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Mistakes, anemic offense cost Virginia at Louisville

Hoos fall 28-21 at Louisville.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Mistakes doomed Virginia on the road as the Cavaliers fell 28-21 at Louisville on Saturday afternoon. The Hoos fall to 5-3 (3-2 ACC) with the loss and wasted an opportunity extend their lead in the Coastal Division. Virginia turned the ball over twice — an interception to end a solid drive and a fumble deep in their own territory — and couldn’t slow down Louisville in the second half as the Cards scored 14 straight points to win the game.

There were a couple scary moments for the Cavaliers as Bryce Perkins and Hasise Dubois left the game at various points for injuries in the first half. Perkins appeared to have injured his knee late in the first quarter after a Louisville lineman rolled up on him, but he missed just one series before coming back in. Virginia will be without linebacker Jordan Mack next week after he was ejected in the third quarter for targeting.

Perkins struggled after the injury, going 24-for-41 for 233 yards, one touchdown, and one interception in the game. He added 22 yards on the ground in the loss. Dubois finished with 93 yards on seven receptions.

Defensively, Zane Zandier led the team with seven tackles. The defense registered four sacks and nine tackles for loss, but gave up 21 straight points and 173 yards in the second half.

The Louisville offense put together a solid first drive, picking up three first downs until it stalled in Virginia territory. On 3rd-and-7 from the 29-yard line, Eli Hanbeck and Charles Snowden combined to sack Cunningham for a loss of seven yards. Stuck in no-man’s land, Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield decided to try his luck on 4th-and-14, but Joey Blount came up with the sack to force the turnover on downs and give Virginia the ball at their own 40-yard line.

A promising chance at building a bigger lead at the break was squandered as Perkins overthrew his receiver for an easy interception by the Cardinals with :50 seconds left. The drive had cruised all the way to the Louisville 20-yard line before the pick.

Virginia had 60 rushing yards in the first half, with Taulapapa coming up with 50 of those on eight carries (6.3 yards per carry). Perkins went 9-for-15 for 107 yards and one interception over the first 30 minutes, and Armstrong couldn’t connect on his one pass attempt.

Louisville tried to get cute on the second half kick off to keep it away from Joe Reed (not that we blame them), but Tavares Kelly made the most of it with a 22-yard return to the Virginia 40-yard line. Perkins got a first down with a 22-yard rush, but the drive sputtered and Griffin again pinned the Cardinals inside their own 15-yard line.

The Cards would go on a 12 play, 89 yard drive — kept alive by that personal foul with targeting called on Mack — to tie the game with a touchdown with 5:53 left in the third quarter.

Another huge mistake, this one by Kelly, cost the Cavaliers about 20 yards as he caught the kickoff instead of letting it go out of bounds for a penalty. Jana picked up a first down, but a throw away, a sack, and an incompletion gave the ball right back to the Cards. They set up good field position with a 34-yard return to the Virginia 31 yard line, seemingly keeping momentum in their favor.

The Virginia defense stood tall, picking up its fourth sack of the game on 3rd-and-8, pushing Louisville out of field goal range. The Cardinals elected to punt, and Virginia would take over on their own 25-yard line. Just as it looked like the Hoos were getting in the groove offensively, Louisville forced a fumble by Joe Reed, giving it right back to the home team at the Virginia 34-yard line.

Louisville took its first lead of the game with 14:22 to play after Micale Cunningham found a hole in the Virginia defense and rushed 25 yards for the touchdown and the 21-14 lead.

Reed finally got a crack at a good return, putting the Hoos in favorable field position. After one first down pickup, the Louisville defense got to Perkins on three straight plays for a loss of 18 yards. Virginia’s defense came up with a huge stop to get the ball back, but Louisville was able to pin the Hoos at the 1-yard line with 7:43 to play and the game on the line.

Virginia picked up one first down thanks to a big catch from Reed, but Jana couldn’t haul in a pass from Perkins, and Virginia punted it back to Louisville with just over five minutes left in the game.

Louisville put the final nail in the coffin with a touchdown with 2:46 left to play, and the Hoos scored on a touchdown pass to Kelly with 21 seconds remaining to close back within one score.

Dubois recovered the onside kick, but Virginia couldn’t come up with the big play to tie things up and ran out of time as the rain poured down.

Questions will reasonably remain about Virginia’s play calling and utilization of the run game after it fell off the map in the second half, despite Taulapapa having a solid first half. Although the Hoos were having success before the turnover by Reed, that was the only real drive that got going in the right direction. Perkins was clearly not 100%, and although he hasn’t been most of the season, it seemed as if he had turned the corner in that regard coming into this game.

Defensively, this was one of Virginia’s worst performances overall. The first half play was solid, but losing Mack seemed to just continue piling onto the mass of injuries the Cavaliers have accumulated including Bryce Hall, Darius Bratton, and Robert Snyder. One week after coming up with five turnovers, the Cavaliers came up empty handed in that department.

Next up, Virginia heads to North Carolina for another game that will have a huge impact on the Coastal standings.