Previewing Ball State at Virginia -
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Previewing Ball State at Virginia

   Posted by From Old Virginia at  10/4/2013 5:45:33 AM  |  Follow us on Twitter: @scacchoops
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One kind of annoying thing about having kind of a (perceived) lousy team: nobody gives you credit for the good things you can do.  UVA is a fashionable upset pick this week because "Ball State has a good offense."  (Classic example: David Hale on the ESPN blog writes, "Ball State QB Keith Wenning has thrown for more than 300 yards in every game so far, meaning the Cavaliers are likely going to need some offensive fireworks of their own to keep pace."  What that actually says is, "UVA's defense isn't good enough to stop him from doing so again.") That offense has been on display against teams like the mighty Eastern Michigan Eagles, but whatever.  UVA's defense isn't being given a whole lot of attention. 

Date/Time: Saturday, October 5; 12:00


Record against the Cardinals: 0-0

Last meeting: N/A

Last weekend: Pitt 14, UVA 3; BSU 31, Tol. 24

Line: UVA by 5

Injury report: none

-- UVA run offense vs. BSU run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 72 carries, 294 yards, 4.1 ypc, 3 TDs
Daniel Hamm: 23 carries, 141 yards, 6.1 ypc, 2 TDs

UVA offense:
163.75 yards/game, 3.70 yards/attempt
96th of 125 (national), 12 of 14 (ACC)

BSU defense:
202.6 yards/game, 4.65 yards/attempt
90th of 125 (national), 8th of 13 (MAC)

The question I've been rhetorically asking all season is: which back is going to be Kevin Parks's primary reliever?  It might be that the answer is nobody.  Part of the deal there is injuries - all three of the primary options, including both the surprise and the non-surprises, have been dealing with injury.  I think the other likely explanation is this: Parks is the only one the coaches consistently trust to run the read-option with Watford (inexperienced backs can logarithmically increase your fumble rate on that play) and Watford defaults to handing off.  Parks has averaged 18 carries a game, and that's including his half-day against VMI and the forced pass-happy day (UVA attempted 47 passes) against Oregon.

When Mike London announced changes on the offensive line, it was primarily to get the running game going.  Pass protection, while not spectacular, isn't a total disaster either; Aaron Donald did make it look worse than it has been, but it was basically the running game that instigated the change.  I'm slightly more than cautiously optimistic about it; Jay Whitmire is undoubtedly one of the top linemen on the team, and you can tell because of how his RT position was never challenged in camp.  No, that's not a knock on the challengers.  He will be a colossal upgrade over Cody Wallace and is also probably better than the still-injured Conner Davis.  RG just got a lot better.

So that should help the run game.  We'll have to see about center; the smart money leans toward Jackson Matteo, whose track to the starting job was derailed by an injury in camp.  He's now over that and should be ready, but the fact that he's an unknown quantity makes me more nervous about that potential change.

Ball State should be a good way to ease the linemen into their new roles.  There's no dominant force on the Cardinal D-line - the closest thing might be DT Nathan Ollie, who's got a few TFL to his name - and running offenses both good and bad have moved the ball against them.  Eastern Michigan, the 118th rushing offense in the country, had 4.6 yards a carry, and North Texas (101st) was over five.  The Cardinals have some decent linebacking from Ben Ingle and Zack Ryan, but ultimately there's no individual in particular to game-plan for.  That's great news for our offense; it means they can focus internally without penalty, and worry about what they want to do rather than what they have to do to avoid the strengths of the defense.

It's still early, so hope springs eternal yet; I might be a hopeless dumbass for this, but let's just go ahead and call a 100-yard day for Kevin Parks.  Five yards a carry on the 20 carries he'll get given the likely injury state of the other backs.  125 yards on the ground is all the Hoos need for a non-VMI season best, and I think they get it.

-- UVA pass offense vs. BSU pass defense

David Watford: 80/135, 59.3%; 604 yards, 3 TDs, 6 INTs; 4.47 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Darius Jennings: 14 rec., 107 yards, 1 TD
Jake McGee: 16 rec., 91 yards, 1 TD

UVA offense:
158.5 yards/game, 4.3 yards/attempt
125th of 125 (national), 14th of 14 (ACC)

BSU defense:
223.6 yards/game, 6.4 yards/attempt
50th of 125 (national), 2nd of 13 (MAC)

It's official now: we have the worst-ass pass offense in the nation.  Last week pretty much cemented that.  Very rarely was the offense ever able to put together good protection, good decision-making, a good throw, and an actual catch all in one play.  The receivers found themselves on notice in practice this week for all the drops.

That part can probably improve.  Darius Jennings and Jake McGee have never been stonehanded players.  Dominique Terrell used to be, but not for a while now, and he actually was not a major culprit (in the passing game, anyway.)  Despite the depth chart and its "or" overload, I don't think there'll be a revolution there.  We'll probably see most of the usual suspects again.

Watford's decision-making is a work in progress, though, and it's going to come along at its own pace rather than there suddenly being some opponent which makes it easier on us.  And a new right tackle (true freshman Eric Smith) could have us keeping an eye on pass protection.  Ball State doesn't have any dynamic pass-rushers, but they like to bring blitzes from different areas; their sack leader, with two, is cornerback Kenneth Lee.  The D-line accounts for only 3 of their 8 sacks, so this is another reason for the coaches to want to lean on the veteran RB in Parks, as well as something else for Watford to have to watch.

There are too many moving parts in a passing game for me to hold the same kind of optimism as with the running game.  And the Cardinal defense is better in this realm.  The D-line won't generate a big pass rush, so that's a plus, but Ball State is good at keeping things in front of them and making a few turnovers happen here and there.  I don't think Watford gets more than 6 yards a pop, tops.

-- BSU run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Horactio Banks: 55 carries, 350 yards, 6.4 ypc, 5 TDs
Jahwan Edwards: 49 carries, 219 yards, 4.5 ypc, 7 TDs

BSU offense:
136.6 yards/game, 4.30 yards/attempt
76th of 125 (national), 4th of 13 (MAC)

UVA defense:
146.5 yards/game, 3.83 yards/attempt
53rd of 125 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

The real testament here to the quality of the UVA defense is that they're comfortably in the top half of the country despite that 350-yard Oregon game.  The rest of the time, which includes two perfectly decent BCS-level opponents, UVA has been crushing running games into fine powder, and their yards-per-carry stat in those three would be good enough for second in the country.

So despite the very nice-looking stats of Ball State's primary ballcarriers, I'd say it's the Cardinals that have to prove themselves here.  Their backs are smallish all the way around; Horactio Banks is sort of normal-small at 5'10", but Jahwan Edwards is stocky as hell at the same height and 225 pounds.  They're a little bit of a poor man's thunder and lightning; Edwards might have a little bit better of a ypc average if he weren't called on a lot in short yardage.  Ball State also uses freshman mini-back Teddy Williamson, but he hasn't been productive yet.

At any rate, there's not a lot to discuss, matchup-wise.  We've gotten to the point where I'm perfectly comfy turning our defense loose and not worrying about the result because it'll take care of itself.  OK, we can talk about that a little bit; Ball State does have a pair of what Gregg Easterbrook used to call Ticonderoga-class offensive guards in Jalen Schlachter and Jordan Hansel.  They should be able to win a few battles here and there.  Still, I don't think either of BSU's primary backs can top even half their season average for yards per carry, nor two-thirds their yards-per-game.

-- BSU pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Keith Wenning: 118/184, 64.1%; 1,650 yards, 9 TDs, 3 INTs; 8.97 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Willie Snead: 35 rec., 611 yards, 4 TDs
Jamill Smith: 28 rec., 397 yards, 1 TD

BSU offense:
335.8 yards/game, 8.7 yards/attempt
25th of 125 (national), 2nd of 13 (MAC)

UVA defense:
152.8 yards/game, 4.7 yards/attempt
4th of 125 (national), 1st of 14 (ACC)

These defensive numbers are so good (that is, low) that I seriously thought for a second I had accidentally called up the offensive stats again.  They're even pretty close.  Again, they're you-have-to-beat-us numbers.

Ball State should be relatively easy to scout because they don't spread the ball around much.  The guys you see on film are the ones you'll see on game day.  That goes for the running and passing game.  The top four receivers account for 81% of the receptions; the next two are hurt, so it's more like 93% considering only receptions by players actually available.

This area of the game, though, is why people think Ball State will win.  Keith Wenning is a senior QB with a load of experience under his belt; he's been a starter since he was a freshman.  He's averaging 330 yards a game.  His stats are also you-have-to-beat-us stats.  Receiver Willie Snead has already hauled in 611 yards, more than two-thirds of ACC receivers (if not more) will have all year.  Ball State also has Jamill Smith, an itsy-bitsy spider at 5'8", 141, and Jordan Williams is their big guy at 6'2".  Solid receiving corps, but if our secondary can cover Devin Street and Tyler Boyd consistently, they should also be able to handle Ball State's gang.

Wenning has thrown for at least 317 yards in every game, but every defense they've faced has been trash.  Every I-A team they've faced ranks in the triple-digits against the pass.  North Texas - and that's the team that beat the Cardinals, by the way - is 120th.  Yes, Ball State's been good at protecting the passer and moving the ball with tremendous efficiency - but they're in a whole new ballgame here.  Wenning is not going to top that 300 mark, nor even 250, I would hazard.

-- Favorability ratings

The offense is in such a state that there is no longer any team in which I can possibly give them a favorable rating.  Maybe VMI.  Maybe.

Run offense: 4
Pass offense: 2.5
Run defense: 8
Pass defense: 7.5

Average: 5.5

-- Outlook

For the first time this year I don't think the average favorability quite does the game justice.  It's cliched but true to brag that Ball State, gaudy though their numbers might be, has not faced a defense like ours.  I make an allowance for their accomplishments, but the baseline favorability ratings right now ought to be, like, 2 for the offense and 9 for the defense.  Ball State actually plays fairly well into our hands; the thing they do best pits them against the teeth of the monster, and the thing they do worst (defend the run) is well-positioned to let us look for a rebound game.  I think it'll be a little tighter than would be comfortable at times, but in the end we should be happy with the result.

-- Prediction summary

Admittedly some of these do not set the bar all that high, but c'mon.  Baby steps.

-- Kevin Parks runs for over 100 yards.

-- The offense as a whole runs for over 125 yards.

-- No new favorite receivers.  The receptions leader among non-RBs will be Jennings, McGee, Smith, or Terrell; nobody with fewer than nine catches.

-- However, one receiver with two catches or fewer will gather in at least four.

-- Ball State's top RBs, Banks and Edwards, reach neither one-half their seasonal ypc nor two-thirds their average ypg.

-- Keith Wenning throws for fewer than 250 yards.

Final score: UVA 24, BSU 13

-- Rest of the ACC

Maryland @ Florida State - 12:00 - If Maryland wins, or even comes close, I promise to stop saying "we'll have to wait and see if they're any good."

North Carolina @ Virginia Tech - 12:30 - Hokies fans are always so torn for this game.  It's like choosing between children.

Boston College vs. Army - 1:00 - The Eagles look to "shut down" (HA HA GET IT BECAUSE OF THE GOVERNMENT?) the Army attack.

NC State @ Wake Forest - 3:30 - Remember how I said the Deacons' O-line was horrible and the NC State D-line was awesome?  That's still true, so this ought to be an interesting game.

Clemson @ Syracuse - 3:30 - I don't expect this to be all that competitive either.

Georgia Tech @ Miami - 3:30 - If GT wins it could really screw up the Coastal race.

Byes: Pittsburgh, Duke


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