UVA's (5-2, 3-1) return to Scott Stadium after a two-game road trip was successful. The defense was vicious, as usual. And the offense was largely opportunistic. Joe Reed wowed the 50,000 plus fans. And Duke felt the wrath of a team in a must win situation. The Hoos' two-game losing streak was extinguished.
But now UVA must hit the road for two more games in a row. Up first is a road trip to the ACC's most recent member, the Louisville Cardinals (4-3, 2-2) of the Atlantic Division. Kickoff is at 3:30 on the ACC Network.
Louisville is coming off a 2-10 season that saw them lose their final nine games. It cost controversial coach Bobby Petrino his job. Replacing Petrino was the head man at Appalachian State, Scott Satterfield. Most pundits pegged this as a multi-year rebuild. But Satterfield has the Cards heading in the right direction much quicker than anyone expected.
The Hoos simply cannot show up at the stadium and find their sixth win, and bowl eligibility, waiting for them like a gift.
After wearing the College Football 150th Anniversary logo on their helmets against Duke, the Hoos are back with a traditional presentation this week. It will be blue-white-white.
When Maryland departed the ACC for the B1G, Louisville received their invite to join the conference. Instead of taking the opportunity to think through the divisional alignment and cross-division rivalries, the league made UVA and Louisville rivals because the decision required no thinking. Maryland was erased and the blank next to the Hoos was filled by Louisville.
If the programs are going to be notional rivals, then they should play for something. Rivalry trophies can be awesome if well executed. Kentucky and Virginia are neighboring states. The spirits industry and horse industry are both prominent in each. Both states are officially commonwealths.
The ingredients are there for something. A rivalry trophy focused on bourbon makes the most sense and would be pretty cool to college football fans. But something centered or prize horses would also work in a pinch. But I digress.
The series between UVA and Louisville is relatively recent. The schools played a home and home back in 1988 (Louisville) and 1989 (UVA) with the schools splitting. The home team won each game. The scoring differential in the series was a total of three points. I can actually recall listening to parts of each game on the radio as a kid.
The teams would not meet again until 2014 when Louisville joined the ACC. Now that the teams are rivals, they play each season.
Keys To Victory
UVA hits the road as a 3.5 point favorite as of Friday evening.
The marquee matchup in this game is certain to be UVA's defense versus Louisville's offense.
As the underdog facing one of the nation's best defenses, Louisville will need to maximize their number of possessions on offense in order to spring the mild upset.
The easiest way to do that? Turning over the UVA offense.
But is this something that Louisville excels at?
|Team||Turnovers||Turnovers Forced||Turnover Margin||FBS Rank|
Louisville's 10 turnovers forced places them tied with the Hoos at 64th in FBS with ten other teams. It's decidedly average or middle of the pack.
In their last two games against Wake Forest and Clemson, the Cards have forced a total of five turnovers. It appears that they're becoming more proficient. It's something the Hoos must devote extra focus on.
Additionally, Saturday is going to be a rainy day in Louisville. Rain is expected all day and at kickoff the local forecast calls for between a 95% and 75% chance of rain per Weather.com. The possibility of rain only increases from there throughout the game.
The weather conditions can possibly make ball handling more difficult for each team, raising the risk of turnovers for the Hoos. Look for Louisville to be extra aggressive on defense as a result.
Overwhelm The Quarterbacks
The Cardinals are running a two QB system under Coach Satterfield.
|Quarterback||Comp. %||Passing Yards||Rushing Yards||Passing TD||Interceptions||QBR|
Cunningham, a sophomore, was always in the plans for Louisville this year. He was competing with junior Jawon Pass for the starting job. Pass ultimately won it but played in only two games. He subsequently had season ending surgery recently.
When Pass went down, Cunningham assumed the reigns but Conley entered the picture as the second QB in Louisville's two QB system. Conley is a true freshman that was originally committed to Appalachian State. He ended up at Louisville when Satterfield took the job as Bobby Petrino's replacement.
Cunningham's reputation is as a dual threat QB who excels at running. Conley is the opposite from what I've seen. He's expected to be a better passer than runner. Neither QB is playing 100% to expected type. Cunningham has had a nice season as a passer to date. Conley appears to be an opportunistic runner who will take off if the defense presents an opening.
Last week against Clemson, however, neither QB shined. Cunningham was sacked twice and rushed for a total of -10 yards on 3 carries. As a passer, he went 4-11 for 63 yards, no touchdowns, and 1 interception.
Conley didn't fair any better. He rushed 8 times for 7 yards while taking 4 sacks. Passing the ball, Conley also went 4-11. He threw for 44 yards, no touchdowns, and also 1 interception.
Clemson won the game 45 to 10.
And last season in UVA's win at Scott Stadium, Cunningham went 6-9 for 35 yards passing, no touchdowns, and 1 interception. He had a team high 10 carries for only 26 yards and no touchdowns.
It's clear that Bronco Mendenhall and UVA's defensive staff respect Louisville's offense. They have explosive athletes at wide receiver and in the backfield too with freshman running back Javian Hawkins (5-9, 182).
Seven games into the season, everyone can see that UVA has an elite defense. It excels at frustrating offenses and putting extreme stress on opposing quarterbacks. UVA can bring pressure from all three levels of its defense. Their blitz packages and ability to confuse offenses have a well earned reputation across college football.
The Cards' skill players have the ability to test UVA's defense. That is, if their quarterbacks have the opportunity. Clemson's defense overwhelmed them. The Hoos have the potential to do much of the same. There are no excuses to not make it a miserable afternoon for both Cunningham and Conley. It's the quickest path to a victory.
Last week against Duke, superb execution was one of the keys to victory.
Essentially, the Hoos are who they are on offense this season. Large course changes are unlikely. Instead, small tweaks are to be the norm. The biggest change is likely to be additional focus on attacking with Bryce Perkins as he's fully healthy now.
The Hoos need to continue to improve on executing what they do on offense. The Duke game, for all the rough patches in the first half, was a small step forward.
Louisville has a rather forgiving defense.
Even with the poor weather in the forecast, there's little to no excuse to not take another step forward on offense. Doing so should set up the Hoos for another successful outing in the record book.
As we continue the meat of the ACC schedule, this will continue to be a focus.
Playing on the road is the biggest variable in this matchup. It will be interesting to see if the weather has much of an impact on attendance.
ESPN's Football Power Index gives UVA a 62.3% chance of winning.
This is a game that UVA will want to win with their defense while grinding down Louisville with a methodical offense. Expect Bryce Perkins to carry the offense on his back.
Louisville is capable of making this game a shootout both with their offense and defense. This is not in UVA's best interest, thus the expected methodical approach.
I'm a huge believer in this Wahoo defense. It will carry the day again.
27 to 17, UVA wins!