November 26, 2020

Independent analysis and commentary on UVA athletics

Gameday Guide – Louisville

After an impromptu bye week, the Hoos return the field on Saturday. Last time out, UVA (2-4, 2-4) pulled a Halloween upset over rival North Carolina.

Now, Louisville (2-5, 1-5) arrives for the second rivalry game in as many outings for the Hoos. Both teams are desperate for a win and will pull out all the stops to get one.

Kickoff is set for 3:30.

Game Uniforms

The all blue uniform set showed that it possessed a little magic in the upset win over UNC. With the rival Cards in town, UVA will go back to that well this week.

Series History

Despite first playing in 1988, and having played only eight times overall, this is a rivalry game. Or more accurately, the ACC has assigned it a rivalry designation for scheduling purposes.

Louisville won that first game in 1988. And they won the last contest in 2019, 28 to 21.

All three of UVA’s victories against Louisville (1989, 2014, 2018) have come at Scott Stadium.

The UVA Sports Twitter account featured the 2018 game this week. That game is best known for a Bryce Perkins signature moment where he leapt over a Louisville defender. A true freshman Brennan Armstrong also played a small role for the Hoos in this game as a short term injury replacement for Perkins.

Media Coverage

UVA keeps its perfect streak intact as yet another game will be broadcast on the ACC Network. The Hoos and the ACC Network are now a perfect seven for seven during the 2020 season.

Per UVA’s game notes, the 3:30 PM game will feature Chris Cotter on play by play. Former Boston College Eagle Mark Herzlich will be the color analyst.

As usual, Dave Koehn and Tony Covington have the radio call for the Virginia Sports Radio Network. You can find their affiliates list at the link.

Finally, satellite radio coverage can be found at these channels: Sirius – 133, XM – 193, SiriusXM Internet Streaming – 955.

What Worries Me About Louisville

Malik Cunningham

Another week, another dangerous quarterback leading the opponent’s offense against the Hoos. Much like Miami’s D’Eriq King, Cunningham is equally adept at beating you with his arm and his legs.

On the season, Cunningham has completed 63.4% of his passes for 1,746 yards. He’s already tossed 15 touchdown passes against 8 interceptions. Cunningham’s Total QBR of 78.0 ranks 27th in FBS.

On the ground, Cunningham has rushed for 220 yards on 72 carries. He has 3 rushing touchdowns on the season with a long run of 35 yards.

Last time out against Virginia Tech, Cunningham passed for 350 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also threw 3 interceptions in the Virginia Tech victory.

Atwell & Hawkins

Louisville’s dynamic skill position duo makes life extraordinarily easy for QB Malik Cunningham. Atwell terrorizes defenses at wide receiver. And Hawkins puts in work from the backfield.

Last year against UVA, Louisville totaled 360 yards of total offense. Atwell and Hawkins accounted for 250 of those yards themselves.

Atwell, a 5-9 165 pound wide receiver, has caught 40 balls for 528 yards and 5 touchdowns on the season to date. His long reception is 66 yards.

Hawkins, a 5-9 196 pound running back, has 822 yards on 133 carries on the season (6.2 yards per carry). He has 7 rushing touchdowns and a long run of 90 yards. Hawkins has also caught 16 balls for 127 yards. He has 1 touchdown reception and a long catch of 29 yards.

What Worries Me For UVA

Pass Defense

Against an offense like Louisville’s that can strike quickly, especially through the air, it would be remiss not to have the pass defense as the number one concern.

UVA’s pass defense currently ranks 116th out of 123 teams currently playing football in FBS. The Hoos are surrendering 312.2 yards per game through the air. Opponents are also completing 60.8% of their passes against the Hoos.

Starting quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence (329), Sam Hartman (309), D’Eriq King (322), and Sam Howell (443) have all topped the 300 yards mark through the air against UVA this season.

Louisville’s pass offense is currently ranked 48th in FBS with 250.1 yards per game.

Why I Should Worry Less

There are rumblings online that Atwell and Hawkins are going to miss the game. Missing either would be a large blow to Louisville’s offense. But if both players can’t play, it would be a massive setback for Louisville.

The Cards’ Dez Fitzpatrick is a nice receiver (22 catches for 443 yards and 2 touchdowns), but he puts nowhere near as much stress on a defense as does Atwell.

Malik Cunningham is Louisville’s second leading rusher. You have to drop down to the Cards’ third leading rusher to find another running back on the leaderboard. Junior Hassan Hall has 144 yards on 26 carries.

The trio of Cunningham, Atwell, and Hawkins are the Louisville offense. If two of three are removed from the equation, Louisville becomes much, much easier to defend.

On the defensive side of the ball, Louisville is quite generous. Their defensive line has been hit hard by COVID recently. And it’s unclear how many, if any, players in this unit will be available against the Hoos.

Louisville ranks 57th overall in total defense as they give up 395.6 yards per game. On the ground, the Cards’ are ranked 93rd as they allow 201.0 yards per game. And through the air, Louisville’s defense is ranked 26th as they allow 194.6 yards per game.

A ball control focused, rush heavy offense should give the Hoos an edge in the game. If the Hoos can run the ball consistently, then play action passing should open up the defense for Brennan Armstrong to post respectable numbers through the air as well.

Prediction

ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Louisville a 57.4% chance to win the game. That’s especially surprising when you consider that the line is currently showing UVA as a 3.5 point favorite per Sportsline.com.

What makes picking this game a challenge is that you cannot be sure who’s actually playing until the game kicks off. For Louisville, you have the myriad COVID issues that have plagued the team lately including those that caused last week’s game against UVA to be postponed. And then there are the rumors that Atwell and Hawkins may miss the game.

On UVA’s side, the defense has been hit hard by injury this year. Richard Burney will miss the remainder of the season, severely limiting the depth and experience on UVA’s defensive line. And the UVA secondary is still decimated by injury. With lingering injuries to starters Joey Blount and Brenton Nelson as well as backup corners Fentrell Cypress and Darrius Bratton, the UVA defensive backfield is also a MASH unit. And the results on the field are showing the strain.

The hope here is that UVA’s offense can control the clock via the run game while using the extra time to game plan on defense to slow down Louisville just enough to find a second consecutive win.

UVA wins 30 to 28.

 

 

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