It’s happening a week later than we expected it to due to a COVID-19 outbreak, but Virginia and Louisville are set to play an actual game of football this weekend. The Cavaliers are coming off of a Halloween night win over then-No. 15 North Carolina, while the Cards lost to Virginia Tech in their last outing. Neither team has really set the world on fire as far as conference records are concerned as the Hoos are 2-4 and Louisville sits at 1-5 with a win over Florida State on the books.
With the Cavaliers finally set to square off against the Cards on Saturday afternoon, we reached out to our friend CardinalStrong at Card Chronicle to get the real background info on Louisville.
You can check out our answers to their questions here!
Streaking the Lawn: A 2-5 start for the Cards this season...what has been the biggest issue for Louisville to this point?
Card Chronicle: If you want me to look at the season through my ‘Puppy Dogs and Rainbows’ glasses I’d be happy to do so, I have numerous pairs to pick from. I could easily say they beat the teams they are much better than (WKU/FSU) lost to three ranked teams in Miami, Pitt, and Notre Dame, and lost to Virginia Tech because they were quite literally missing 70% of their defensive line due to COVID. That only leaves one head scratcher in the bucket and that’s the loss at Georgia Tech.
Now if you prefer I put on my rival ‘Kentucky Blue’ glasses and tell the world about how ‘Loserville’ stinks and they can’t beat them Cayuts, and how they ain’t SEC….I would refuse to do that and respectfully slap your face with a pair of gloves fashioned from the finest quality leather. But, I can point out some flaws for those genuinely interested in what the heck happened to 2020 Louisville.
I’ll skip the dissertation for your fine STL readers and simplify things. The offense isn’t clicking at the same level they did in 2019, and while still putting up some nice numbers they aren’t playing to their potential at all. Last season UofL finished second in the ACC behind Clemson in points in per game (33.1) and fourth in yards per game (447.3). This year they are eighth and sixth respectively in those same categories even though they returned all their offensive weapons.
I lead with the offense in this recap as to not jump straight into the fire that is the defense…let you dip a toe in first, ya know, get a feel for the heat. Yes, the defense is still performing at a level that would make the kids over at Charlottesville High blush, but things aren’t quite as bad as last season. While seeing improvement over 2019 in some areas Louisville is still giving up nearly 400yds/g with over 200 of that on the ground. While injuries and COVID have made an impact they are giving up big plays (9 plays of 40+ yds) much to frequently, and are not having any success turning the ball over (4 total this season), almost guaranteeing that the Cards lose the turnover battle each week, putting the team in a tough spot to outscore their opponent. [deep sigh] There’s more but let’s move on…where did I put those ‘puppy dog’ glasses?
STL: What does the personnel look like for Saturday after a lot of players missing against Virginia Tech? What impact will the absences have?
CC: Thankfully the extra week has released some guys back into the full practice schedule but most of the omissions on defense from a couple weeks ago are still scheduled to be out this week per Satterfield, in addition to some special teams guys who were out against VT as well. The typical 14 day quarantine is in effect and all positive tests have to wait an additional period of time after that before returning to practice. Satterfield did say on Monday they had zero positive tests over the weekend meaning they have likely contained the spread for now and they may get a few guys back mid-week depending upon the results. If there is no change on the “he gone” list from the Va Tech game here is a quick rundown for your readers (DL- Micah Bland, DL- Ja’Darien Boykin, DL- Malik Clark, DL- Yaya Diaby, P-Ryan Harwell, S- Isaiah Hayes, DL- Dayna Kinnaird, LB- Monty Montgomery and DL-Tabarius Peterson).
STL: How would you rate Malik Cunningham to this point? Virginia is susceptible to chunk plays in the air...do you see that as something the Cards can exploit?
CC: I had a similar question prior to Virginia Tech (Virginia is for lovers…of grading out quarterbacks, evidently) and I gave him a B+ on the season. I wouldn’t say his performance that week changed anything, because for all the positives I saw there are still some lingering negatives. Coming into the year he was seeing some pre-season Heisman odds and many felt he was Top 3 in the ACC behind Lawrence and Howell (best law firm in the Carolinas). It’s certainly not fair to blame all of the 2020 struggles on him, but he does carry some of the weight for the slow starts out of the offense, as well as his struggles with accuracy, and maybe this is just a perception thing from me but I’m also seeing a regression in his ability to escape pressure.
While statistics point to him being around the same as last season in terms of completion percentage I think his “misses” have come at some crucial times where a few of them would have resulted in walk-in touchdowns, and a few others are resulting in interceptions, which just didn’t happen all that often last season. In fact, Cunningham already has three more INTs (8) this year than he did in all of 2019 (5). His numbers across the board are similar in lots of areas to what we saw in a much more enjoyable 2019 so maybe I have some internal bias that he was going to come in and outperform what we saw last year. So far that just hasn’t been the case.
STL: Virginia’s run defense has been pretty good this season. What does that mean for Louisville?
CC: Satterfield likes to run the ball, and fortunately for him he has an absolute stud in Javian Hawkins in the backfield. While his run-pass split in 2020 has leveled a bit (55-45) he’s not going to give up on the run game even if the Cards get down early. My only knock on Hawkins this year is that’s he’s been a bit more loose with the ball, but it was nearly impossible for him to replicate his “zero lost balls” effort in 2019.
The overall offensive production is down from last season but Hawkins is still putting up over six yards a carry and over 117yds/game (top 10 nationally). He’s struggled some against the solid run defenses so he may not hit those averages but he’ll get plenty of shots to make a big play.
STL: Conversely, Virginia’s run game has been strong this season. How are the Cardinals equipped to handle a mobile quarterback on top of the running backs?
CC: About as well equipped as Kihei Clark walking into the ‘Big and Tall’ section. While this group can get some pressure at times, if they miss they often miss big. The defense has given up 56 runs over 10+ yards which is 120th nationally, and as I mentioned above a biscuit over 200 yards per game on the ground on average ain’t great either. Potentially missing six defensive lineman and one of the better outside backers in Montgomery is a problem. I think DC Bryan Brown knows what needs to happen to slow down the Cavs but does he have the bodies and the experience to actually get it done is the question.
STL: What does Louisville need to do to win this game?
CC: Malik must be more consistent in the passing game to open up run lanes for Hawkins and frankly his wideouts need to make plays. Tutu Atwell is one of the most explosive wideouts in the country but many of the big hitter plays from 2019 are getting snuffed out early. They need to get creative in their usage of him and give WR Dez Fitzpatrick (6-6/210) some more opportunities to ‘Moss’ some DBs on the outside. I focus on the offense because I think they have the horses to outscore anyone if they are clicking. With the missing players and general inconsistencies on defense it’s hard to bet on what we’ll see from that phase of the game week to week.
STL: Pick time! Who wins, and why?
CC: Since I’ve already dropped over a thousand words up above, I’ll make this short and sweet (not 0.9 seconds short, but you get the point). Cards are in need of a win and I think the bye week will help them get some things figured out. Fortunately, the opponent does factor into that equation and the UVA defense has had some of their own struggles this year as well. As in typical UofL-Virginia fashion I think we see a close one late with a final drive score from Cunningham to TE Marshon Ford to keep the lead for good.
Cards 38-Cavaliers 31
Huge thanks to CardinalStrong and Card Chronicle for the info!