but Washington had more TFLs. They also combined for 3 forced fumbles and Washington returned a fumble 70 yards for a TD. Smith is on the radar of some NFL teams, he possesses a good blend of size and speed for a DE. He may not get drafted, but he'll make somebody's camp as a free agent. He normally lines up on the right side, which means he's matched up against Morgan Moses. He'll find that to be a difficult task. Washington gets to line up across from Jay Whitmire, and he could have some success there. VMI may switch their DEs at times, just to change up the matchups a bit.

The NT, Joe Nelson, put on a lot of weight during his redshirt season in order to be able to play in the middle of a 3-4 defense. He's still adjusting to the added weight, as well as learning how to play the position. While the interior of the Hoos OL has struggled, Nelson doesn't figure to give them much trouble.

The real strength of the VMI defense lies in the secondary. James was a true freshman who saw his playing time increase throughout last season as he developed. He's currently leading the team in tackles. At CB, Fruehan is third on the team in tackles after finishing 2nd last year. He was first on the team in solo tackles, by a wide margin. Of course, when a CB is making so many tackles, it usually isn't a good thing. Fruehan had just 3 TFL last season, and doesn't have any so far this year. He also hasn't had any interceptions in his career.

There isn't much behind Fruehan at CB, but Bock has some potential and has one of the team's 2 INTs this year. Both Jones (the starter) and Bock are bigger CBs, and may prove to be difficult matchups for the Hoos smallish WRs. As SS, Furlow is coming on after spending his first two years seeing action mostly on special teams. Bock will be the team's 5th DB when they go to the nickel defense.

Like most 3-4 defenses, the LBs are asked to do a lot. In VMI's case, some of the LBs are up to the challenge, while some are not. Reber led the team in tackles last year, and is 2nd so far this year. He's also recovered two fumbles all ready this season. Garvin was 5th in tackles last year, and has started this season off well. The newcomer in the LB corps is Hyman, who transferred to VMI in 2011, and played some LB last season. He had 4.5 TFLs last year, in limited playing time. VMI uses him as a pass rusher off the edge a lot, and he's already got a sack and a forced fumble this year.

The VMI defense is better than their offense. If the right side of our OL doesn't play better than they have, the VMI DEs could cause some problems for the offense. Overall, though, the VMI defense is too small, too slow and not really talented enough to give us much trouble. Our big OL should be able to push VMI's front 7 back and give plenty of running room for the backs. If we wanted to, we could win this game without throwing a single pass. But, I suspect that Fairchild and company will want to get Watford going with the downfield passing game, in preparation for the rest of the season.

VMI Special Teams

P: #36 David Eberhardt - 5'10" 230 lb, Junior

PK: #27 Dillon Christopher - 6'2" 175 lb, Freshman

PR: Forlines

KR: Forlines; #22 Taylor Stout - 5'11' 180 lb Freshman

Freuhan handled all the PR duties for the past two years, but he's been replaced by the freshman who was All-District in Richmond as a returner. Stout was all-district as a WR, although he's listed as a RB on the VMI roster. Both are talented return guys, so the Hoos special teams will get another good test on returns.

Christopher has attempted just one FG this year (a 37 yarder) and he was successful. He's got just 1 touchback in 10 KOs, and teams average starting at the 26 after his KOs. Eberhardt is averaging over 40 yards per punt, with 7 punts going for over 50 yards. When teams get returns, they are averaging over 12 yards per return. Dominique Terrell's improvements on the punt return should continue here. I think we may even see him take one to the house this week.

Conclusion

VMI is a bad team. A bad FCS team. A bad FCS team that just lost at home to a middle-of-the road DII team. We don't really know how good the Hoos are. But we can safely say that they are better than VMI. The Hoos are favored by 42 points, which seems like a lot. But then you remember that VMI lost by 34 to Richmond, so maybe 42 isn't enough. I think the Hoos will be ahead comfortably and will take their foot off the gas.

Prediction: Hoos 45, VMI 0

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