Rob from The Good Ol' Blog, a Virginia Cavaliers blog, graciously emailed me before the holidays and inquired if I'd like to trade questions with him regarding our respective teams. I received his answers to my questions last night. A big thanks to Rob and all of the other folks at The Good Ol' Blog.
Chris Long has been absolutely dominant for the Cavaliers this year, is there a key to containing Long, or at the very least slowing him down?
Long became the ACC Defensive Player of the Year precisely because there's no real way to slow him down, aside from holding him and hoping that officials don't notice (a not-so-surprisingly effective strategy with our shoddy conference refs). If you try and line up your best blocker against him, he'll beat him. And then next time he'll line up somewhere else. If you try and double him, he'll still get pressure in the backfield while our other stud rushers (like Jeffrey Fitzgerald) will finish the job. If you do hold Long up on the line of scrimmage, he'll often bust the play up by swatting down the pass. And he's an amazing run stopper too, moving quickly down the line to wrap up backs regardless of the distance.
The best advice (aside from holding) is to just pass the ball as quickly as possible, and not in his direction to avoid the swat down. He's one of those special defensive players where avoiding him at all costs is the best strategy.
Virginia lost Cedric Peerman early in the year due to an injury, how greatly did this injury affect Virginia and considering Texas Tech's run defense, who should we look out for running the ball?
It was a blow to lose the ACC's leading running back midway through the season, but Al Groh's "next man up" philosophy brought little used Mikell Simpson to the forefront. The speedy back became a star in a hurry, posting a multiple-touchdown and multiple-hundred yard game at Maryland. He's got great burst and vision, so look for him to handle most of the rushing duties. And he's also an exceptional receiver out of the backfield. For a change of pace, Groh should bring in bruiser Keith Payne, who is tough to bring down at times. But expect to see a heavy dose of Simpson all day.
What's Virginia opponent has most resembled what Texas Tech will roll out on January 1st and how did the Cavaliers cope with this type of offense?
Given that the Hoos' defensive weakness is the secondary, it's surprising that most teams haven't tried the Texas Tech gunslinging approach against UVa. The teams that did -- Wyoming, NC State and Virginia Tech -- all won. The Hoos weren't able to cope against pass-first offenses this year, so I'm anxious to see what a month of planning will bring. Given that Groh was able to game plan to shut down Pitt's Larry Fitzgerald in that Charlotte Bowl (whatever the name was that year), I think the coach is capable of coming up with a scheme to stop the best of the best wide receivers if he's given time to plan. However, he's got quite a task ahead of him right now given the youth and injuries in his secondary and the sheer volume of quality receivers the defense will face.
My guess: the Hoos will go after Harrell with a bunch of confusing blitzes and schemes. If the Hoos can use speed to harass him enough to disrupt the passing game, they win. If the can't, it'll be a long day for the defense.
Linebackers Jon Copper and Clint Sintim have had outstanding seasons for Virginia, what can we expect from these two and do you think that the Texas Tech spread offense will affect how these guys play.
I don't think either excels at coverage, but they'll have to overachieve in the bowl game. More importantly, I think both need to be deployed in blitzes as I discussed in my last answer. They'll have the biggest impact if they're reaching the quarterback in a hurry, rather than if they're chasing receivers all over the field.
Jameel Sewell has been statistically average, at least in terms of throwing the ball, however Sewell does lead the team in rushing attempts. Texas Tech has had problems stopping the mobile quarterback, do you see Sewell's mobility as a distinct advantage for Virginia?
Definitely. I think Jameel is above average in designed runs, though his decision making needs to improve on options a little. I expect Groh to take advantage of Sewell's ability with some designed roll-outs, quarterback draws, and (hopefully improved) options plays. However, he's stellar when it comes to the broken down plays -- his instinctive scrambling is difficult to stop. Virginia most successful offensive play might be the third-and-long-Sewell-scampers-for-a-dozen-yards-while-bouncing-off-defenders play. So, in the end, I see this as an important way to keep Texas Tech's defense off balance: it's tough to key on Simpson or the tight ends if Jameel is a threat to take off.
Predict who will be Virginia's offensive and defensive most valuable players of the game.
On offense, I'll give the nod to Simpson because the Hoos need to establish a dominant running game for their scoring to keep up with Texas Tech. Second place to Tom Santi -- if the tight ends gets it going, the Hoos are very hard to stop offensively. Just ask Miami, which is still having nightmares about John Phillips.
On defense: Chris Long. I think he has to have a big game to keep that Red Raider offense off the field. And since that's the easy answer, I'll give honorable mention to Ras-I Dowling -- the very talented freshman cornerback. I think he's going to draw Crabtree, so if Dowling plays well, he deserves a freakin' trophy.
Finally, predict the final score and the winner.
Honestly, I'm still not sure. I've gone back and forth, and will likely stick to my tradition of picking a winner right before kickoff. So, look for that blog post on game day!