Two weeks ago, I was disappointed because the Hoos lost a winnable game on the road against a team they shouldn't beat. Last week, I was even more disappointed because the Hoos lost a game they absolutely should have won against a team they absolutely should have beaten, because they played poorly. So, will they disappoint me again?
The 2-2 Hoos face the 1-3 Idaho Vandals this week at Scott Stadium. The Vandals lone win this year is over FCS University of North Dakota. In their 3 FBS games, they haven't been closer than 17 points, and that includes 2 home games. Idaho had a somewhat down year last year, finishing 6-7 a year after winning the Humanitarian Bowl.
Both teams come in struggling, both probably fighting for bowl eligibility. Who will come out on top?
Virginia on Offense
The Virginia offense has been pretty solid this year, for the most part. Turnovers have killed us, and we haven't always taken advantage of our opportunities. However, we've got the 47th ranked offense in the country, and we've been pretty well balanced. However, that balance might be thrown off by the injury to QB Michael Rocco. At this time, it looks like freshman QB David Watford may start. Even if he doesn't, look for Watford to get extended reps.
The injury to Rocco comes at a bad time, because Idaho's pass defense is terrible. They give up over 300 yards per game in the air, plus they can't pressure the QB at all. However, they have a solid front 7 and they can stop the run. Still, the total package is one of the worst defenses in the nation.
Regardless of who starts at QB, the Hoos primary focus is running the ball. We have a strong OL and a very good stable of RBs. If the OL plays like they did against UNC, Idaho isn't going to stop us on the ground. If the OL plays like they did against Southern Mississippi, we could have some trouble.
Idaho plays a fairly simplistic 4-3 defense. The strength of this defense is the LBs, specifically senior MLB Tre'shawn Robinson. Robinson leads the team with 31 tackles, 4 TFL and 1 sack. Robinson was the team's second leading tackler last year, but the leading tackler, senior LB Robert Siavii, is likely out of the year. It's a shame (from their perspective) because the two make a heck of a combination at LB. Taking Saivii's place is junior college transfer Korey Toomer, and he has played well so far this year. On the strong side, they've got senior Homer Mauga, although junior Conrad Scheidt has seen the field plenty and may even start. Scheidt is probably the better player.
The Vandal's DL is also solid, although they were much better last year. Last week, our OL was victimized by smaller, quicker DLs and Idaho has some similar personnel. The top DE is junior Benson Mayowa, who goes just 250 pounds, but is very quick. The other DE will be senior Charles Smith, who is bigger and a more tradition type of DE. We will also see senior Andre Ferguson in passing situations, as he is a better pass rusher.
In the middle, the top player is senior Michael Cosgrove, who has 1 of the teams two sacks (Robinson has the other). Cosgrove is a 300+ pound mauler, which seems to be a good matchup for our linemen. Idaho has tried a couple of different guys next to Cosgrove, without finding much production. Likely to start is redshirt freshman Karel Kearney, but junior Donatae Scott will see plenty of action as well. Neither of them concern me very much, although Scott is also a big guy, and when he and Cosgrove are lined up next to each other, I expect to see us run the ball to the perimeter.
As I mentioned, the weakness of the Vandals' defense is the pass defense. Obviously, that means the secondary. The two CBs are senior Matthew Harvey and junior Aaron Grymes. Grymes finished 3rd on the team in tackles last year, which says as much about the Vandal's defense as it does about Grymes. Still, he is pretty solid. Harvey is getting his first extended action on the field, and it has shown so far this season. Both CBs are on the small side, and can be beaten. A good veteran receiver like Kris Burd could have a field day. Also the bigger guys like Matt Snyder may have success.
At safety, like corner, the Vandals have a junior and a senior, but the junior is the returning starter. In this case, Gary Wakler returns, having finished 5th in tackles a year ago, and is currently tied with Robinson for the team lead this year. Next to Walker is senior Quin Ashley, who hasn't been bad. Again, both of them are small, so we should have opportunities for the TEs to make plays over the middle. Both Vandal safeties are sure tacklers though, and their strength is in aiding against the run.
This is a game where having a healthy Colter Phillips would be a big advantage, but his status is unknown. If he can't go, look for Jake McGee to get some more looks. He was close on at least one big play last week, and has been getting more and more run with the offense.
Idaho's defense really isn't good. They have a couple of playmakers, most notably Robinson and Cosgrove, but those two can't hide the rest of the team's deficiencies. RB Kevin Parks left the game last week with an injury, and as of now, his status is unknown. If he plays, he could have a lot of success running between the tackles. Perry Jones figures to get a lot of carries, especially if Parks is out, and Jones would have more success on the perimeter. Our edge players (TEs and WRs) should be successful blocking against Idaho's smaller DBs and Perry could find room outside.
I would be confident in Rocco for this game, because Idaho can't generate a pass rush, and their cover guys aren't great. But, if Watford has to start, I'll be somewhat concerned. Watford's strength is using his legs, but that isn't as much of a weapon against this defense. Plus Watford has shown some accuracy issues, and we figure to have some open guys. If Rocco can't go, and Watford struggles, I think Ross Metheny could come in and be successful. If Watford plays, and plays well, he may well be our starter against Georgia Tech.
Virginia on Defense
Idaho's offense is almost exactly the opposite of the defense. They can't run the ball at all, but they are pretty good at throwing the ball. One of the worst teams in the nation, they average just 60 yards rushing per game. They are 63rd in the nation in passing offense though. Combined, that makes them 109th in total offense.
Part of the reason for Idaho's ground game struggles is that they just don't seem to the run ball very much. In 4 games, the Hoos have 158 rushing attempts after accounting for sacks (but not for scrambles). Idaho has 100. Of course, this might be because they can't seem to settle on a RB. They have 4 different guys who get carries, and none of them really are really all that good. Their leading rusher is Arizona State transfer Ryan Bass. Bass has pretty much evenly split carries with senior Princeton McCarty, but has been only slightly more effective. The other two are junior Troy Vital, who is kind of a short yardage specialist, and senior Kama Bailey, who is more of a scatback type. Bailey will return kicks for Idaho, and he is a threat there. Bailey also lines up as a slot receiver a few times a game.
Unlike our past few opponents, Idaho's senior QB Brian Reader is not really all that mobile. Senior QB sounds scary, but this is really Reader's first extended action on the field. While he isn't really a threat on the ground, he is a pretty decent passer. He's only completed about 57% of his passes, but he has 8 TDs to go along with just a single interception. Reader doesn't have a big arm, but he will make good decisions, and he will get the ball out quickly. Just the type of QB that has given us problems all season. I would like to see us play our DBs right up on the line, and force Reader to hang on to the ball and beat us deep. But, I have a feeling we're going to see the same passive defense that we saw last week against a QB with a similar skillset.
Reader will be throwing to a solid, yet unspectacular group of receivers. The Vandals actually start 4 receivers. Sort of. They have an X, Y, Z and H. The X and Z are the top 2 and those are senior Armauni Johnson and junior Mike Scott. Scott is small but very quick and will run a lot of quick inside routes. Against the zones we saw last week, Scott could have a big game. Johnson is a much bigger guy, at 6'3" and about 200 pounds, and he will be a big threat in the red zone. The Y, or slot receiver is Taylor Elmo, among others. Sophomore TE Mike Legrone will be the H, which is really an H-back position, but he will lineup in the backfield, as a TE, or as a slot receiver. The other big threat in the passing game is junior Justin Veltung, who caught 8 TD passes last year, but he has been in and out of the lineup so far this year, and I don't know if he is going to play.
The biggest problem with Idaho's offense is their offensive line. Not a surprise for a team that is 4th worst in the nation in rushing, averaging just 2.4 yards per carry. The OL struggled last year as well, finishing 103rd in the nation in rushing and 117th in sacks allowed. This years' OL includes 3 returning starters, all seniors. But, is that a good thing? Both OTs are back, and they are both big guys, well over 300 pounds. DEs Cam Johnson and Jake Snyder will have their hands full. We may see more from Bill Schautz, or even Thompson Brown, opposite Johnson this week, because they provide quickenss that Snyder doesn't possess. On the inside, however, the Vandals aren't very strong. Senior LG Sam Tupua missed the last two games, but might return this week. His backup was junior A.J. Jones, who struggled in the past two contests. The center and the other guard are young players getting their first playing time, and neither has really impressed. Our DTs should be able to dominate the center of the field. I look for Will Hill to get penetration over and over again, and hopefully pick up a couple of sacks.
If we let Reader sit back in the pocket and throw to receivers who aren't tightly covered, he is going to have a field day, much like Austin Davis did. However, if we can get pressure on Reader, and we force him to make some tough throws, we can stop them. Also, I'm not too concerned about the ground game from Idaho.
As I said, Idaho's defense really isn't very good. We should score points on them. The question is, can we stop them. I thought we would be able to stop Southern Mississippi, at least somewhat, but that really didn't prove to be true. A lot of that was due to the defensive game plan. If we play the same soft defense, and let Brian Reader pick us apart, we will struggle like we did last week. If we play to our strengths, which is good cover CBs and pressuring the QB, we will be successful. It helps that Idaho has no running game.
Last week really shook my confidence in this team, from the starting QB to the FG holder to the head coach. Idaho might be the perfect medicine for that, because this game could end up being a laugher. We are favored by 17, which seems about right to me.
Prediction: Hoos 38, Vandals 20