Monday, December 31

The Gator Bowl: Because It's Not Enough To Have Just One Likely Blowout at 1 PM EST on New Year's

The Gator Bowl, hosted in Jacksonville, FL, has recently had a strong Virginia history. Since 2001, every Gator Bowl has had a team from either North Carolina, Virginia, or West Virginia. Hm. After a few floppers, the last three Gator Bowls have been pretty good and increasingly more and more competitive.

Honestly, with this matchup, who knows what we'll get. Virginia's still tough to read and Texas Tech tends to show up if they feel like it.

Texas Tech (by Coach Lawrence)

Like seemingly every Mike Leech team, Texas Tech leads the nation in passing, runs the ball on occasion, and has a mediocre defense. Midway through October, nobody had held them below 35 but the Red Raiders managed to lose a game in which they scored 45 points. Then they got blown out by a strong Missouri team, lost a shocker to Colorado, and were run over by Jamaal Charles and Texas. In a showdown with Oklahoma, TTU took advantage of an injury to Sam Bradford to win a pseudo-shootout.

Texas Tech figured to have a strong season for their QB, as the system favors it and Graham Harrell is probably the best talent that Leech has had yet. What wasn't expected was the rapid ascension of freshman phenom receiver Michael Crabtree. Crabtree destroyed the freshman TD record with 21, and his 155 ypg receiving is tops in the nation by 22. Sure, his drop cost TTU the OK State game and a 7-0 start, but for the most part it's been catch after catch on the way to an historic individual season.

Defensively, Jamar Wall is the standout in an otherwise pedestrian secondary. But the run defense... ouch, they give up 171 ypg. Indeed, Tech is one of a very small number of teams who can be successful despite getting outrushed by 110 ypg... I guess +281 passing makes up for that.

Keys to Victory:
1) Good isn't Good Enough for Graham Harrell. Check out these numbers: 147 QB rating, 69.6% completions, 485 ypg. Those are Harrell's numbers when they lose. With Mike Leech's offense, Harrell needs to be completing 75% of his passes and throwing 4 TDs minimum with at most 1 INT. It's a daunting task, and here's my hint: look for Crabtree.

2) Okay, you're gonna give up yards on the ground. You can't turn bad into good. But you can minimize its damage with more aggressive schemes. When the Red Raiders lose, they give up 269 rushing yards a game. In victory, that's down to 121. We're not asking the world of this defense, but just keep 7 or 8 committed to stopping the run and see if Jameel Sewell can outduel Graham Harrell.

3) Stay committed to the (above) gameplan. Last season they were pretty much getting run out of the Insight Bowl by Minnesota before Harrell caught fire... all they did was complete the biggest comeback in division 1 history. This offense is deadly and no QB save for Colt Brennan can go head to head with Harrell and win. Stop (or slow down) the run, throw the ball 60 times. That should do it.

Virginia (by Coach Pendley)

So the Cavaliers went 9-3 this season, but how? Well, they bookended a 9-1 season with big losses to Virginia Tech (understandable) and Wyoming (wtf n00b?). In between, they stole wins against UNC, Georgia Tech, MSTU, UConn, Maryland, and Wake Forest. How?
- Getting outgained 399-350 against UNC but hitting 5 FGs, two from beyond 45 yards. Includes what should’ve been a drive-stalling sack, but UNC committing a personal foul to prolong UVA’s drive, which resulted in a 48-yard FG.
- INT return for a TD against Georgia Tech provides the winning score
- K Chris Gould nailed a 34-yard FG as time expired to beat MTSU
- UConn completely squandering their +1 turnover margin and fumbling at the UVA 4 with time winding down in the 2nd quarter
- Maryland being …well, Maryland, and letting Chris Turner get sacked for a safety (final score: 18-17 UVA)
- Sam Swank missing a game-winning FG to preserve the win over Wake Forest

So yeah, when people say that UVA is the luckiest team in the country, they’re not kidding around. The offense? Anemic – Cedric Peerman is the team’s leading rusher and he hasn’t even played since the MTSU game. None of their receivers averages over 40 yards a game. They have more punts per game than anyone in the ACC but Virginia Tech and Duke. Even the nausea-inducing Maryland offense scored more than these guys did on the year.

What about on D? Well, they do have a pretty good run defense thanks to Chris Long (19 TFL). However, since they’re playing Texas Tech, nobody really cares about that. How do they defend the pass? They allowed about 210 yards per game through the air and a 15/11 ratio, which sounds great, but:
- they missed the two best passing teams in the ACC, BC and Clemson
- the two “best” passing offenses the Cavs did play – UNC and NC State – passed for 339 and 347 yards, respectively
So …yeah. Now they get to face a TTU offense that has passed for under 400 yards just once on the year – with a 48/15 ratio.

Keys to Victory:
1: Ball possession. I don’t really know – nor do I really care – how they hold onto the ball, but they’ll need to. 35 minutes is a minimum; predictably, TTU doesn’t hold onto the ball that long, but they’re going to get points, so there’s not a whole lot else to do other than try and shorten the game. The good news is that TTU's run D is less than stellar, so ...maybe Mikell Simpson can run 4 yards and fall down. 35 times.

2: No empty possessions. Chris Gould is going to have to kill it – we’re talking no missed FGs here; get into the end zone. Don’t even bother punting – TTU will likely drive the field anyway.

3: Reach out and pull in a horseshoe. Seriously, they’re going to have to get a bit lucky – maybe Michael Crabtree misses a key third down catch, maybe Graham Harrell has his worst game yet this season. It doesn’t matter how they get lucky, but they will have to get lucky.