July 27, 2010

Trifecta Box: Running Backs

If I'm betting a trifecta box on UVA's running back position this fall, here's how I'd structure the bet...  (Apologies in advance for all of the mixed sports metaphors.)


For one glorious quarter in Hattiesburg, Dominique Wallace looked like the explosive, dynamic workhorse back we needed to replace Cedric Peerman.


WIN: Dominique Wallace, redshirt freshman

As a true freshman, Wallace emerged from the rat race on the depth chart to be named the starting RB for the third game of the season in 2009 -- on the road at Southern Miss.  In the first quarter of the game, he rumbled for 45 yards on 11 carries, and looked to be every bit the star running back we needed to serve as the engine of the offense... and then the hit pictured above popped his Lisfranc joint and Wallace was lost for the season.  He's a big, bulldozing power back with enough speed to hit the edge and turn a short gain into a long one, but his skill set was a bad fit in the spread, which is why he started 2009 so far down the depth chart.  It was clear to all observers that despite the presence of veteran runners Mikell Simpson, Torrey Mack, and Rashawn Jackson, Dominique Wallace was the best pure running back on the team.  He played well in his limited action last season, and was hurt early enough in the season that the NCAA granted him a rare medical hardship redshirt.  So Wallace returns for a second shot at his freshman season.

With Mike London and Bill Lazor installing a throwback power-based I-form offense this season, Wallace is the proverbial "perfect fit" as the bellcow ballcarrier.  I expect him to quickly seize control of the starting position in training camp next month, and never let it go.  I expect him to shine this season as the between-the-tackles grinder.  I expect him to become the focal point of the Virginia offense.  He honestly has the potential to be that good.  My one question mark is a pretty big one -- Can he stay healthy?  One fluke Lisfranc injury shouldn't suggest that he's fragile or injury-prone, but the fact is that in his only extended taste of college football action, he was lost for the season with an injury.  If he stays healthy, though... look out.


PLACE: Perry Jones, sophomore

If Dominique Wallace is the overpowering fastball, Perry Jones is the devastating changeup / curveball / splitter.  He came to Virginia as a small (5-8, 185) scatback who was instantly slotted at defensive back by the departed coaching staff.  But Jones eventually battled his way into the [admittedly underwhelming] mix at tailback during his redshirt freshman season.  He carried that momentum into the spring, where he beat out Torrey Mack, Keith Payne, and Raynard Horne to earn the first-team listing on the post-spring depth chart (with Wallace still out, rehabbing his injury).  I've seen Perry Jones in action a few times now, and I can tell you that he is QUICK, he's dangerous in the passing game as an outlet option or dump-off target in the flat, and he's electric slipping through traffic and into the open field.  Best of all, he runs with a lot of toughness depsite his tiny frame.  I love this guy, I absolutely love him.  And I think he'll do extremely well with 8-10 carries per game behind Wallace, along with a few receptions scattered here and there working as the 3rd down back or from the slot.  In other words, I think he's a great complement to Dominique Wallace.  (The term "thunder & lightning backfield" is extremely cheesy, so I won't touch that.  How about steak & sizzlePeanut butter & jellyFox & houndBrad Pitt & Angeline Jolie?  Am I reaching?  David & GoliathT&A?  Too far?)  That's not to say that Jones has gamebreaking speed, because he doesn't.  He's quick in his cuts, but he's not a burner.  He has his limitations.  But as the wicked knuckleball to Wallace's high stinking cheddar, Perry Jones is money.


SHOW: Torrey Mack, sophomore

Mack was a highly-rated four-star recruit coming out of high school, but he has struggled to this point in his UVA career.  He's not big or strong enough to make hay grinding between the tackles, he's not fast or explosive enough to get it done around the edge, his cuts aren't nasty enough to sift through traffic as a cutback runner.  He's just sort of stuck in between those three archetypes, and the result is a fairly milquetoast running back who can't find any real success or scratch out any meaningful role at the collegiate level.  He's still young, so there's still plenty of time for him to develop... but after last season's struggles (73 yards on 23 carries, 3.2 ypc) I'm only on the fence about whether or not the upside is really there.  One thing Mack can do, and can do well, is catch passes.  But Jones has the receiving back role on lockdown, while also bringing a lot more to the table as a cutback runner.  So I guess we're stuck in wait-and-see mode with Torrey Mack, keeping the hopes high but the expectations low.


ALSO RAN:
  • Keith Payne, senior -- He might not be invited back to the team this fall, but if he is, he's a decent power back who could spell Dominque Wallace.
  • Raynard Horne, senior -- Do you remember Marquis Weeks?  A somewhat talented workhorse-type who just toils in obscurity, buried forever on the depth chart by more exciting/dynamic options.  I have a sneaking suspicion that if Horne were ever called upon to carry the load, he would succeed, just like Weeks did once upon a time.
  • Kevin Parks, true freshman -- Here is our dazzling cutback guy; our potential superstar of the future.  I hope he redshirts this season, so he can pack some weight and strength onto his frame, then we can unleash this ultimate weapon upon the world in 2011.
  • Khalek Shepherd, true freshman -- He's smurfy (5-6, 165), and likely bound for the wide receiver position as a slot specialist after his redshirt year... but if he sticks at running back, he's got the most pure speed and wiggle of anyone else on the roster at the position.  Dare we think Dexter McCluster?  Naaah, that's a reach.  Call Shepherd the "Poor Man's McCluster."

ANTE POST:  If Dominique Wallace stays relatively healthy for the duration of his UVA career, he will challenge the Virginia career rushing record of 3,998 yards set by Thomas Jones.  Wallace has the chance to be a rare four-year starter at the position, and he has the talent to deliver those sorts of numbers.  Having a coaching staff that is openly committed to running the football and developing the power ground game as the one true identity of the offense can't hurt, either.

July 26, 2010

Trifecta Box: Quarterbacks

I'm not a degenerate gambler, but I do enjoy horseracing.  I especially love horseracing terminology.  Therefore, for this year's position-by-position look at the football roster and depth chart, I thought it would be fun to use the  the "trifecta box" format.  Some terms and their definitions, courtesy of the Horse Racing Glossary:

Trifecta - A wager picking the first three finishers in exact order. Called a 'Triactor' in Canada and a 'Triple' in some parts of the U.S. ('Tricast' in the UK.)

Win - The term used to describe a 1st place finish.
 
Place - A 2nd place finish, aka 'runner-up.'
 
Show - Third position at the finish.

Also Ran - The other horses in the race not finishing 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in the event.
 
Ante Post - Bets placed in advance predicting the outcome of a future event.  Usually, ante posts are placed on longshot odds or for extremely specific prop bets.  (In other words, "a fearless prediction.")
 
Now you know the format.  If I'm betting a trifecta box on UVA's quarterback position this fall, here's how I'd structure the bet...
 
 
Marc Verica... the Hoos' version of Trent Dilfer.
 
WIN: Mark Verica, senior
 
Verica has struggled at times as the starter (specifically, 16 INTs against 8 TD passes in 2008), but has also played pretty solid ball as a starter, as well (specifically, leading the Hoos to wins over Maryland, ECU, UNC, and Georgia Tech in 2008.)  He found his way into Al Groh's doghouse for 2009, after he threw that back-breaking interception against the Hokies in the 2008 season ender, so he didn't play much last year.  He will potentially enjoy a late career rebirth as a senior under Mike London.  I don't think Verica is running away with this race, but his huge advantage in the experience department makes him tough to beat for the other QBs on the roster -- all freshmen.  Verica throws a nice ball, but he too often forces it into coverage... which leads to those costly interceptions.  If he can clean up that part of his game, he could be an average ACC-level starting quarterback.  (That might read like I'm damning him with faint praise, but "average ACC-level starter" is better than we've had under center at UVA since Marques Hagans was the QB back in 2005... so... yeah...)
 
I like Marc Verica.  I'm pulling for Marc Verica.  I have faith in Marc Verica.  I think he can get the job done this season, provided the o-line keeps him relatively clean and the receivers can get open and catch the ball.  As a game manager, Verica can be highly effective.  But if he's asked to come in and win games with his arm, he'll likely struggle.  In many ways, Marc Verica is to the 2010 Hoos as Trent Dilfer was to the Super Bowl Ravens in the early 2000s.  With low expectations, a simplified, run-first offense, and the return of the tight end and receiving fullback to prominence within the Virginia gameplan, there is an opportunity for Verica to succeed this season.  Will he surpass expectations?  I actually think he might.
 
 
PLACE: Ross Metheny, redshirt freshman
 
I'd feel like a complete bullsh!t artist if I tried to talk in depth about a player I know pretty much nothing about.  So I won't try to scam you here.  I've seen this guy play once, in limited action in the Spring "Game."  He looked pretty good in that setting, with a live arm and the ability to deliver the ball with some zip.  I give Metheny the nod for the backup role in 2010 for two simple reasons: 1) he already redshirted and thus a redshirt wouldn't be burned if he were asked to play, and 2) he already has a year of college-level preparation under his belt.  For those two reasons, I assume Metheny will be Verica's backup in 2010.  In that role, he should merit some time on the field in mop-up duty.  But if Verica struggles, things could get interesting in an hurry... and we might even see some true freshmen leapfrog the depth chart so the coaching staff can get a look at what they have.  If the Hoos end up struggling mightily in terms of wins and losses, we could see a de facto set of auditions at the quarterback position, and I'm not sure that Metheny would be #2 in the pecking order in that scenario.
 
 
SHOW: Michael Strauss, true freshman
 
I give Strauss the nod over the rest of the field simply because he was able to enroll in January and participate in Spring practices.  By most accounts, he has the strongest arm and most polished delivery of all of the QBs on the roster.  He wasn't highly recruited, but he did choose Virginia over an offer from Alabama... and that means Nick Saban thought he was scholarship-worthy, which is a pretty strong endorsement in my opinion.
 
 
ALSO RAN:
  • Miles Gooch, true freshman -- Dual threat run/pass QB with a big (6-4, 220) frame.  Could move to receiver or even linebacker if QB doesn't work out for him early in his career.
  • Mike Rocco, true freshman -- He's sort of the darkhorse of the bunch.  He's got a nice skill set for the QB position, coming from a coaching family.  Could slide to safety if his UVA career doesn't gain traction at the QB position.
  • Jake McGee, true freshman -- One of only two players Mike London was willing to poach from his last recruiting class at Richmond.  McGee is a big dude with a big arm, but is likely to move to tight end during his redshirt season this fall.

ANTE POST:  Marc Verica will start all 12 games as a senior, he will improve his 1:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio to somewhere in the neighborhood of 1:1, and he will leave the program with the title of "best UVA quarterback since Marques Hagans."  (Note: the starting QBs since Biscuit, in the best order I can remember them -- Christian Olsen, Kevin McCabe, Jameel Sewell, Peter Lalich, and Vic Hall.  Yep, I think Verica has the ability to play better than any of those guys.  Bold, I know.)

July 23, 2010

2010 Football Schedule, Part IV -- Lightning Haikooze Round

I end up doing this a lot --- I get started on a grandiose plan, only to have other ideas in the middle of the process which distract me and lead me to sort of putter out on the original task.  Then I get one big, frantic second wind, and I rally to rush through the process and scrape something together just so I can say "FINISHED!"  And so goes the Wahooze look at the 2010 football schedule.  I will now close the loop in lightning round fashion.  I hope you enjoy it.  Or not.  I'm just eager to move along to the next great idea.

To spice things up, I'll do all of the analysis/commentary in haiku form.


@ Georgia Tech -- Oct. 9

This is a totally legal block.


Georgia Tech is good
ACC champs last season
Now Al Groh is there

Hope we score fifty
And embrarrass ol' Al Groh
Prove his D a fraud

Sour grapes aside
Georgia Tech is really good
They will beat us down


Prediction: 34-14, Jackets. (Percentage chance of a Virginia win: 20%)




 
North Carolina -- Oct. 16
 

Marvin Austin got busted at that boats n' ho's party in Miami, and is lost for the season.


CAROLINA SUCKS!
That's a fact -- you know it's true
Screw the Tarhole blue

We own them in Scott
Since 1981, wooooooo!
Could this be their year?

We'll be home 'dogs, true
And their D is real nasty
Butch sucks, we will win


Prediction: 19-16, Hoos. (Percentage chance of a Virginia win: 40%)



Eastern Michigan -- Oct. 23

Cool uniforms.  Too bad EMU is our sacrificial lamb.


Might be a pipe dream...
.500 through the first half
Time for a cupcake

Winless in the MAC
The Eagles are horrendous
Easy win for us

This is a blowout
Mass 3rd quarter exodus
I don't fear a jinx


Prediction: 41-10, Hoos. (Percentage chance of a Virginia win: 95%)



Miami -- Oct. 30

Is the U really back?


"The U! The U!" Boo.
Miami is good again.
Athletic and fast.

Jacory Harris:
The ACC's best QB
He will carve us up

Last year's sad blowout
Won't look much better this year
The U is baaaaaa-aaaaaaaaack


Prediction: 35-17, Canes. (Percentage chance of a Virginia win: 20%)



@ Duke -- Nov. 6

Dook cheerleaders: still busted.


Revenge is a bitch
And we owe these pricks two times
Must... humiliate...

Thad Lewis is gone
The Dook defense was gutted
They won't be as good

A win in Durham
Would make me quite ecstatic
This needs to happen


Prediction: 28-14, Hoos. (Percentage chance of a Virginia win: 55%)



Maryland -- Nov. 13

Gut?  Or a gas tank on a sex machine?

Fridge -- almost fired
The Terps didn't have the cash
YAY. One more season

Crappy lame duck coach
Hoos know well how that one feels
Punt the whole season

A new quarterback
Few good proven playmakers
Hopelessness abound...


Prediction: 27-17, Hoos. (Percentage chance of a Virginia win: 65%)



@ Boston College -- Nov. 20

BC's Montel Harris is a bonafide stud.


BC -- always tough
Always better than you think
Difficult to beat

Shinskie and Harris
Form a dynamic duo
For the Eagle O

Herzlich and Kuechly
The ACC's best 'backers
Make their D scary


Prediction: 24-10, BC. (Percentage chance of a Virginia win: 35%)



@ Virginia Tech -- Nov. 27

Tech needs Tirerod to stay healthy to make another BCS run.


I'd say it's three years...
That's how long our fans will wait
For a win 'gainst Tech

London's clock has ticked
Since the day he was hired
The Hoos MUST beat Tech!

This is not the year
The Hokies are loaded now
Their best team ever?

A rebuilding D
Might hold them back just a bit
They'll lose to Boise

But by November
They will be rolling along
Tech will destroy us


Prediction: 35-14, VT. (Percentage chance of a Virginia win: 15%)


So there you have it.  Maybe I mailed it in a little bit, but wow, writing this many [crappy] haikus is tough!  I guess my pick for the season is 6-6.  If it plays out this way, our two wins over FCS teams will leave us ineligible for a bowl game.  But getting to .500 this season would represent a great feat by Coach London, and would give us all the continued traction we need on the recruiting trail.  And that's what this season really boils down to -- proving that Virginia is once again a team on the rise.

July 20, 2010

Coming soon...


Coming soon on Wahooze:
  • The exciting conclusion to the 2010 football schedule overview!
  • A "trifecta box" position-by-position look at the 2010 football roster!
  • An advance release of the 2010-2011 basketball schedule!  (I got the scoop.)
  • The 2010-2011 UVA sports over/under!
  • Kendall's fantasy football sleepers for 2010!
The F5 key refreshes the page.  I suggest you sit there staring at your screen hitting that button.  You don't want to miss anything!

Tree + House = SUCK

Brought to you by popular request, here are some choice photos of the tree on our house.






Cut down all of your trees!  Screw the earth!  Go BP!

July 19, 2010

BRB.



I've been negligent.  But with a tree hitting our house, a swamp at work, and a fantasy football draft for which to prepare, I haven't had a chance to deliver fresh squeezed Wahooze to my loving readers.  Rest assured, I'll be back at the helm soon... with renewed vigor and furious anger.

K

July 6, 2010

2010 Football Schedule, Part III

VMI went 2-9 in 2009.


Rolling along after the long weekend...

To get caught up, I am predicting the following for the first two games of Virginia's 2010 season: a 24-16 win over Richmond and a 38-13 loss at USC to stand at 1-1 heading into the bye week and then the game against VMI.


VMI -- Sept. 25

The Virginia Military Institute has, at times in its history, had a good football team.  2009 (and presumably, 2010) is not one of those times.  The Keydets will be trying to replace both their starting QB and star RB, and their defense surrendered 403.7 yards per game against such FCS juggernauts as Gardner-Webb, Coastal Carolina, Stony Brook, and Liberty.  VMI lost its game against Old Dominion, in ODU's first season playing football.  The VMI offense committed 35 turnovers... that's three per game, with an experienced veteran passer and running back.  If you're not getting the point, VMI is bad against its fellow FCS competition, and stands to be completely drubbed by any FBS competition it faces.

This is not like the William & Mary game last year.  W&M was at least a very good team by FCS standards.

Agaist Virginia on Sept. 25th, I'm expecting the Keydets won't be able to find any answers.  I think the Hoos will grind the Keydets to a pulp.  We'll run the ball down their throats, our defense will shut them down, and they won't be able to contend with our superior athletes.  My prediction is 48-3, Hoos. (Percentage chance of a Virginia win: 99.9999999999999999999%)





 
Christian Ponder is a legit Heisman Trophy candidate.
 
Florida State -- Oct. 8
 
By FSU standards, they have been down for a few years now.  This is a program and a fanbase that expects to be competing for national championships, and the twilight of Bobby Bowden's career led them into mediocrity.  The revival is fully underway, however, as new head coach Jimbo Fisher has brought more of an SEC-style mindset to the program.  The rebound to the nation's elite will be swift, but this year still figures to be a bit of a transition period for the 'Noles.
 
Sharp-passing senior quarterback Christian Ponder leads the way.  He is Florida State's best QB since Chris Weinke starred in the late 90's, and he will lead nine other returning starters on offense for the 'Noles, including all five offensive linemen and explosive playmakers in halfback Jermaine Thomas and receiver Bert Reed.  Florida State scored 30+ points per game last season, with Ponder missing four games due to injury.  This offense will be the premier offense in the ACC this season.  The Seminole defense, on the other hand, might continue to be a bit spotty.  The front seven could be pretty good, but the secondary must be rebuilt from scratch.  Add it all up, and FSU looks to me like a solid nine-win team with real aspirations for winning the Atlantic division and making an appearance in the ACC championship game.
 
You don't need to tell Virginia fans how much talent Florida State has amassed on its team.  We've seen how dominant the 'Noles can be, and aside from the "stopped chop" in 1995 and the Marques Hagans miracle in 2005, FSU has owned UVA on the gridiron.  In the 2010 game, I think we'll see Ponder carve us to pieces, and our offense struggle to score enough points to match him.  If our secondary can step up and if star players like Ras-I Dowling and Rodney McLeod can generate some INTs, we could hang tough, but that seems unlikely.  This is a perfect opportunity for Mike London to notch his first "breakthrough" type of victory... but I don't see it happening.  Our offense just won't be far enough along in the fourth game of the season.  34-20, Florida State.  (Percentage chance of a Virginia win: 25%)


So... 2-2 through four games.  I think that's a reasonable expectation.  The next two games will likely decide the ultimate success or failure of the season.  @ GT and home against UNC --- win one of those two, and six (or even seven) wins becomes a distinct possibility.  Lose them both, and we're looking at a lowered ceiling of somewhere around five wins.

July 2, 2010

2010 Football Schedule, Part II

USC laid waste to UVA, 52-7, in the 2008 season opener.


On Tuesday, we kicked off our Wahooze-style sneak peek at the 2010 football schedule with a rolling diatribe about why it is important for Virginia to notch a few victories in the "throw-away" 2010 season.  I predicted a 24-16 win over [what should be] an overmatched Richmond team in the season opener.  I'd say Virginia's chances of winning the game over the Spiders is about 75%.

Now it's time to move headlong into the second game of the season -- our trip to Los Angeles.  (Thanks for scheduling this game, Al Groh.)


@ USC -- Sept. 11

As anyone who follows sports can tell you, USC just got nailed with the "death penalty" by the NCAA for committing academic fraud, with football and basketball players receiving payment -- not only from boosters, but possibly from coaches.  They received a two-year postseason ban, a 30 scholarship reduction, and a forfeiture of wins.  Upperclassmen on the Trojan roster have been granted the ability to transfer away from the program with the mandatory one year sit-out voided... which means we could soon see a bit of an exodus from the USC program.

Even with that dark cloud hanging over the team, this year's Trojan team remains loaded with talent.  Their third stringers wouldn’t just be first string anywhere else in the country, but would be first string All-American candidates at most schools.  Matt Barkley returns at quarterback after an up-and-down freshman season.  He's talented, but also prone to mistakes.  The running backs and o-line should be very good, which means the Trojans should have an excellent rushing attack to take the pressure off of Barkley.  I assume they'll come into the game against us looking to pound it out on the ground.  The receiving corps needs to be rebuilt from last season, so if we can slow down their running game, the could conceivably struggle to move the ball.  On defense, the front seven returns more or less intact -- and should be an absolute terror for our running game and Marc Verica to handle.  The USC secondary could be shaky, but I'm not sure our passing game will be explosive or dynamic enough to take proper advantage of that potential weakness.  Lane Kiffin's coaching doesn't scare me, but the talent in his program does.

As with most of our games this season, we'll need to be able to produce yards and points via the running game... and I just don't see it happening on the road against USC.  Our D could keep it close for a while, but I think this is a game that will end up looking pretty lopsided after 60 minutes.  Better than 52-7, but still lopsided.  My prediction is 38-13, USC.  (Percentage chance of a Virginia win: 15%)

After the USC game, we will stand at 1-1 heading into the bye week to prepare for... VMI.