Have you ever bought a new car? You spend WAY too long thinking about what you want. You start to pick out all the options you need versus the ones you want. You decide. You change your mind. You kick the cat. You change your mind again. Then finally you decide on the first on you picked. And then your ready to buy it.
But first, you want a test drive.
This week is UVa Football’s test drive.
Virginia went on and won last week 24-21 against #12 Georgia Tech, but all the pats on the backs and talks of bowl games will be nothing if we can’t get by NC State this weekend. The Wolfpack have been as advertised (to us) and really have struggled out of the gate. They are 3-3 on the year and 0-2 in ACC play. The wins have been against Liberty, South Alabama, and Central Michigan, not impressive at all. NCSU have lost to Wake Forest, Cincinnati, and Georgia Tech, who have all been, I would say ‘good to very good’. But will NC State knock the new car smell off UVa this weekend? Let’s take a look.
Tom O’Brien could be viewed as the one that got away. A long time of George Welsh from 1982-1996 as the Offensive Coordinator was the mastermind behind the era that saw the Hoos go from also-rans to the #1 ranking and several major bowl appearances. Once dubbed as the heir apparent after George Welsh retired, he ended up leaving for Boston College in 1997 and lead them from a 4-7 team to 8 and 9 win seasons in only his third year. That consistency lead to the Wolfpack to throw a ton of money his way to take over for Chucky in 2007. But outside of last year’s 9-4 season, it hasn’t been what the Pack have expected. His overall recored at State is 27-28 and 14-20 in the ACC. Last year bought him some time, but for how much longer?
One of the big questions that NC State had coming into this season was how would the spread offense work without Russell Wilson. One big reason the Wolfpack was semi-content with him leaving was QB Mike Glennon waiting in the wings. And while the passing game isn’t as prolific as it was last year, they still can put point on the board. They are 36th in the nation with 258.7 passing yards per game and 39th in scoring average with 32 a game. Glennon has been efficient with a 64.2% completion percentage, 1486 yards passing, 16 TDs to only 4 INTs. But the interesting stat is when he throws an interception, NC State is 0-3 this year. So secondary play and turnovers will be a key in this game.
Now with any good spread offense, utlizing multiple targets is key, and State does a good job with that. Their big 3 in the Wide Receiving core have been T.J. Graham (484 yards, 4 TD), Tobias Palmer (210, 2 TD), and Jay Smith (172, 2 TD). With this many options, at least one safety will have to cover a WR, with the other helping out in coverage, effectively turning a Cover 2 into a Cover 1. But on the flip side, their rushing game has been next to non existent. They are 95th in the country with 116.2 yards per game, and their backup running back, Curtis Underwood, Jr., has been injured the past 2 games. Their #1 RB, James Washington, is more of a Perry Jones type back, with 409 yards and 5 TDs on the ground, and 209 yards in the passing game. He has rushed for 100+ yards the last two games, but they were against GT and Central Michigan, both not known for their run defense. Pressure from UVa’s front four can contain the run and will need to be in the backfield giving Glennon a short clock for which to work from.
It has been a very rough season for the Wolfpack on this side of the ball, giving up over 30 points a game, which is only 89th in the land. They run a 4-3, but will line up with 2 true DTs off center, one corner up on the line while one 5 yards off the big play receiver, and the strong safety as a ‘back safety’ in more of a Cover 1/Centerfield approach. This approach leads to a lot of plays being made by the secondary, which means their are yards to be gained in the run and short to intermediate passing game. The leading tacklers have been FS Brandan Bishop, BS Earl Wolff, and MLB Audie Cole. You have to go to sixth on the list to find a top tackler from the front 4 (DT Markus Kuhn). But they have been able to get some sacks from the ends and tackles, but with a majority of teams have been able to neutralize this with good O-Line play and passing outside and in routs over top of them. Another key to their defense has been the ability to pick off passes. This season, they have 12 already, and CB David Amerson leads the way with 6 already.
Somehow I have managed to skip this item the past few weeks. Huh. Well, They are average in terms of punting average and field goals, but they have not made any ‘mistakes’ on special teams that have helped opponents, unlike the Hoos, who are still trying to shake that all out. Niklas Sade is the field goal kicker and is only 4/6 on the season, and has missed 2 extra points. Wil Baumann is their punter and is averaging just less than 39 yards a punt.
How Virginia Wins
Just take everything we wrote about Georgia Tech and flip it. Virginia will have to keep the NC State passing game at bay. While NC State will get their yards through the air, but must stop those yards from becoming points. Secondly, the Hoos will have to get pressure from the front four to not only stop the run, but to keep from allowing the WRs time to get open. And the most critical point is RUNNING THE BALL. It should be self explanatory by now, but with highish power, one dimensional teams, Virginia will have to keep the opposing offenses off the field and wear down the overmatched defenses.
How Virginia Loses
Virginia benefited from a quick start in the Georgia Tech game, and while immediate points is not necessary against NC State, they need to find a way to score late in games, as NC State has the firepower to pick up big gains and points at any time. If the Hoos can’t find the endzone late in the game, they could find the Pack pulling away with games late. Secondly, if the Hoos need to keep more than 6 in the box to stop the run or the short pass, they will get exposed by the passing game of NC State, and will lead to the defense staying on the field for long stretches of time. We had 2 weeks to prepare for the Triple Option, but only one week to completely switch up our schemes, and making that adjustment will be key early. Lastly, the Hoos must win the turnover battle not just match it. They can pick off passes, and, well, we can throw them. Any short field or another pick 6 will really put the Cavs at a disadvantage.
Virginia has done two things well this season: run defense and winning close games. The Hoos can take a shot early and make a run back, but having to play catchup will be very difficult, even if we are playing at home. I don’t think State has played a defensive team as good as UVa, partly due to our ability, but more due to their overall weaker schedule. In the end, the Hoos will flat out have to put points on the board, and while I think the defense will curb some of NC State offense, it will not completely stop them. Virginia has a propensity to win the close one, and this one will be no different. Virginia 27, NC State 24.