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2018 Virginia Football Opponent Preview: Louisville Cardinals

The Hoos begin ACC play in week four

Boston College v Louisville Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

First, a reminder:

Sorry, I had to.

ANYWAY: football. The Louisville Cardinals have had the Virginia Cavaliers football team’s number in past years, defeating the Hoos in three consecutive seasons. Much of that has been due in part to the magnificence of one Lamar Jackson, 2016’s Heisman Trophy winner. Last season, he led the Cardinals to a 38-21 victory over the Hoos, totaling 342 yards and four touchdowns. He was even more destructive the year before at Scott Stadium, when he gained a combined 449 yards through the air and on the ground, and, of course, sunk the hearts of the UVA faithful with one final, deadly pass. Maybe you remember:

There, now we’re even, Louisville.

2017 Season: 8-5 (4-4 ACC)

The Cardinals opened up play with a pair of victories over Purdue and North Carolina before running into the juggernaut of Clemson. Outside of that game, Louisville played a relatively light schedule. Still, the Cardinals suffered surprising losses to Boston College and Wake Forest before winning their final three regular season contests. In their bowl game, Louisville let a fourth quarter lead slip away, as they fell to Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer Bowl.

Players to watch:

QB Jawon Pass: Lamar Jackson is (finally) gone. Pass, who 247Sports rated a 4-star prospect coming out of high school, will be his replacement. More of a pocket passer in comparison to his predecessor, Pass did well in the limited time he had in 2017, completing 20 of 29 passes with one touchdown and no interceptions. He needs to make strides in his sophomore year for the team to remain dominant on the offensive end.

Murray State v Louisville
Jawon Pass gets ready to throw a pass against Murray State last season.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

WR’s Jaylen Smith, Dez Fitzpatrick, and Seth Dawkins: Luckily for Pass, Louisville returns their three most productive receivers from a year ago. Smith, despite missing three games, led the way with 980 yards on 60 receptions. Fitzpatrick and Dawkins recorded 45 catches for 699 yards and 42 catches for 642 yards, respectively. This trio should help Pass as he moves into the full-time starter.

LB Jon Greenard: Greenard was one of the few bright spots from the Louisville front seven that returns. He earned a team-high 15.5 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. As a redshirt junior, new defense coordinator Brian VanGorder will lean on Greenard as a defensive leader.

S Dee Smith: The loss of first-round draft pick Jaire Alexander hurts. Players like Smith, who enters his senior year, will need to step up in his absence, and will be vaulted into much more prominent roles. If Smith and company are unable to meet the challenge, expect the Hoos to take advantage of this largely inexperienced secondary.

Mascot grade: B+

Louisville v Rutgers Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images

Nothing too special, but I will say the school did a good job making its mascot more intimidating than it should be. Also, I love the red.

Analytics:

Bill Connelly’s 130-Team Preview, 2018

S&P+’s projected disparity between Virginia’s offense and defense—73 and 32—does not even compare to what’s expected from Louisville. Head Coach Bobby Petrino’s attack will still hover amongst the most elite, currently ranked fifth, but his defense, which often negated Jackson’s greatness in years past, comes in at 98. The turnover, especially in the back end, put the Cardinals 14 spots lower than where they ended last year.

Prediction:

What does this mean? Offense, and a lot of it. This will be UVA secondary’s first really big test of the season; we’ll see if they can prove their worth. But really, for the Hoos to be able to keep this game competitive, new quarterback Bryce Perkins needs to match what Pass and company bring to the table. I don’t think he’s there yet.

Score: Louisville, 34-21.