It’s finally here. We’ve waited nearly 15 long years for this. We finally get a chance to avenge Elvis Dumervil.
Louisville fans will remember well what happened in the 2006 Gator Bowl, when Marcus Vick stomped on Elvis Dumervil’s leg after a play, the action was not flagged or acknowledged by the officials at all, and Frank Beamer allowed Vick to play the rest of the game as if nothing happened. Then Hunter Cantwell broke his nose and a contempt for Va Tech was born amongst Cards fans.
Fast forward to 2020, and the Cards and Hokies are set for their first tilt as ACC conference rivals, and if you can figure out the ACC, please let me in on it. The conference is Clemson, then everybody else. Notre Dame is very good but somewhat uneven, UNC looked like a top tier team, then they dropped a head-scratcher to Florida State. The rest of the conference is full of teams that could beat each other any given week, depending on who shows up. Va Tech has been up and down and dealing with Covid-19 roster challenges all season. They are coming off a messy loss to Wake Forest. Louisville is, of course, coming off its best performance of the season against FSU. This one ought to be a GREAT matchup on Halloween night (late afternoon? Evening? 4 o’clock is a weird kick time.) Let’s get to the keys…
The Five Keys
- Louisville’s rushing attack vs. the Hokie defense – The Cards’ rushing offense (along with the rest of the team) has been up and down all season. At times they have been very successful, and at times they have struggled to find consistency. Last week against FSU was a high water mark, as the Cards rushed for 291 yards against the Noles. Not only did they break the big play, the offensive line regularly controlled the line of scrimmage and opened running lanes play after play. While the Seminole defense was not a particularly strong unit, neither are the Hokies. They have struggled at times in all facets of the defense, and rank 79th nationally against the run, giving up 200 yards per game. If last week is any indication, lanes will be there against the Hokie front, and Louisville should be able to eat in the running game, getting both chunk plays and regular yardage.
- Bend don’t break vs. Khalil Herbert & the Hokie run game – Herbert has been electric this year for the Hokies, ranking third in the country in rushing at 131.2 yards per game. He has gone over 100 yards in every game but one (Wake Forest,) and over 200 yards against Duke. Virginia Tech boasts one of the country’s best lines, and averages nearly 300 yards rushing per game as a team. In a lot of ways Va Tech’s offense reminds me of Notre Dame. Strong rushing attack, mobile quarterback who is limited through the air, very good offensive line. Therefore UofL’s defense has a similar task as they did against the Irish: LIMIT (don’t stop, necessarily) the damage done by the Hokies on the ground by preventing big chunk plays by Herbert. He is likely to get his, the Cards just have to make sure to mitigate the damage done. And on first and second done, get enough stops for little or no gain to force third and longs, which leads me to the next key…
- Force Hendon Hooker to the air – Braxton Burmeister opened the year as the starter, mostly because Hendon Hooker was on the Covid list (along with half the damn roster.) Then HC Justin Fuente entertained publicly the idea of splitting snaps, before realizing that almost never works (Brohm & Lefors aside.) Hooker took over the job three games ago and has had mixed results. He is a very strong runner, and the team is better off when he does his damage on the ground, and is efficient enough through the air to keep opponents honest (see: Boston College game.) Louisville will once again look to employ Monty Montgomery and co. as spies, containing Hendon Hooker on the ground, and forcing him to make plays through the air. Va Tech’s receivers haven’t shown much thus far this season, but James Mitchell has been dangerous as a threat at the tight end position. UofL must force some third down passing situations, pressure Hooker but keep him contained in the pocket. Put him in position to make mistakes (he threw three picks last week, the difference in the game.) But Bryan Brown has to make sure the middle of the field is not vulnerable due to inside linebackers bringing pressure, or Mitchell will eat.
- Speaking of third downs – As has been a theme all year, third downs will be paramount once again. To this point, the Hokies have only converted 36.5% of their own third downs, and were only 5/16 against Wake Forest last week. Louisville hasn’t been much better, converting on 40.8% of their third downs this season, but going 5/9 against FSU. Conversely, Va Tech’s defense is holding opponents to 38.9% while Louisville is allowing 44.9% conversion on third down. Basically all four units have left something to be desired, with UofL’s third down offense being remarkably well matched with the Hokie defense, and VT’s third down offense being a good match for UofL’s third down defense. At the end of the day, the emergence of the Cardinal secondary (behind Kei’Trel Clark) and pass rush, as well as a consistent rushing attack on the offensive side of the ball may push the edge towards UofL in these battles.
- Keep Micale humming – Micale Cunningham played a very efficient, if unspectacular game against Notre Dame, before breaking out against FSU last week. He was damn near perfect in the first half, while building an insurmountable lead. He also did a great job going through his reads and distributing the ball, resisting the urge to zero in on Tutu Atwell. He has looked immensely more comfortable the last two weeks, making the right reads and throws with confidence. In short, he looks like the Cunningham we expected coming in to this season. A lot of this has to do with elevated play from the offensive line and a robust running game keeping the defense honest. Not to mention, I feel like the coaching staff called its best game of the year against FSU. The offense looked cohesive, with plays setting up each other and being executed well. Look for Micale to get a big one early to keep his confidence running high.
What Biscuit’s Watching…
- The LB corps – who will the star be this week? Seems like a different backer picks up the mantle week to week from this VERY strong position group. Last week was CJ Avery’s turn. The week before was Monty Montgomery (really every week for him at this point.) Rodjay Burns, Dorian Etheridge, Nick Okeke, Yasir Abdullah…we will see.
- Virginia Tech availability – The Hokies have struggled more than most teams with Covid-19 protocols, losing players for extended periods of time this season. Keep an eye out for the availability report about an hour before the game, as it might have a massive impact.
- EAN PFEIFER TOUCHDOWN WATCH
- Justin Marshall – Marshall has a great deal of physical ability and talent, but has yet to have a huge breakout this season, going without a catch last week. I realize we have a crowded receiver room (along with our tight ends,) but it feels like only a matter of time before he has a huge impact.
- BLACK OUT – We are having a black out on Halloween!!! What’s that? We are only going to have 12,000 fans dressed in black in a stadium with red seats? And it’s kicking off at 4:00? OK. I guess we go with what we got in 2020. Side note: that reveal video at Waverly Hills was cool as hell (and probably terrifying for all involved.)
- Lawrence-less Clemson – Yes, they are replacing him with another 5 star. Yes, they’re playing a team they should beat easily. But it’s worth watching how the Tigers react…especially with Notre Dame looming next week.
- Continued Youth Movement – Dez Tell, Ramon Puryear, Greedy Vance, Ja’Darien Boykin, Josh Minkins. Some have made a big impact of late, other got in late in the game against FSU. As the season progresses, look for more of these young players’ roles to keep expanding.
What Biscuit’s Cooking…
Last week I discussed the famous Sweet Pig on Pig. This week I want to talk about her slightly leaner cousin, the Pig n’ Chick’n. Charcoal fire (of course,) my signature Poultry rub on boneless chicken breast (thicker the better,) Thunda Sowce, thick-cut bacon, grilled pineapple. I also do an alternate version with a slice of avocado instead of pineapple, but that is honestly a whole different meal.
As I said earlier in the column (and on the TCZ podcast, and on the Beef’s Beef podcast, and on the radio, and pretty much all year) the ACC is just hard to predict this year. I have watched part of three different VT games, and they had different availability for each one. I am going to predict this game based on a full complement of Hokies being available for tonight’s matchup.
I think this one is very evenly matched. I don’t want to overreact to a blowout win over a bad team, but I feel like the Cards and their coaching staff have found something. They called the best game of the year on offense last week, and Bryan Brown has called his two best games the last two weeks. And the execution has been there. I think the Cards build on the complete performance from last week and make it two in a row.
Cards – 34 Hokies – 24
A late turnover by the pressing Hokies seals it for the Cards.
Everybody have a safe and smart Halloween, and if you haven’t voted yet, please vote.
Go Cards. Beat Virginia Tech.