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The Big Preview: Virginia at Louisville

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 30 Virginia at Miami Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If we’re honest, coming out of this three game stretch of @UNC, Wake, @Miami with a 1-2 record is what most Virginia Cavaliers fans expected. It didn’t happen the way we predicted, but there it is.

After back to back short weeks, Virginia now gets a long week to head to Louisville for another road ACC game. The Cardinals lost their opener to Mississippi State, then rattled off three wins in a row before dropping a close one to the undefeated Demon Deacons in Winston-Salem.

The Hoos have never beaten the Cardinals in Louisville, and are 4-5 all-time in the series.

When: Saturday, October 9, 3:30 PM Eastern
Where: Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, KY
TV: ACC Network

Virginia on Defense

That’s more like it, as we finally saw Virginia’s defense make some plays to slow down, if not stop, an opposing offense. Once again, it came against a backup QB. Virginia is now 3-0 this season against backup QBs and 0-2 against starters. It’s almost as if QB play matters.

The Hoos held Miami to just 372 yards, with 240 of those yards coming on Miami’s final three drives when they were in desperation mode. The Canes’ first five drives total 61 yards and a safety for Virginia.

Tremendous individual effort from Mandy Alonso, shooting the A-gap and getting enough of Cam’Ron Harris to slow him down for the cavalry. Alonso and the DL as a unit were tremendous in this game.

This was later in the game, and was another great play by the DL. In this case, it was Jahmeer Carter winning the A-gap battle. Maybe this play didn’t matter much, as Miami picked up the first on the next play. But it was emblematic of the DL’s play in this game. The question is, where was this the past two weeks? Miami’s OL isn’t bad.

There is no better way to disrupt an offense than by getting pressure up the middle. Virginia had four sacks in this game, after a total of just six from the first four games. Again, the pressure in the backfield really seemed to throw the freshman Van Dyke off his game.

Virginia will not have the benefit of an inexperienced QB this week, as Louisville’s Malik Cunningham is making his 31st career start and fourth against the Hoos. Malik is 1-2 against Virginia, with a home win and two road losses. Winning on the road in the ACC is tough.

Last year, Cunningham rushed for almost 200 yards in this matchup, but struggled throwing the ball.

Virginia shows blitz, and brings the two ILBs, but Taylor drops back into coverage and Cunningham never sees him. Easy pick for Taylor. It’s early in the game, but this may have been the most important play of this game. It gave Virginia some time to get going on offense without falling behind.

This is something that Virginia has not been able to do this season. The Hoos have forced just four turnovers all season, which ranks 106th in the nation. They are 103rd in turnover margin. No turnovers, no QB pressure and poor run defense. No surprise that Virginia is 97th in total defense this season.

Cunningham is at his best when he’s able to get out of the pocket and make things happen with his legs.

Does this play look a little bit like this one?

In both cases, Virginia is able to get some pressure up the middle but there is no edge contain. If Tyler Van Dyke is able to outrun Virginia’s LBs, how are they going to fare against Cunningham’s speed? Cunningham is closing in on 2000 yards rushing for his career. He can sling it too, he’s well over 6000 yards passing and is 57th all-time in QB efficiency.

Louisville is going to show a lot of zone-read-option with Cunningham and RB Jalen Mitchell.

Two plays from the same drive. Tough to stop. Cunningham can also pull it back and throw it.

Virginia’s defense was better last week. But they’ll have to be a lot better if they’re going to stop Cunningham and the Cardinals.

Virginia on Offense

After putting up video game numbers over the first four weeks, Brennan Armstrong came back to earth a bit against Miami. He threw for just 268 yards, completed just 57% of his passes and his QB rating was just 110. On the season, he is now averaging 394 yards, 65% completion and a QB rating of 155.7, which would be the best season ever for a UVA QB, statistically.

Armstrong’s biggest throw of the game was the interception-turned-TD from Dontayvion Wicks.

Obviously, tremendous play from Wicks. But why are both he and Malachi Fields in the same spot? One of them is in the wrong place, likely Fields. Regardless, it’s not a good decision or throw from Armstrong.

Maybe he was just tired. The burden put on Armstrong with back-to-back short weeks was immense. Look at that throw above. He really doesn’t step into the throw, and sails it. Hopefully, Armstrong had time to rest up during the long week.

Here’s another play with two receivers in the same spot. This WR corps is young and inexperienced and includes some QBs. Mistakes are being made, but this unit is also dynamic with four guys averaging at least four catches per game. Billy Kemp is 15th in the nation in receptions per game, and Wicks is ninth in receiving yards per game.

The Hoos have almost 2000 yards passing through five games, but just 643 yards rushing. Last week, though, it was much more even. The Hoos rushed for 181 yards, while passing for 268. Wayne Taulapapa and Mike Hollins each had double-digit carries, and combined to rush for over 100 yards. Add in this play, and it’s a pretty good performance from the “traditional running game”.

Really nice play design. It’s a stretch play, but from shotgun. It gives Thompson time to read the holes. The flip side of that is the play is a little slow developing. The OL does a great job here of pushing the defenders to the right, and letting Thompson find his hole. Wayne Taulapapa also gets a very good lead block in there. Once Thompson gets moving downfield in space, he’s tough to bring down.

Hollins is also becoming a big part of the passing game. He’s got 11 catches over the past three games.

This is an easy completion for Armstrong and a good way to get Mike Hollins into space. The CB is in man coverage on Wicks, which puts him behind the play. Most CBs aren’t going to get Mike Hollins down in space anyway. It is a pass, but it’s really just an extension of the running game.

We should see even more runs this week, as the Cardinals rank 97th in the nation in rush defense.

That’s a pretty simple shotgun handoff, with a zone-read look. Virginia will show similar looks, and will also run some zone-read. Can’t you see Keytaon Thompson making this same run?

Virginia was successful with the zone-read last year. Armstrong actually ran for two TDs last year, with the second coming on a scramble.

The Cardinals run a 3-4 defense, not too different from Virginia’s. They also spend a lot of time in nickel packages, which they’ll use often this week to defend Virginia’s three and four WR sets.

They bring LBs off the edge, up the middle, wherever. But, like Virginia’s, Louisville’s defense is best when the DL is getting into the backfield and making plays. They are 40th in the nation in sacks, with 13 through five games. Six of those came against FSU though.

This is the 107th ranked defense in the nation. They allowed 450 yards to a pretty bad FSU offense. Wake Forest was over 500 yards. Even despite the relative struggles last week, Virginia’s offense ranks seventh nationally in total yards and should be able to move the ball quite a bit. Just need to consistently get into the endzone, something they struggled with against Wake Forest.


This Virginia team earned the long week they got after the rough schedule the past few weeks. The team seemed to tire towards the end of last week’s game, which is completely understandable. Hopefully, they are back to full strength, because this Louisville team is talented, especially on offense.

Both of these teams are struggling on defense right now, and bring high powered, explosive offenses. This game is going to be won by whichever team comes up with more big plays. Those might be TD passes or runs, or they might be timely turnovers or sacks. This should be a shootout, and I just can’t pick the road team.

Prediction: Cardinals 42, Cavaliers 37 (season record: 3-2)