Virginia certainly has its most unusual match-up of my time in Charlottesville versus the Red Raiders. By now, you have been well informed about the passing arm of Graham Harrell. You may think you know all you need to know about Michael Crabtree (even though as one Texas Tech beat reporter told me he is “the most dynamic player” he’s seen in Lubbock).
Crabtree and complement Danny Amendola combined for 228 receptions, 3,038 yards, and 26 touchdowns. So to say the secondary, minus Chris Cook , has its work cut out for it is an understatement. Stopping the pass won’t just be knocking down balls and limiting wide receivers to yards after the catch on New Year’s Day. The Cavaliers game plan, even when Crabtree and Harrell aren’t on the field, might even be more clutch than when the dynamic duo is.
Wes’ Ways To Win takes a look at UVa’s keys to winning the Gator Bowl showdown.
Mikell Simpson and UVa need to successfully run the ball to create a better chance to win.
EAT THE CLOCK
Texas Tech play-by play-voice Brian Jensen reiterated to me the other day that the Red Raiders move the ball and they move the ball quick. Bottom line: teams that have defeated Texas Tech this season were able to churn out yards and eat time off the clock.
Colorado, who has had Texas Tech’s number over the years, was able to achieve both in their contest on Oct. 27. The Buffaloes had 217 rushing yards, 12 rushing first downs, and owned a near 9-minute time of possession differential. Oklahoma State achieved the same success later in the year when the Cowboys notched 366 yards rushing and held a 6-minute TOP difference. Time of Possession is sometimes looked upon as an overrated stat but combo that with Oklahoma State going 12 of 20 on third down conversions and you can see that State extended drives and kept the ball away from TT. It was a kryptonite to keep the Raiders’ offense off the field.
Virginia rushed for 120 yards or more in eight games with its combination of running backs and quarterback Jameel Sewell . The Red Raiders, meanwhile, ranked 10th in the Big 12 and 78th nationally against the run. This is, clearly, where Mikell Simpson ‘s status makes the impact. Keep the clock running, eat the ball, and keep Tech off the field. The fewer minutes your defense has to be on the field, the better.
SET THE TONE
In conversations with certain media members who are familiar with Texas Tech, they all mentioned one common theme that Texas Tech likes to come out and do what they do. They also in some way challenge the opposition to be more aggressive then they’d like to be. A sort of mental taunting that can pull the team across the field out of its game plan.
Virginia needs to do what the three teams that have defeated the Raiders in their past five games have done and that’s come out with the first punch. In Texas Tech’s last three losses, they’re opponents roared out: 14-3 (Texas), 14-0 (Colorado), and 10-0 (Missouri).
This Texas Tech offensive unit averages 41.8 points per game and their scoring breakdown by quarters is astronomical – 107-79 in the first, 168-86 in the second, 111-44 in the third, and 115-100 in the fourth. We’ve all watched this Cavalier team this year and we know about the lack of scoring in the third quarter. That well known fact makes it even more vital that Virginia comes out of the gates with a solid effort.
If the Cavaliers can do this, it better aids in their cause of keeping the ball game tight. That, of course, has been a clutch advantage to this ball club as the Hoos have won five games by two points or less. That’s an even more interesting fact when you see that Texas Tech is 0-2 in games this season that are determined by five points or less.
Jon Copper and the defense need to limit yards after the catch.
THE LITTLE (BIG) THINGS
Texas Tech is going to come out firing with an offense unlike anything the Cavaliers have seen. Virginia can help its cause by doing little things to slow down the big things such as:
- Don’t miss sack opportunities. Texas Tech has allowed 15 sacks the entire season. More sacks than hurries would be a very good thing.
- Don’t miss tackle opportunities. One significant stat to watch in this game will be receiving yards vs. Yards after the Catch!
- If a Cavalier can touch a Harrell pass then hold on! 14 interceptions in 644 passing attempts. He throws a pick once every 46 attempts compared to his ratio of a touchdown every 14 pass attempts. It’s even more potent of a ratio when you break it down – 1 of every 10.4 completions goes for a touchdown.
- DO YOUR ASSIGNMENT!!!!! Sometimes the best force to stop an aggressive offense is not the one that tries to run with them but rather a controlled, solid defense. Virginia’s defensive players need to do their individual jobs instead of trying to be a mad man hero all over the field. A prime example will come as Texas Tech does not use a “true” rushing game but considers short dump, screen, and shuttle passes as a runs. The attack is misdirection and quick. UVa has to stay at home and do the right thing.
PREDICTION: Texas Tech 35, UVa 28
Wes McElroy is a sports talkshow host for 910 AM in Richmond. The Final Round with Wes McElroy airs week days from 3 to 7 p.m. Listen live on the Web site.