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Virginia’s efficient passing game the key to keeping Louisville’s Lamar Jackson in check

UVA needs to control the game through the air to maximize chance for success.

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the Virginia Cavaliers are bowl eligible for the first time since 2011, the Hoos face three tough matchups to finish the regular season. First up are the Louisville Cardinals and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. You do not need fancy stats to figure out that the versatile QB is extremely talented and his combination of passing (2,800 yards, 18 TD’s) and rushing (1,000 yards, 14 TD’s) will be tough to stop. How will UVA limit Jackson and pull off the upset in Louisville?

Contrary to conventional thinking, Virginia will have to utilize their efficient passing game to keep Lamar Jackson off the field. Typically teams rely on pounding the ball to drain the clock to increase their time of possession, keeping explosive opponents on the sidelines. However, UVA will be at a clear disadvantage against the Cardinals when it comes to the ground game. The Cavaliers rushing attack is ranked #90 or worse in yards, S&P rating, success rate, explosiveness, power success rate, and getting stuffed rate. Meanwhile Louisville's rush defense is ranked #55 or better in yards allowed, preventing explosive rushes, and stuffing the run. Therefore, Virginia will need to exploit their advantage in the air.

The Hoos passing game ranks between #43-#54 in yards, S&P rating, and success rate, while Louisville’s passing defense is ranked #100 or worse in those respective categories. The passing success rate is key because the Hoos do not have an advantage in explosiveness throw the air, meaning the Cardinals defense is good at limiting big plays, but give up a lot of completions. The Hoos offense is ranked 57 spots higher in 1st down S&P and 40 spots higher in 3rd down conversions due to this efficient passing game. Louisville’s defense on standard downs (think 1st and 10) is ranked #119 in S&P rating and #125 in success rate out of 129 teams. If Kurt Benkert and his receivers can efficiently move the ball in these downs, they can stay on the field longer to prevent Lamar Jackson from taking over the game.

If UVA is unsuccessful in using this strategy to take a large lead, then the Hoos may be looking at a shootout in the second half. The Cardinals are ranked #6 in the country in scoring in the second half of games, and #3 in the 4th quarter specifically. Luckily for the Hoos, the Cardinals defense is equally as inefficient the other direction, ranked #114 in second halves and #124 in the 4th quarter. Below is a chart illustrating the scoring and S&P by quarter.

UVA and Louisville by Quarter

Time Frame UVA Offense UVA Defense L'Ville Offense L'Ville Defense UVA has the Ball UVA on Defense
Time Frame UVA Offense UVA Defense L'Ville Offense L'Ville Defense UVA has the Ball UVA on Defense
Q1 Scoring 119 60 20 69 -50 -40
Q2 Scoring 44 53 102 83 39 49
1st Half 89 52 54 78 -11 2
Q3 Scoring 47 94 39 100 53 -55
Q4 Scoring 64 62 3 124 60 -59
2nd Half 56 83 6 114 58 -77
Q1 S&P+ 106 32 21 119 13 -11
Q2 S&P+ 78 45 7 108 30 -38
Q3 S&P+ 43 108 45 117 74 -63
Q4 S&P+ 120 106 3 127 7 -103

Virginia better take advantage of the efficient passing game early before the fireworks begin in the 4th quarter.