Game Preview: Temple at Virginia
Nov 04, 2005Probably the worst thing the Virginia Cavaliers could do this week is look at Temple's national rankings among Division 1-A teams. They are a breeding ground for overconfidence. The Owls ranked in the bottom 10 (of 117 teams) in rushing offense, scoring offense, pass efficiency defense, total defense, scoring defense, net punting, punt returns and passing efficiency. With a lame-duck coach in Bobby Wallace, the Temple players have not quit but they have not been clamoring to “win one for the gipper” either.
It's kind to call the Owls a bad football team. But the Virginia coaches need only remind their players that in Wallace's first season he directed the Owls to one of the greatest upsets in college football history when 0-6 Temple defeated #10 Virginia Tech, 28-24, in Blacksburg. That probably won't happen this week but the Virginia players should be reminded that it can.
Temple Offense vs. Virginia Defense
The Owls run a multiple set scheme with most of their offense originating from the shotgun. Their base offense, however, is a one-back spread formation with four wide receivers, deploying triplets to one side and a single wideout on the other or a double slot formation. The tight end is usually used as a blocking back. The TEs have just six of Temple's 118 receptions.
Temple lacks explosive playmakers on offense and with the loss of Umar Ferguson, the team's leading rusher (73 ypg) and fourth-leading receiver, to a high ankle sprain, the arsenal is further depleted. Senior Michael Billops (43 carries, 164 yards) will start in place of Ferguson.
That loss limits the offensive options for a team already struggling with a poor running game. After four consecutive games of netting over 110 yards rushing, the Owls have averaged just 57 yards rushing over the last three games, including a 12-yard output against Clemson.
To further complicate matters, there is a bit of a quarterback controversy brewing as starter Mike McGann has struggled with inconsistency. McGann is completing just 46% of his passes and has thrown 12 interceptions and two touchdowns. Last week freshman Joe DeSanzo started the first series against Miami (OH) and will likely get the start again this week against the Cavaliers.
Though Temple runs a spread offense with four-wide, its offense is predicated on running the football. The Owls have run 55% of the time this season and their inability to produce with the running game of late is a key reason they have averaged just eight points in their last three contests.
I doubt Virginia will deviate significantly from its base 3-4, Cover-2 defensive set but look for the defense to morph into the four-man front frequently. With Jermaine Dias expected to return to the lineup, Virginia may not want to run the 4-down too often in order to get Dias back into game mode and that means running the base defense and nickel.
The loss of Ferguson may require the Owls to air it out more than their tendencies would indicate. Billops is no Ferguson and his loss may force the Owls to make a decision to simply attack with the pass. Temple has some playmakers at wideout, including talented Purdue transfer Bruce Gordon. In the passing game, Temple relies on a move-the-chains, short-passing game consisting of quick-hitting slants, swings and screens. Again, the loss of Ferguson will likely force Temple to limit the use of its short game to the backs and rely more on the crossing and slant quick passes and may force them to throw the outs and cut routes that have led to turnovers.
Virginia may want to limit the blitzing early to see how Temple will attack. Blitzes are typically useless against a quick-hitting route from the shotgun. That's why I look for the Cavaliers to sit back and wait for Temple's scheme to emerge. If and when UVa builds a secure lead, that's when I see the see the Cavaliers coming after the Temple quarterbacks.
If this is the Owl game plan, it will also allow the Cavs to focus less on defending the back and concentrate more on defending the receivers. This is especially important for Dias and Mark Miller, who can concentrate on their jams and re-routes of the receivers at the line of scrimmage without the added burden of defending a flaring back.
The loss of Ferguson had made projecting the Temple mode of attack complicated. But the options are limited and with the top running one unavailable, there appears to be little left for the Owls other than throwing the ball.
Virginia Offense vs. Temple Defense
The Owls run a 4-2-5 or what coach Al Groh refers to as a 4-2-2-3. Simply stated, the Temple defense is a dedicated 8-9 front team focused on limiting opponents' ability to run the ball. The susceptibility of the defense is that it is geared toward stopping the run, with nine guys usually in the box, allowing for the opportunity to throw the ball downfield.
Statistics bear this out.
In the first four games of the season, the Owls gave up 228 yards passing per game and opposing quarterbacks completed 63% of their passes. Over the last five contests, opponents have completed 115 of 161 passes (71%) and averaged 327 yards per game. Miami's Kyle Wright completed 9 of 10 attempts for 196 yards and Bowling Green's Omar Jacobs completed 26 of his 30 passes for 326 yards.
Temple's corners do not close well on the ball and are undersized, averaging 5-10, 190, which will create matchup problems with Virginia's Deyon Williams (6-3, 185) and Fontel Mines (6-4, 217). Look for Ron Prince to challenge the corners on deeper routes early and the safeties with the deep middle zones.
The defensive front six, like the secondary, is undersized and needs to force big plays and turnovers to have success. At times they've been successful as defensive ends Christian Dunbar and Mike Mendenhall are two of the top players in the country at forcing fumbles, credited with five and three, respectively. The line relies on its quickness to get into the backfield. The Owls will rotate the defensive ends on occasion but generally Dunbar will line up on the strong side (tight end side) and the rush end, Mendenhall will line up on the weak side to isolate him with the tackle. Both are very quick off the ball and have good sideline to sideline coverage abilities.
Temple has faced several exceptional passing quarterbacks but has yet to face anyone with the running and passing ability of Marques Hagans. The key question for the Owls is how do they attempt to contain Hagans? There are three primary options. First, they can try and contain with the ends but that takes their only playmakers on defense out of their typical playmaking roles. That move is the least likely because Temple can't afford to minimize the effectiveness of its best two defensive performers. The second is to move safeties Bobby Fulmore and Justin Johnson to the edge, just outside of the defensive ends, where they can still offer run support, but offer defense for Hagans as well. In my opinion, the Owls will move Fulmore up to the right side of the offense, Hagans' normal rolling side, to serve as both a contain man and spy.
The Cavaliers will likely be without the services of tight end Jonathan Stupar and running back Michael Johnson, but that shouldn't be a huge issue. Virginia has had success all season attacking the middle zones and up the seam and will find that area again an inviting target against the Owls with Tom Santi and John Phillips. The Temple safeties are focused on run stopping and do not have the size or recovery speed to break off their run-support responsibilities to cover Virginia's tall, speedy tight ends and receivers effectively.
So what do the 'Hoos do?
This game affords the Virginia coaching staff an opportunity to do some unique things with the offense. My guess is Virginia will attack with a fairly balanced offense with a slight edge to the passing game, especially the vertical passing attack, try and get an early 3-4 touchdown lead and settle back and run the football for most of the second half.
The issues with pass coverage are obvious and that will likely be where the Cavaliers will attack early on. The natural tendency of the Temple defense to try and shut down the run will logically open up the vertical passing attack. That threat may force the Owls to use their safeties more frequently to assist with deep coverage. If that happens, look for the Cavaliers to attack the middle of the field with the tight ends and deeper crossing routes.
If the Owls pull the safeties back, that may also open up the inside running game somewhat. Even though the pass is the way to move the ball on the Owls, I believe Virginia will want to try and run the ball and that's not a bad thing. The offensive line needs some confidence, plus if the 'Hoos run the stretch run play about 40 times, maybe Georgia Tech will think that's all they'll do next week. The only drawback to that plan is that if they have a successful rushing day, the players and coaches must remember that it was against Temple.
Who has The Edge?
Quarterbacks - Virginia
Running Backs - Virginia
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends - Virginia
Offensive Line - Virginia
Defensive Line - Virginia
Linebackers - Virginia
Secondary - Virginia
Special Teams - Virginia
Coaching - Virginia
Absolutes and DesirablesAbsolutes are things UVa must do in the game. Desirables are things we'd like to see from the Cavaliers.
1) Stop the Temple run game - The Owls can't win when they run the ball effectively, but why give them the chance? The Cavs should force Temple to beat them with the passing game. With the short passing game limited by the loss of Ferguson and a freshman quarterback getting significant playing time, the Owls will rely more on their offensive line to open holes for the backs and try and move the ball on the ground. Virginia needs to aggressively attack the offensive front with stunts and run blitzes and tease the Owls to pass by moving the safeties within eight yards of the line of scrimmage to offer close run support. Limiting the running game will force the mistake-prone Temple quarterbacks into long third-down conversion attempts and will free the Virginia pass rush to attack and open the door for the secondary to make some plays.
2)Neutralize Dunbar & Mendenhall - As noted, both Temple defensive ends are excellent at forcing fumbles but they are the only two real playmakers for the Owls. Both are in the top 40 in the nation in forcing fumbles, the top 35 in tackles for loss and the top 65 in sacks. The key for Brad Butler and D'Brickashaw Ferguson is to limit their penetration in the running game and push them outside and not allow them to pinch the pocket. This should open both running and passing lanes for Hagans.
3) Pressure Temple QBs into mistakes - With three touchdowns and 12 interceptions, the Temple quarterbacks can be forced into mistakes. Virginia must mix its blitzes with the linebackers, corners and safeties within its base Cover-2. That will open up some passing lanes in the middle but the idea is to make the Temple signal callers force plays into the heart of the Virginia zone.
1) Play assignment football - The Owls come into Charlottesville with nothing to lose, so don't be surprised if Bobby Wallace pulls out all of the stops. Fake field goal? Sure. Halfback/receiver option pass? Why not? There's really nothing that the Owls could pull that should surprise the Cavaliers and the way to manage that is to play solid fundamentally and manage assignments within the confines of the defense called.
2) Dominate field position - Temple's special teams aren't any better than its offense and defense. The 'Hoos must have a solid effort from the punting game and force the Temple offense to do something it has been unable to do all season long - drive the football down the field and score.
3) If you must run, be physical - I have complained for weeks about the seeming lack of physicality of the Virginia offensive line. This week I'd like to see some pounding. It is long overdue that the Cavalier linemen assert themselves, blow a team off the ball and dominate an opposing defensive front. This also means it's time for UVa's coaches to attack the inside and use some two-tight end and two-back sets sending the fullback (Kevin Bradley or Jason Snelling) with the carry as well as in the hole to do some damage.
Greg: Too much talent and too much speed make this a cakewalk through Little Debbie land. The 'Hoos dominate early and get ready for Georgia Tech.
Virginia 34, Temple 9
John: How bad is Temple? The Owls have lost by at least 25 points in eight of nine games. They've lost by 47, 63 and 65 points. They rank 101st or worse in 13 of 14 NCAA team statistics. They're 1970s Northwestern bad. They're the worst team Virginia has played since Buffalo in 1999. Scratch that: Buffalo had a decent offense. Maybe Randolph-Macon in 1890. UVa won that game, 136-0.
No, the Cavaliers won't win by 100 tomorrow, but they should win easily. The final margin really matters less than how the 'Hoos perform. Can they dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball? Can they combine a vertical passing attack with a power running game? Can they put together two impressive halves of football? They haven't done any of those things all season, not even against the likes of Western Michigan, Syracuse and Duke. But if they can't clobber Temple, something's seriously wrong.
If the Cavs come out flat, struggle to put away the Owls and produce a mundane victory - or, unfathomably, lose the game - that will probably set the stage for a long month, considering Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Miami lie ahead. On the other hand, if they crush Temple, show intensity and build confidence, well, it still may be a long month. But at least we'll have reasons for optimism.
Virginia 41, Temple 7
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