There were many questions in the pre-season about Louisville’s defense transitioning to Todd Grantham’s new style. The Cards have MORE than answered that call through 2 games proving that the roster had the athletes to play the position and the experience with the multiple looks that the players had played in previously. Currently Louisville has allowed the 19th fewest Total Yards despite playing two offensive oriented programs in the 1st two weeks in Miami and FCS Murray State. Most importantly, Louisville has really discouraged the run game currently the 6th best run defense in the nation despite seeing Miami’s uber-talented Duke Johnson in Week 1. The Cardinals have allowed just a 20% conversion rate on 3rd down, good for 7th in the nation. This all comes a year after the Louisville Defense finished #1 and #2 in Total and Scoring Defense in 2013. The Cardinal D is here to stay.
Virginia has used a 2-QB system in both games thus far with Greyson Lambert (6-5, 235, Soph.) winning the starting job in Spring Practice. Lambert has started both games of 2014 and is the expected starter vs. Louisville. Greyson has hit on 76.3% of his 38 passes, but for only 214 yards in 2 games. Additionally Lambert has thrown 2 INTs (1 for every 19 attempts). Lambert and Louisville’s Will Gardner were the state of Georgia’s top QB prospects in 2012 and squared off in High School with Garnder’s Coffee High School beating Greyson’s Wayne County 42-27.
The Hoos bring Matt Johns (6-5, 210, Soph) off the bench who lead a nice comeback vs. UCLA. Johns hasn’t completed for a high percentage and has thrown 1 INT in 29 attempts, BUT has hit for some big gainers including 3 Touchdowns. UVA also has David Watford (6-2, 205, Jr.) who has a great deal of experience starting and has played a lot of football for Virginia. Watford during his career has been…..shall we say…..inefficient…..and has thrown just 1 pass in 2014.
The Virginia offense uses a lot of read option, counter traps, screens to the running backs. Simple concepts designed to keep defenses off-balance. The primary beneficiary to the passing part of that has been former #2 Running Back in the nation out of High School Taquan Mizzell (5-10, 190) who leads the Cavs with 11 catches…..but for just 41 yards. Mizzell also has 17 carries for 47 yards. The Primary Back for Virginia, however, is Kevin Parks (5-8, 200) who is a career 2700 yard rusher for Virginia, a Doak Walker Award candidate and on just about every pre-season ALL-ACC team. Parks is a dynamic runner out of the backfield and should be considered Virginia’s primary weapon.
Wide Receiver Darius Jennings (5-11, 175) & Running Back Khalek Shepherd (5-8, 200) are both dangerous kickoff returners. Jennings has 19 career starts with 2654 Career All-Purpose Yards. Darius is also UVA’s leading receiver in terms of yardage with 118 yards on 7 catches through two games. Shepherd is Virginia’s 3rd back, and has a really nice history of catching the ball out of the backfield. Canaan Severin (6-2, 210) could be a big target for UVA in the Red Zone along with Doni Dowling (6-1, 215), Mile Gooch (6-3, 210) & Andre Levrone (6-2, 210) but there just isn’t a lot of production from this group to really know which player is one to key on…..the UVA passing game just hasn’t been consistent.
One thing the Cavaliers could do is incorporate their Tight End more. I don’t want to say it is a ‘dead’ position in terms of receiving production but Senior TE Zachary Swanson (6-6, 250) has just 1 catch in two games during 2014 and just 28 catches in 37 games (1 TD) for his career. Virginia really just doesn’t do much with its tight end in the passing game, making the Hoos easier to defend.
The UVA offensive line is led by Right Guard Conner Davis (6-5, 300, Sr.) who has 22 career starts at Virginia. Right Tackle Eric Smith (6-5, 295 Soph) has 10 starts to his ledger and was a freshman All-American in 2013. Beyond that, Virginia’s offensive line has very little experience and the left side but has given up just 1 sack on the year and just 5 TFLs (both Top 10 performances thus far). Virginia however is the 100th offense in the country, 110th in 3rd down conversions, and has been OK in the Red Zone.
For the Cards, Miami’s offense was much more of a challenge than Virginia’s will be. The Cardinal Defense has been outstanding so far in 2014 having allowed just 536 yards through 2 games and are stopping opponents at 80% of the time on 3rd down. UofL has been doing that without a lot of production behind the line of scrimmage with just 3 sacks and 14 tackles for loss.
Given UVAs offense we may see UofL more in their base defense a lot to focus on Kevin Parks as opposed to the Nickel look that we’ve seen from the Cards so far in 2014. I don’t think we’ll see many sacks based on what Virginia does on offense. If Louisville stays home and tackles well they should get off the field often on Saturday.