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The White Meat comes down for the Feast

#18/19 Clemson vs. Virginia Cavaliers (3-7, 2-4 in ACC)

3:30PM, ABC/ESPN reverse mirror.

"Virginia? That's the white meat of our schedule." - Frank Howard

Virginia season statistical rankings.

I only got to see a couple of UVAs games this year, the first one against TCU when their offense was predictable an anemic, and the 2nd against Boston College when it was only slightly less anemic. Both of those games were against great defensive teams, but looking at this UVA team I see nothing to fear except possibly their size up front. Their offense was switched this year to a new spread option system under former Urban Meyer assistant Gregg Brandon. Its somewhere between the single-wing/double-option spread that Meyer uses and the run-heavy spread that RichRod used here. It features 4 wideouts, zone running, and a lot of zone read, traps, and QB Dives with Sewell, but although they have improved a little since that TCU game, I don't see them moving the ball consistently on our defense at all unless we have a big mental letdown in game preparation this week.

From UVA's The Good Ol Blog/The Sabre

Brandon: "We aim to create a tempo that causes the defense to substitute more often than they would like to. … We have also found that our tempo makes it difficult for defenses to signal in multiple blitzes, coverages, fronts, and other changes that the opposing team might have prepared for us."

An interesting article on Brandon's offense while at Bowling Green is here, from Football Offenses and Plays by Bill Mallory. Its the same system at UVA, ranking 103 in passing, 109 in rushing offense.

 DC Kevin Steele

Q: Coach, you've been consistent all year in that it doesn't matter who the opponent is, its ranking, its record. But given what's at stake this week, given that Virginia is 118 nationally in total offense, it's a 3-7 team, certainly this is one of those weeks where you really drum that home obviously to keep your kids focused.

Steele: "Ain't no different than any other week. We don't talk about that. It's about the formation they line up, the down and distance and hash mark and let's go play."

Q: What are some of your initial impressions after looking at them the last two days?

Steele: "They look like an NFL team lined up in terms of physically… they're big across the board… running back, offensive line, tight end. Their line is pretty impressive looking. There's an enigma of trying to figure out a couple of things they have gone to, a cross between what Rich Rodriguez uses and Urban Meyer uses. It's kind of migrated into something else. They run the ball NFL-style. You don't get a lot of the fire-drill stuff, all over the map stuff. Their pass game… they've got the quick game like everybody else. They've got more vertical stuff than most people we play, probably more like Florida State. Their QB has had some really impressive games.

"They've been pretty consistent in what they line up in. They run the same offense with 10 at QB as they do with No. 6."

Q: So players look at this UVA team, they're 3-7, they're not going to a bowl, there's talk of their head coach getting fired, it's a team that's 118th in total offense, that's not something that you guard against, something that they could deal with and perhaps overlook?

Steele: "We hammer (focus) that all the time. Our routine is the same. I've said that many times. It's the same. It doesn't matter if we're playing a junior high team or the Green Bay Packers. We come in at this time and do this and at that time and do that. It's not about emotion. It's about the technical aspect of the game and how to apply the technique and principles. When you do that every week, that's what they come to expect. It's a habit then. So we don't get into all that stuff. Because if you get into that, then you've changed your routine. Then you've brought it to the forefront. Then you've changed the process. We don't get into that."

Q: What's the biggest room for growth for your defense?

Steele: "What's down and distance, personnel? There's a laundry list of it. The biggest thing is we've got to get a little bit more dominant. We've got the talent to dominate and contest everything. Every play. There's a lot of plays contested out there. It's a mentality, a habit, it's understanding the defense. It's a lot of things. It's part of the process.

"I'm not real big on numbers. But the numbers don't lie. You are what your record says you are. You are what your numbers say you are. When you start talking about No. 1 in the nation in three-and-outs, that's a hard stat. No. 1 in interceptions. That's a hard stat. Those are indicators that we're headed in the right direction, but we have not become dominant yet."


The defense is Al Groh's, as he is the defensive coordinator. Its a 3-4 scheme. They are big up front and solid, but not particularly fast or athletic. For those of you who remember Dom Capers' at Carolina, this team does not blitz quite as much as he did.

What is the difference between a 3-4 and 4-3 base defense? Its in the personnel, coverage, and blitz angles. I'm not going to go into too much detail, because you could write a book on the subject. Its just a front, and just something to make the offense switch up their blocking scheme. Its not a "style" like zone vs. man or react vs. blitz, its just a front and pretty much every defense in the country will switch their fronts up. It can, however, be a 2-gap defense depending on the shift, so the defenders have two gaps to worry about instead of just one. I don't think that them running a 3-4 will pose a problem for us, but the various blitz angles could.

A 30 base front (3-man) uses 3 guys who are basically chosen as run-stoppers or DTs. None of the 3 is usually going to be a great pass rusher because they're bigger and slower. They may be able to bullrush you, but their job is to hold containment and collapse the pocket while the LBs make the sack. Clemson uses a 3-4 at times to change things up, but its not our base system and we havent recruited the LBs to play it on every down.

A 30 front team will usually blitz somebody on every play, to have 4 pass rushers coming. They may be twists (DE goes around outside, OLB comes inside) or delays, or off the corner blitzes from one of the OLBs.

A 30 front plays ODD defense, nearly every time. That just means that the Center is covered by a nose guard, and it switches the calls and the blocking scheme. However, a 4-3 UNDER front (one-gap defense), which you see Clemson use alot of, is not terribly different from a 3-4. In an UNDER, the DT is shaded off the Center's head (A-gap), while the other is on the outer shoulder of the Guard (usually RG) in the B-gap. In the UNDER, the Sam is head-on with the TE, on the line of scrimmage, so there are 5 men on the line.

The key difference is in blitzing. Dallas runs a 3-4, Pittsburgh runs a 3-4, Miami runs a 3-4 and they all rack up alot of sacks in the NFL this year. If your LT has trouble with the DT matched across him, then the OLB comes free. The fact that the DL line head-up on the OL in a 30 front means that the OL can't step out as easy to block a blitzer. If the Inside LBs stunt and fake blitz to hold the offensive guards in, then those OLBs come free. If both OLBs blitz, then one of them will match up on a RB as a blocker, and thats a win for the defense.

With the possibility of 4 men blitzing, it gives a defense a few more angles to blitz from, with faster guys (a LB is usually faster than a DE or DT). Base 4-3 teams do this with more stunting. 30 front teams will stunt quite a bit to get rush when they only send the down 3 men.

The last difference is in pass coverage. A 40 front team will usually have to drop an End into the flat in some situations, whereas a 30 will have an OLB do it, who does it more often and better. They'll have 8 guys who can drop back into coverage on every play. If its better against the pass, that usually means its weaker against the run, and the reason why so many teams went to the 4-man in the first place was the running game. You can run the ball inside better against a 3-4 unless they have a mammoth at NG, which UVA does have. Additionally, because its a 2-gap defense in most shifts, the LBs must be well-trained and disciplined. UVA ranks #74 against the run at 150ypg, but 12th in pass defense at 164.9ypg, so you see how this has panned out for them.

OC Billy Napier had this to say about Virginia:

Q: What kind of challenges does Virginia's 3-4 defense present?

NAPIER: "They're the only team in our league that runs the scheme. It's very unique. It's different. It takes you a little more time on Sunday and Monday to kind of get going, because you're really studying the defense in itself. Obviously coach (Al) Groh has been running that scheme since he's been in the league, and they do a great job on defense. He's got a great defensive mind, and they play well on defense.

"Their offense is statistically worse than the defense. But the defense, in terms of playing good defense they've done a good job. Coach Groh is the coordinator of the defense, so he's heavily involved. I really have a lot of respect for the scheme and the way they go about their business in terms of what they do. It's going to be a challenge for our guys.

"They have good players. They're very tall, long, rangy guys. They're obviously pretty big across the board at outside backer. Their two ends are very tall guys, and they're very big on the perimeter. They tackle really well."

Q: Do they run a lot of zone pressures?

NAPIER: "That's a certain percentage of what they do. But it's a complement ultimately to just the 3-4 base front and they play coverage. It's not necessarily like last week, where it was within that 50-50 range at certain down and distances. Just a whole different animal in itself."


All in all, I dont see any way for UVA to beat Clemson this weekend, and we should be able to punch our ticket to the ACC Championship game, finally. I must be becoming less cynical about Clemson football again.