2020 Schedule Preview – Last Four

Welcome back to our 2020 Football Season Preview. To view our preview table of contents and read already-completed pieces, click here or on the Series button above.

 

Counting down the days until the season kicks off, we’re ready to start breaking down the schedule game-by-game, with summaries of each team we’ll face and our confidence level in the Hoos to get that win. Today, we’ll tackle the final four games of the 11 game slate. 

 

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Date: Saturday, Nov 7th

LOUISVILLE

Location: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, VA

2019 Record:  8-5 (5-3)

Last Meeting:  UL 28 – 21 Virginia, 10/26/19 @ Louisville

 

The Athletic Preseason Ranking: 4th of 15

The Athletic State of the Program: Link

CFN Preseason ACC Predicted Finish: T-6th of 15

CFN National Ranking: 32nd of 130

CFN team preview: Link

Athlon Team Preview:  Link

 

Strengths: The offensive weapons. Louisville’s breakout last year happened on the back of young dual-threat QB Michale Cunningham, who took over for the struggling Jowon Pass a couple games into the season and never looked back. His raw passing yardage wasn’t eye popping, 2,061 yards total, but that was partially because of his early competition with Pass and Evan Conley (those two accounted for 30% of the Cards’ attempts on the year) and also because of a heavy reliance on the run game (more in a second). But when Cunningham was throwing, he was incredibly efficient, connecting on 62% of his passes and taking great care of the ball, throwing only 5 INTs against his 22 passing touchdowns. He made a star of sophomore wideout Chatarius Atwell, who snagged 69 catches for 1,272 yards and 11 touchdowns, and also return a couple of solid complementary wideouts in Dez Fitzpatrick, Marshon Ford, and Seth Dawkins, who combined for 71 catches and 16 touchdowns last season. Cunningham’s passing attack will be balanced by one of the ACC’s best rushing attacks, returning both workhorse sophomore Javian Hawkins (1,525 yards, 5.8 ypc, 9 TDs) and capable backup Hassan Hall (501 yards, 4.6 ypc, 5 TDs) to pair with Cunningham’s own elusiveness (482 yards, 6 TDs rushing). It’s an impressive assemblage of weapons that will make UVA’s defense spread out to cover all possible threats.

 

Weaknesses: The trenches. No offensive line in the league allowed more tackles for loss last year than the Cards did, an average of 9.9 TFLs per game in conference play. While obviously the OL did enough to support an effective running game, the TFLs were a problem often sabotaging drives, especially later in the year. Louisville’s got to replace both OTs this season so TBD if this year’s line can improve in this regard, or whether a talented front seven can continue to create havoc in the Cards’ backfield. On the other side of the line of scrimmage, Louisville’s defensive line is easily its weak link. They finished 12th in the league in sacks per game, 12th in TFLs, second-to-last in total rushing yards and dead last in rushing yards per attempt allowed. And they don’t even get the benefit of experience and continuity here, with only one starter (from a 3-4 front) returning. The Hoos have a big opportunity to control the line of scrimmage here.

 

Summary Thoughts: Scott Satterfield took the ACC by storm last season, inheriting a 2-win team from washout Bobby Petrino and winning 8 games, including beating the Hoos in a slugfest out west, and winning ACC COY in the process. They’re a hot team going into this season, and given their returning production on offense and the coaching continuity they haven’t had in years, pundits roundly had them as the Atlantic’s number two team behind Clemson before the shakeup. They aren’t ranked at the moment (in the polls that also include the B1G and Pac-12), falling, like UVA, in the “others receiving votes” category. But they’re roundly predicted to have another strong year, and will come to UVA with a strong chance to score the road win. UVA lost this game last year because the Hoos’ anemic rushing attack couldn’t capitalize on the Cards’ weaknesses up front, and this year that will have to change. The Cards have a lot of speed and versatility in their linebackers and DBs, so UVA should utilize its strong offensive line to grind up Louisville in the trenches, assuming our depleted RB stable is still capable at that point. When the Cards have the ball, UVA is going to need to use its linebackers to create havoc and disrupt the Louisville offense before it can find a rhythm, and the Hoos’ ability to do so may pivot on the state of the currently-thin UVA DL holding up into November. It should be another exciting installment in this fledgling rivalry, but as of today I like the Hoos’ in a tight one.

 

Win Confidence (1 to 10): 6

 

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Date: Saturday, Nov 14th

DUKE

Location: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, VA

2019 Record:  5-7 (3-5)

Last Meeting:  Duke 14 – 48 Virginia, 10/19/19 @ Virginia

 

The Athletic Preseason Ranking: 11th of 15

The Athletic State of the Program: Link

CFN Preseason ACC Predicted Finish: 14th of 15

CFN National Ranking: 51st of 130

CFN team preview: Link

Athlon Team Preview:  Link

 

Strengths: The pass defense. Duke’s got one of the best pairs of pass-rush-specialist DEs you’re going to find in the ACC outside of Clemson and maybe Miami. Sr Victor Dimukeje and RS Jr Chris Rumph feasted in opposing backfields last year, combining for 15 sacks and 23 TFLs. They’re undersized and struggle against the run, but they’re fast, and could easily give our tackles fits and make life uncomfortable for our passing game if they’re allowed to collapse the pocket. And even if our QB is able to stay upright, Duke’s secondary is easily the deepest position on the defense, returning four starters from last year and bring back former all-ACC DB Mark Gilbert back after missing the last season and change to injury. It figures to be a challenging day for Armstong/Thompson and their wide receivers.

 

Weaknesses: The running game. Duke’s offense was uncharacteristically anemic last year, and the blame was equally shared between QB Quentin Harris’ inconsistencies throwing the ball and the running backs’ ability to generate a consistent ground game. Harris graduated, but both primary running backs are back in Durham, Deon Jackson (641 yards, 6 TD, 3.7 ypc in 2019) and Mataeo Durant (461 yards, 1 TD, 4.8 ypc). Clemson transfer Chase Brice is under center, a QB without the natural running chops of his predecessor Harris, meaning extra pressure is on the RBs to pick up the slack. The Devils’ collective 3.41 ypc statistic in conference play last year was the league’s second worst rate. They have the bulk of their OL returning with a talent infusion from Stanford transfer G/T Devery Hamilton, so there’s some hope that the continuity and added maturity gives them some bump here. And if Brice can prove a more adept passer, it could take some defensive heat out of the box and potentially free up space for running lanes. But until we see actual improvement on Saturdays, we’re going to treat this rushing attack as at-best mediocre.

 

Summary Thoughts: Coach Cutliffe has been something of a miracle worker during his tenure at Duke. He took a program that had zero business making any noise in the ACC after being an afterthought for decades and, through careful program building, turned them into a nasty underdog that’s gone bowling more often than not and even won the ACC Coastal once. But last year was a step back after the 2019 graduation of now-Giants QB Daniel Jones, and Duke’s got some work to do to get back to respectability this year. In general, you know Duke’s going to be a well coached team, but Bronco has had Duke’s number moreso than any other ACC foe since coming to Virginia, and assuming no disasters between now and this game in November, it should continue. 

Virginia’s offense needs to attack the trenches against Duke’s 4-2-5 defense. The defensive tackles are young and undersized and the linebackers unproven. Our veteran OL should be able to open holes for the running backs and creative use of the TEs, slot receivers, and tailbacks in the passing game should allow our QBs to find some rhythm without (a) needing to target Duke’s excellent corners too often and (b) asking our QB to sit in the pocket too long against a solid pass rush. 

On defense, the Hoos should be able to shut down the Devils’ run game without too much special attention assuming our DL is in good shape at that point. Chase Brice as a QB is still a bit of an unknown, he looked pretty good in his relief appearances at Clemson behind Trevor Lawrence, but who doesn’t look good in the Clemson offense? By November, Bronco and Howell will have tape on Brice and be able to devise a defensive strategy to make him uncomfortable. He’s got a decent receiving corps coming back with the tandem of TE Noah Gray (51 rec, 392 yds, 3 TD) and WR Jalon Calhoun (46 rec, 420 yds, 4 TD) but after that they’re looking for breakouts.

Last year the Hoos had the benefit of 5 Blue Devil turnovers to break open the game and win going away, 48-14. Hard to bank on that many turnovers or that kind of blowout for a second year in a row, but it’s still likely the Hoos make it six in a row against Duke this year.

 

Win Confidence (1 to 10): 8

 

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Date: Saturday, Nov 21st

BYE WEEK

 

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Date: Saturday, Nov 28th

FLORIDA STATE

Location: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, FL

2019 Record:  6-7 (4-4)

Last Meeting:  FSU 24 – 31 Virginia, 9/14/19 @ Virginia

 

The Athletic Preseason Ranking: 8th of 15

The Athletic State of the Program: Link

CFN Preseason ACC Predicted Finish: T-6th of 15

CFN National Ranking: 33rd of 130

CFN team preview: Link

Athlon Team Preview:  Link

 

Strengths: Playmakers. Look, this is Florida State. You can knock them in recent years for trench play, for quarterback development, and for culture. But one thing the ‘Noles do with their eyes closed is restock annually with future NFL’ers at the skill positions. RB Cam Akers off to the NFL? Just backfill him with Texas A&M former-4-star transfer Jashaun Corbin (5.0 ypc for the Aggies). All-ACC WR Tamorrion Terry (60 rec, 1188 yds, 9 TD in 2019) is back along with former 4 star DJ Matthews (36 rec, 355 yds, 3 TDs) and a number of other experienced wideouts. If the Offensive Line can give the QB time and the running backs lanes (those are big “if’s”), FSU’s weapons can make life hell for a defense.

The defensive skill positions are just as talented, headlined by the all-ACC duo of CB Asante Samuel Jr (14 passes defended in 2019) and S Hamsah Nasirildeen (101 tackles, 2 INTs, 3 Forced Fumbles). This is going to be a very difficult and talented secondary to throw against, as they’ve got talent and depth to shut down most any receiving corps outside of Clemson.

 

Weaknesses: Coaching Turnover. Willie Taggard didn’t even make it to the end of the 2019 season before being fired in only his second year. Mike Norvell came in from Memphis, where he’d been since 2016 since taking over for Justin Fuente. He’s bringing his coordinators with him, so the FSU players are drinking from the fire hose with entirely new systems to learn and without the benefit of a full spring to digest them. On offense, Norvell’s bringing a complex pro-style system which isn’t going to be quickly picked up, even by the veterans, and may ask too much of a turnover-prone QB in James Blackmon, to say nothing of an inconsistent OL. On defense, the ‘Noles will switch back to a tradition 4-3 from their failed one season 3-4 experiment, and the FSU defensive ends and linebackers have a long way to go after struggling last year. Coaching staff changes can go a lot of ways, but given the turbulent year everyone’s facing, I’m skeptical it’ll be a seamless 2020 for Florida State.

 

Summary Thoughts: As rough as FSU looked last year in finishing under .500, they still nearly took out UVA under the bright Scott Stadium lights last September. The talent is there; it’s FSU after all, and it recruits itself even in bad times. If we were getting FSU earlier in the year when Norvell’s staff was still working out kinks in implementing their systems, I’d feel somewhat better. As it stands with this game scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend, FSU should have found some level of comfort and rhythm. The interesting wrinkle is that FSU hosts Clemson the week before, so there’s an opportunity to catch the Seminoles in a letdown week. The reduced capacity at Doak Campbell should eliminate much of FSU’s usual home-field advantage, and getting down to Florida in November will be a nice weather break for the Hoos. This game should be a good one, right now a bit of a toss up depending on how fast Norvell is able to get his team under control and pointed in the same direction.

 

Win Confidence (1 to 10): 5

 

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Date: Saturday, Dec 5th

BOSTON COLLEGE

Location: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, VA

2019 Record:  6-7 (4-4)

Last Meeting:  BC 41 – 10 Virginia, 10/21/17 @ Virginia

 

The Athletic Preseason Ranking: 13th of 15

The Athletic State of the Program: Link

CFN Preseason ACC Predicted Finish: T-11th of 15

CFN National Ranking: 67th of 130

CFN team preview: Link

Athlon Team Preview:  Link

 

Strengths: The ground game. Boston College has a new head coach and with him a new offensive coordinator in Frank Cignetti. But I can’t imagine he’s going to too drastically veer away from the one thing BC did consistently well in recent years, and that’s pound the rock behind a dominant offensive line. BC returns four starters on that offensive line, including three all-ACC players in tackle Ben Petrula, center Alec Lindstrom, and guard Zion Johnson. They’re going to be rock solid and enable a running attack that will see David Bailey (844 yards, 7 TD rushing in 2019) take over primary duties with AJ Dillon off to the NFL. New quarterback Phil Jurkovec is knows for his legs as much as his arms as well, and he’ll pair with Bailey for a dangerous two-headed rushing attack that could truly challenge UVA’s front 7.

 

Weaknesses: The Secondary. The Eagles were at the bottom of basically every defensive passing category in the ACC last season; yards per game allowed, yards per passing attempt, completion percentage, passing touchdowns… it was bad. New head coach Jeff Hafley is a defensive guru, coming from the Ohio State DC gig, but this isn’t just a scheme or an execution problem, it’s a talent problem. BC’s defensive backs were just overmatched by ACC offenses last year. Most of the players return, but there wasn’t really a big talent infusion, Maryland grad transfer safety Deon Jones (no career INTs, only 1 career pass defended) the only new face expected to make a mark on the depth chart. Hafley will probably get this unit turned around over the next few years; it’s his bread and butter after all. But highly doubtful it’s anything but a liability this season. 

 

Summary Thoughts: Generally when you see a new coach, it’s because the last coach had the team in the dumpster. Steve Addazio’s teams weren’t ever bad… they were just persistently, maddeningly mediocre. Hafley doesn’t have a blank slate in front of him, as he should field a team that’s solid in the trenches on both sides of the ball. With that said, that secondary is going to be a problem for BC all year, and any team with a competent quarterback (in theory UVA included with Brennan Armstrong) is going to be able to attack vertically well enough to force BC into a permanent nickel situation, which then opens up the box for the run game and short passing offense as well. This means to win, BC probably needs to be able to win shootouts. The running game will be there, but that means the X-Factor is going to be on Jurkovec to prove he’s got the arm to keep defenses honest. In his relief appearances in South Bend last year, he was a competent 12 of 16 for 2 TDs without an INT, but he’s going to need to prove himself as a starter in the ACC. The Eagles’ stalwart OL will buy him time, and by this point at the end of the season I could see him having found his rhythm and confidence, meaning UVA could have a fight on its hands in Scott. UVA probably gets the win regardless, but I see us needing to hold on at the end as their hogs wear down our defense over the course of a long afternoon.

 

Win Confidence (1 to 10): 6