Since again last week the real world beckoned, I am now delivering my normally scheduled Friday football preview for the 2012 NC State season. This week is a preview of Virginia as we look forward to an early November competition in Carter-Finley Stadium. Please take a moment to check out the rest of the competition if you haven’t already.
Virginia is the less obnoxious, more northern version of Carolina. For that reason alone, we should want to beat them silly. Last season they finished 8-5, getting smashed by Auburn in the Chik-Fil-A Bowl. Still, their season was reminiscent of the “last half of the season” improvements that we’ve seen under O’Brien. In late October, after losing to a 3-3 NC State, UVa was looking at a 4-3 overall record with loses against NC State, UNC, and Southern Miss. Second year coach Mike London went on a four game winning streak, beating Miami, Maryland, and FSU on the road and Duke at home.
UVa isn’t a bad program and they proved they were moving upward last season. With a couple pro-level running backs and a quarterback settling into his position, can they dominate in 2012? More importantly, can NC State take advantage of their immaturity to win in early November?
The last couple seasons saw several changes that were factors of Mike London rebuilding the Wahoos. He moved from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3, tested out a failed two-quarterback system (when people are going to learn their lesson with multi-QB systems is a mystery to me), and a transition from a spread offense to a “ground and pound” approach. The result was a Cavalier team that started out mediocre before finishing with a winning ACC record (5-3) and getting to a highly visible bowl game against a big-name opponent (Auburn who had just won the national championship the year before). The biggest difference between last year and this year, in terms of program rebuilding, is that everyone expected mediocrity out of London in 2011. After last season’s finish, fans’ expectations are understandably high.
KEYS TO SUCCESS IN 2012
This year, UVa needs two things to start performing if they want to truly excel: their quarterback, Michael Rocco, needs to start throwing more accurately and continue to mature as a performer. Last season, he threw just under 7 yards per completion at a 57.6% completion rate. That’s not terrible in-and-of itself, but when you add that he threw 16 interceptions, you can begin to see the problem (Clarification: As a commenter stated, these are actually the composite statistics and Rocco only threw 12 interceptions… better, but still a performance that needs to be improved for 2012-2013). The subject of interceptions leads us to the second thing that must improve and that is UVa’s secondary. Last season, their secondary left much of center-field open, which allowed pass-heavy teams to beat up on their defense. Given how well UVa adjusted mid-season last year, NC State fans can’t count on this still being a flaw by the time we meet them in November.
2011 NOTES TO TAKE NOTICE OF
UVa’s ability to score relies on their running game. Last season, UVa saw 2107 total rushing yards (compared to NC State’s 1363) and scored a total of 18 touchdowns (compared to NC State’s 10). In many ways, UVa appears to be similar to a Miami-type program without the accurate quarterback. The Wahoos’ two top rushers are Perry Jones and Kevin Parks who rushed for 915 and 709 yards, respectively, last season. With these two back in action for 2012, our linebacker situation may seem more and more dire.
Defensively, UVa switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 system. The result was a defense that was able to frequently get behind the offensive line but lacked fundamental tackling skills to finish the play. As those who have been following UVa football have noted, the defensive front seems to have a little more “pep” in their performance this season. NC State’s frontline will need to start producing in true O’Brien fashion if they are going to protect Glennon.
While NC State is trying to find replacements to fill holes at linebacker, Virginia is locked-and-loaded to take advantage of the ground game. This may be the position match-up that defines this contest. Rocco is a talented quarterback and if he can make smarter passes, Coach London may use Rocco to open up the run. Either way, this game is going to be won or lost on the ground. NC State needs to be ready for a slug-fest and looking out for any possible remnants of the 2011 secondary that less pass-first teams have their way.