October 26, 2020

Independent analysis and commentary on UVA athletics

Gameday Guide – Wake Forest

Yeah. So. Things kind of took a turn last week, didn’t they?

I can’t say I was expecting the Hoos to be in this spot during the 2020 season, much less so soon into it.

But here we are.

Virginia (1-2, 1-2) hits the road after dropping a disappointing game to NC State in Scott Stadium. Listless at the start, the Hoos tried to rally after falling behind 24 to 0. But in a game full of Wahoo mistakes, UVA could not get over the hump when the opportunity presented itself.

Now, Wake Forest (1-2, 0-2) will be waiting at Truist Field in Winston Salem. Their goal will be to win the game while adding to UVA’s misery.

UVA is in must win territory. It’s not an enviable spot to be considering the question marks surrounding the team. The most notable question is the status of QB Brennan Armstrong.

Kickoff is scheduled for 4:00 PM.

Game Uniforms

The Hoos will make a season uniform debut for their second road trip of the season. When UVA takes the field against the Deacs, they’ll be doing so in all white.

This combo has grown on me. I don’t have anything negative to say about the icy whites.

Series History

Saturday’s game will be the 50th all time meeting between the programs. The Hoos hold a sizable advantage at 34 to 15.

Wake’s three-game winning streak is tied for their longest in the series. The last time the Deacs won three in a row over UVA were the games in 1959, 1960, and 1961.

Recently, the series has featured close games. Wake won the last matchup in 2016 by a score of 27 to 20. UVA’s last win, during the 2007 season, came by a score of 17 to 16.

That 2007 game was featured this week by the @VirginiaSports Twitter account.

Media Coverage

Hey, another ACC Network game for the Hoos. That will make it four for four on the season.

At some point, they should declare the ACC Network the official network of Virginia athletics.

Wes Durham will provide play by play again. He’ll be joined in the booth by former Louisville center Eric Wood on color. Dr. Jerry Punch will handle reports from the sidelines.

As usual, Dave Koehn and Tony Covington have the radio call for the Virginia Sports Radio Network. You can find their affiliates list at the link.

Finally, satellite radio coverage can be found at these channels: Sirius – 137, XM – 380, SiriusXM Internet Streaming – 970.

What Worries Me About Wake Forest

Boogie Basham

The 6-5 defensive end out of Roanoke will be the best player on the field tomorrow. Basham will almost certainly be a first round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. A physical force and the leader of Wake’s defense, UVA will have to account for Basham on every play tomorrow.

Basham was First Team All-ACC in 2019. He was also named Preseason First Team All-ACC prior to the 2020 season. Basham has recorded a tackle for loss in twenty one consecutive games. That’s the longest active streak in the country. Basham has made 11 total tackles and 3 sacks heading into the UVA game.

Turnover Margin

The Deacs are tied for sixth in FBS through three games with a +5 turnover margin. They’ve turned over their opponents six times (4 INT, 2 fumble recoveries) while only giving the ball away once (lost fumble).

The Hoos, on the other hand, are tied for 52nd place through three games with a -1 turnover margin. UVA did a great job turning Duke over seven times (5 INT, 2 fumble recoveries) in the season opener. But against Clemson and NC State, the Hoos added only one forced turnover (INT vs NC State) to their tally.

UVA has been far too generous with giving the ball away. They’ve thrown seven interceptions (6 Armstrong, 1 Stone) and fumbled the ball away twice (Tavares Kelly 1 vs Duke, Shane Simpson 1 vs NC State). Both Armstrong and Stone could have additional interceptions to their names as well.

UVA cannot continue to give the ball away more than it takes the ball away and expect to win games. Wake will be a difficult opponent to begin to turn that stat around.

What Worries Me For UVA

Special Teams

On average, UVA’s special teams under Special Teams Coordinator Ricky Brumfield have been a net plus. Between Joe Reed kickoff returns and clutch Brian Delaney field goals, they’ve provided plenty of highlights for Wahoo fans recently.

But in 2020, UVA’s special teams are a major problem.

It turns out that the opening kickoff to the 2020 season was a bad omen. Tavares Kelly lost the ball in a scrum against Duke. Besides a Nash Griffin jump pass to Nick Jackson that went for 26 yards on a fake punt against NC State and Brian Delaney’s continued consistency kicking field goals (2 for 2 on the season, also 10 for 10 on extra points), everything else has left UVA fans in a sour mood.

The wheels really fell off last week against the Wolfpack. The Hoos had to burn two first half timeouts because they only had ten players on the field to punt the ball. The punt team gave up a blocked punt on a play where NC State was actually setting up a punt return. Brian Delaney sent a kickoff out of bounds after the Hoos were beginning to establish a bit of momentum. And Billy Kemp made an ill advised kick return after fielding the ball deep in the end zone. That decision cost the Hoos several yards of field position. There may have been other blunders but those are what stick out in my mind.

Every program emphasizes special teams as an equal phase of the game along with offense and defense. UVA needs to see better results ASAP from this unit. It cannot continue to cost the Hoos points, possessions, and field position.

Unsettled QB Position

Brennan Armstrong is in the concussion protocol after a cheap shot from NC State safety Tanner Ingle.

Armstrong has had some moments this year, but overall he hasn’t been great throwing the ball in his debut campaign as UVA’s starter (55.6% completion percentage, negative TD to INT ratio, 48.9 Total QBR). Armstrong’s completion percentage is ranked 62nd in FBS. His Total QBR is ranked 57th.

Lindell Stone did an admirable job in relief of Armstrong against State. Having only thrown 12 career passes prior to replacing Armstrong, he threw 54 passes in just over two quarters of action. Despite that level of inexperience as a redshirt junior, Stone moved the ball against NC State. There were certainly some warts there, but Stone appeared more decisive and accurate with his ball placement on the day in comparison to Armstrong.

If Stone is forced to start against Wake, the big concern is that the Deacs will be prepared and have a game plan in place to take away what Stone does well. It will be up to the UVA offensive staff to have counters already in place.

Why I Should Worry Less

The Hoos have a few competitive intangibles working in their favor. Wake hasn’t played since smashing FCS Campbell on October 2. And the game against Campbell on October 2 was their first since losing to NC State on September 19. Quite simply, the Deacs may be rested, but they also have the potential to be rusty out the gate. For a team that’s had trouble starting games this year, that may be a nice respite for the Hoos.

Ordinarily, Wake would rely on their home crowd to get their competitive juices flowing and to carry them until they shake off that rust. But COVID restrictions in North Carolina will limit attendance to no more than 2,000 fans. Wake’s going to need to generate their energy organically.

A more concrete reason, however, is that Wake’s defense isn’t that impressive beyond Basham. Ranked 64th in total defense in FBS, only Syracuse and Virginia Tech have been more generous to offenses. Sure, Wake has had to play Clemson’s juggernaut offense already, but they also got to feast on FCS Campbell. Do not overlook that NC State scored 45 points with their backup QB Bailey Hockman (he’s not very good).

Wake’s run defense is ranked 58th in FBS. Note that there are only 76 teams currently playing in FBS. The Deacs surrender 4.32 yards per carry and 191.7 yards per game on the ground. Only Florida State, Syracuse, and Virginia Tech have worse run defenses in the ACC. They gave up 270 yards on the ground to NC State. And Clemson rushed for 185 yards. Evan Campbell topped 100 yards with 120 yards rushing.

Wake’s pass defense is ranked 53rd in FBS, one spot behind the Hoos. The Deacs are allowing 270.3 yards passing per game on the season. Only NC State is more generous to passing offenses. Campbell threw for 242 yards against Wake, NC State threw for 193 yards (191 from Hockman, 2 from RB Ricky Person Jr.), and Clemson shredded Wake for 376 yards passing.

Wake’s defense is porous enough that Dr. Bob should be able to craft a plan of attack that protects the QB while exploiting Wake through the air and on the ground.

Prediction

According to Sportsline.com, UVA opened as a 2 point favorite on the road. The line currently has UVA as a 1.5 favorite. That’s pretty surprising to me. I thought for sure that the Hoos would be the underdog here, especially with the starting QB currently unknown.

I do think you have to assume that Lindell Stone is starting until you see otherwise.

ESPN’s Football Power Index says that Wake has a 66.5% chance of winning the game.

I think this game comes down to a few factors.

How does UVA handle Wake’s discipline, balanced offense? Can the Hoos get off the field on third downs? And can they bring back some Havoc which has been noticeably absent the last two weeks. Sacks and turnovers would be a big boost for the Hoos’ morale and chances of winning this game.

Can the UVA offense exploit Wake’s defense? I don’t care if it’s by land or air. Just get it done.

And will UVA’s special teams put the NC State performance behind them and at least be a net neutral against Wake?

It’s all pretty simple stuff.

This is a must win game for UVA. Their backs are against the wall. To win it, they’re going to need four quarters of the second half effort in the season opener versus Duke and the good parts of the Clemson game. I’m just not sure I’ve seen enough consistency from the team this year to count on that for an entire game yet.

I need to see it to believe it.

Wake Forest wins 28 to 17.

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