Now that the Virginia Cavaliers have the bowl-eligibility monkey off their backs, it’s back to the business at hand. Luckily, the guys can play loose without the weight of trying to take a huge leap in the program’s progress applying additional pressure. The daunting November schedule continues though with a trip to face the Louisville Cardinals. Louisville has been somewhat of a disappointment this season after coming into the year ranked 16th in the preseason Coaches Poll. The Cardinals stand at 5-4 and are coming off losses in three of their last four. But this is still a very talented football team led by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. It won’t be easy for the Hoos, but it is a game Virginia can win. What will it take? Here’s what to watch
1. Not another running QB -
Q: What two things do Tommy McKee, Peyton Ramsey, Bryant Shirreffs, Daniel Jones, and TaQuon Marshall have in common?
A: First of all, probably a lot of things, but for this exercise 1) they all ran wild on the Virginia defense this year, all having rushed for at least 54 yards and the six combined averaged 99.6 yards on the ground versus the Hoos. And 2) none of them have a Heisman Trophy.
This week, the Hoos face a running quarterback who laughs at 99 yards rushing per game as he has run for an average of 116 yards per game this season. And yes, Lamar Jackson does currently own a Heisman Trophy. Unfortunately for him, he’s not likely to repeat as the Heisman winner this season, but don’t think that’s because he isn’t putting up numbers. Through nine games this season, he has 160 fewer rushing yards and 55 more passing yards than through the same number of games a season ago. The biggest reason for his dip in perceived production could come from having 12 fewer touchdowns, but it’s probably more a product of Louisville being 5-4 vice 8-1. Lamar Jackson is very dangerous. This is the matchup that should have been giving Wahoo fans nightmares all season. Last year in Charlottesville, Jackson ran for 88 yards, threw for 361 and accounted for four touchdowns...and that wasn’t even among his best games. And looking at this year as opposed to last year, it doesn’t appear as if there is any indicator of Jackson playing poorly in their losses. In fact three of his five highest outputs of total yards have come in losses. So maybe the key to stopping Jackson will come down to thoughts and prayers. However...
2. Don’t let the others beat you - Perhaps the key to slowing down Louisville is just to let Jackson get his and make sure the others don’t beat you as well. In fact, in their four losses, the leading rusher for the Cardinals not named Lamar Jackson has averaged only 48.5 yards per game. Further to that point, only once has the Cardinals’ leading running back run for more than 35 yards in a game and that was an outlier where Reggie Bonnafon ran for 107 yards in a shootout against Boston College. I’m not saying I’d let Jackson run free and just make any play he wants, but perhaps stopping his teammates will make them rely too much on one player so that when they need a big third down, their strategy and play calling will be somewhat obvious.
3. Don't fall behind - Maybe all the attention paid to Jackson and the Cardinals offense is misguided. Only Clemson and NC State were able to hold Louisville to under 25 points, so the key to beating Louisville is to light up the scoreboard. In their four losses, the Cardinals defense gave up an average of 45 points. Against the pass it doesn’t matter if Louisville wins or loses, they are going to give up yards ranking 105th in FBS surrendering 259 yards per game. However there is a stark contrast in their rush defense. In games Louisville has won, they’ve only given up 76 yards per game, good for 11th in the country. In games they’ve lost that average skyrockets to 244 yards per game which ranks them 98th in the country. Obviously game script dictates that when teams are trailing they abandon the run, but the magnitude of the gap is telling. If Virginia can stay in the game, it’s clear that they can maintain a balanced attack and have success both on the ground and through the air. However if they fall behind, they may not be able to exploit the weakest aspect of the Cardinals’ defense.
Kickoff is at 3:30 and the game will be televised by ESPNU. Stay here through the week as Streaking the Lawn brings you all the Louisville coverage.