Virginia @ N. C. State: Better to be Lucky than Good

Rob Kinnan-US PRESSWIRE

B. U. hears a Hoo

Mike London's 2011 Virginia Cavaliers finished the regular season 8-4 and went Peach Bowling in what was a surprisingly good debut for the former TOB assistant. This year's Wahoos are pretty much a mirror image of last year's squad save for two extremely important categories: turnovers and luck. Last year's team was merely bad in the turnover margin department, whereas the 2012 version is dead motherscratchin' last. This year's Wahoos are oh-fer in 3 games decided by a touchdown or less during their 6-game losing streak; last year's squad was 5-1 in such contests for the season.

After going turnoverless in its first game, a 43-19 romp over FCS Richmond, Virginia has gifted the sphere 20 times in its last 7 games. Meanwhile, the Cavs have been the beneficiaries of just 4 turnovers all year. Though Mike Rocco's meteoric interception rate is largely to blame, fumble luck has played a role as well; the Cavs have lost 8 of their 12 fumbles. Last year they were -.54 per game in turnover margin; this year they are an FBS worst -2 per game. That generosity has led to a cliff dive for Virginia's offensive efficiency, which has dropped from a pedestrian 51st in OFEI last year to a positively plodding 96th in 2012.

In terms of per play numbers and 3rd down conversions, these Cavs are who they were last year. The Wahoos get 5.51 yards per play compared to 5.53 a year ago. They convert 39.3% of third downs compared to 40.9 last year. A small drop off, sure, but not enough to explain dropping a couple points per game in scoring offense.

It's those damn turnovers, and all those turnovers have led to the defense giving up about a touchdown more per game. Advanced metrics like their D well enough. They haven't fallen off on D so much as that unit has been compromised by the constant hole the offense and special teams put it in. In addition to the turnover issues, Virginia gets killed by hidden yardage. Its punt and kickoff units give up more yards per return than nearly every FBS team while its own return units are among the worst.

Junior Michael Rocco threw a lot of picks last year (12 in 366 attempts), but he has been even worse in 2012 (8 in 161 attempts), and it has cost him his job. Sophomore Phillip Simms has been better (4 in 155 attempts) in terms of protecting the ball but has a much lower completion percentage and yard per attempt average than the freewheeling Rocco.

Much like its basketball team, Virginia can be expected to slow the pace Saturday in an effort to shorten the game and put less pressure on Simms to make plays. The Wahoos will lean heavily on sophomore Kevin Parks, who has been solid (503 yards, 4.9 ypc, 3 TDs) in an otherwise stagnant rushing attack. Virginia's 6 total rushing TDs are 110th in the FBS. If the Pack can bottle up Parks and force Virginia into uncomfortable down and distance situations, the pass rush (Virginia is allowing 2 sacks per game) should be able to force the inexperienced signal caller into enough mistakes to help the Pack improve to 15-2 at home dating back to 2010.

Sophomore Bryan Underwood should be fun to watch for the Pack. Underwood, the only player in the FBS to have caught a scoring pass in every game, showed a glimpse of things to come when he caught 3 balls for 125 yards and 2 scores in State's 28-14 win in Charlottesville a year ago, and he is coming off a 6-catch, 118-yard performance with 2 scores in the gut-wrenching loss to UNC.

How State recovers from that loss emotionally will be a big theme in the game. Another item of interest is how Virginia responds after its bye week. The Wahoos went on a 6-1 stretch after their bye last year. The off week may have been just what they needed to turn their luck around.

2011

N. C. State

Football Outsiders Metric

Virginia

50

Overall FEI

56

58

Offensive FEI

51

25

Defensive FEI

45

92

Special Teams Efficiency

104

2012

N. C. State

Football Outsiders Metric

Virginia

37

Overall FEI

90

36

Offensive FEI

96

40

Defensive FEI

52

99

Special Teams Efficiency

122

Virgina FBS Opponent O Efficiency Rankings:

1. Penn State 20th

2. Georgia Tech 29th

3. TCU 80th

4. Louisiana Tech 16th

5. Duke 65th

6. Maryland 97th

7. Wake Forest 101st

Virginia FBS Opponent D Efficiency Rankings:

1. Penn State 26th

2. Georgia Tech 74th

3. TCU 32nd

4. Louisiana Tech 89th

5. Duke 81st

6. Maryland 28th

7. Wake Forest 56th

N. C. State FBS Opponent O Efficiency Rankings:

1. Tennessee 18th

2. UConn 107th

3. South Alabama 115th

4. Miami 59th

5. Florida State 46th

6. Maryland 97th

7. North Carolina 22nd

N. C. State FBS Opponent D Efficiency Rankings:

1. Tennessee 84th

2. UConn 31st

3. South Alabama 76th

4. Miami 86th

5. Florida State 6th

6. Maryland 28th

7. North Carolina 62nd

ACC Overall FEI Rankings (national rank in parentheses):

1. Florida State (8th)

2. Clemson (30th)

3. N. C. State (37th)

4. North Carolina (39th)

5. Virginia Tech (55th)

6. Georgia Tech (64th)

7. Maryland (65th)

8. Miami (73rd)

9. Wake Forest (84th)

10. Duke (86th)

11. Boston College (87th)

12. Virginia (90th)

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