Welcome to this week’s keys to victory! It feels like it’s been FOREVER since we last spoke. So much has happened. Most importantly for the purposes of this column, Louisville experienced a Covid-19 outbreak inside the program, leading to a one week postponement of the game against the Cavaliers. But it appears that both programs are healthy and ready to go for today’s 3:30 kick (fingers crossed.) Of course, the player availability report will be worth monitoring a few hours before the game. Hopefully the Cards can avoid the type of bad news they received before the Virginia Tech game.
Both teams have struggled this season after successful 2019 campaigns, having only managed two wins each to this point in the season. Much like most of the ACC, these teams are incredibly hard to project. So naturally, I am going to go ahead and try to project them!
Here is what a victory by Louisville might look like…
THE FIVE KEYS
- UofL’s Health – Obviously this one is a given, in light of recent events. But the rest of these keys are rendered moot if UofL does not field a healthy squad on Saturday. Finding out within 24 hours of kickoff against Virginia Tech that they would be without nine players, including most of their 2 deep on the defensive line and Monty Montgomery was devastating. Obviously, the physical challenge of stopping a team that likes to run outside without your top four defensive ends was hard enough, but it had to deal a blow to the psyche of the team as well. The entire week of prep and game plans out the window, replaced with little used backups playing out of position. Hopefully the Cards have their full complement this week. They can ill afford to take a massive hit to any position group, especially one where they aren’t particularly deep to begin with. All eyes will be on that availability report.
- Get Off to a Quick Start – Louisville’s slow starts are well documented this season. Excluding the 21-7 1st quarter lead against FSU, Louisville has been outscored 61-24 in the 1st quarter of the other 6 contests. That’s not good. At all. Furthermore, the FSU game is the only game which the Cards have produced points on their first possession. Last week, during a game which a shorthanded Louisville defense absolutely needed the Cardinal offense to pick up the slack and start fast for them, UofL summarily fell down 14-0, ultimately losing the game by a score. Just once, I want to see UofL score a touchdown on their first offensive possession, and hold the opponent scoreless on their first defensive possession. Offense feeds defense, defense feeds offense. Micale Cunningham is clearly a different player when he plays well early, and the team follows suit.
- Use the Pass to Set Up the Run – There’s no other way to put this, UVA’s pass defense has been atrocious, surrendering 312 yards per game. Sure, they’ve dealt with some injuries, but I haven’t seen anything from their defensive backs that makes me think they can keep up with Louisville’s talented receiving corps. I expect Scott Satterfield to use a diverse, three level passing game to spread the ball around and loosen up the defense. This will open the door for Javian Hawkins and (hopefully) Hassan Hall to salt the game away late. I expect Cunningham to eat today. He will have to for the Cards to emerge victorious.
- Louisville’s O-Line vs. the Cavalier Front – While their pass defense has struggled, UVA has a good defensive front that can bring pressure (20 sacks this season.) They also have been solid against the run, surrendering only 126 yards per game. They are led up front by Jowon Briggs, a highly touted NT who has lived up to the hype since arriving in Charlottesville. He is solid against the run, and can bring pressure up the middle (3 sacks.) Cole Bentley (along with Cam DeGeorge/Robbie Bell/Caleb Chandler) will have to stone Briggs up front and prevent him from collapsing the pocket from the inside. Another player to watch up front is linebacker Charles Snowden, who is coming off a massive week against UNC. He tallied 10 tackles, 4 sacks, and a forced fumble. Adonis Boone and Renato Brown will be mostly saddled with neutralizing Snowden, who covers the field sideline-to-sideline and while he doesn’t have overwhelming strength, his speed can be killer off the line. The O-Line unit has their work cut out for them.
- Win the Turnover Battle – I thought about putting a few different things in the last slot. Maybe talk about the Virginia offense and Brennan Armstrong. Maybe talk about Keytaon Thompson’s role and all the interesting ways UVA may use him Saturday. But frankly this game will most likely come down to turnovers. It’s a key damn near every week, but it’s the truth. For all of the analysis and hand-wringing, the biggest difference between this year’s team and last is the uptick in turnovers. And they always seem to come at the worst time (when is there a good time?) Last week Cunningham threw three picks (only one I feel was his fault,) one of multiple games this year where turnovers ultimately seemed to be the difference at the end of the game. The margin for error for the Cards against most of the teams in the ACC is razor-thin. One turnover one way or the other can swing the game. This is especially true against a Virginia team that is +5 in their wins, and -9 in their losses. The opportunities have been there, Louisville has to take them when they present themselves.
WHAT BISCUIT’S WATCHING
- Penalties – There have been a rash of costly penalties in the worst possible spots during games this season. This is yet another thing that was not really an issue last season. It’s not so much the number of penalties, but the nature and timing. Last week was no exception. Again, have to clean it up. Margin for error and all that.
- Another (impromptu) bye week, another opportunity to see if the rotation/depth chart has changed. Some more reps for the youth movement, perhaps.
- Monty Montgomery – Monty was playing like a bat out of hell before having to sit out due to contact-tracing. He was emerging as the most electric player on the defense, and a constant presence in the opponent’s backfield. I have a feeling he, along with the entire defensive end 2-deep, will be itching to make some plays today against an average UVA O-Line.
- The rest of the slate – Games are getting canceled left and right. I’m not being a Debbie Downer, but you have to ask yourself whether this season is going to make it til the end. My gut says they will continue to go week-to-week instead of hitting the kill switch. But we will see.
- The Masters – One of my favorite weeks of the year, albeit at a weird time. The top of the leaderboard is absolutely loaded, with Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, and our very own Justin Thomas all sharing the lead with Abraham Ancer and Cameron Smith. Tons of other names within striking distance as well, including Eldrick. Should be an awesome finish.
- Kentucky Football – I don’t usually ever write about the Wildcats unless Louisville is playing them, but my heart goes out to the family & friends of UK Offensive Line Coach John Schlarman, who unfortunately passed away this week after a long battle with cancer. I know the whole Kentucky football community is hurting.
WHAT BISCUIT’S COOKING
I was tempted to talk about my pot roast, but I didn’t want to confuse my readers with a non-grilled or smoked dish. I want to talk about wings (quickly.) I love smoked wings, and they’re fantastic, but I think folks overlook the merits of a more traditionally grilled wing. I like to steep mine in a mix of honey and red pepper (doesn’t have to be too long.) Then I sprinkle the wings in my poultry rub, brush with butter, and put them on direct heat for a short time, until caramelization happens. Then I take them off direct heat for a bit (doesn’t take long) and serve. I will toss them in Thunda Sowce usually, for a three-level flavor experience. So good.
Let me preface this by saying that this prediction is based on Louisville having something close to a full roster with which to work. And let me ALSO preface this by saying that there never seems to be a normal game between UofL and UVA in Charlottesville.
That being said, this one will probably come down to turnovers. Whatever team wins that battle will win the game. As long as the line gives him time, I think Micale will find a groove early against this Virginia secondary. The Louisville defense will make the plays they need to make (and produce a turnover or two.)
Defensively, the Miami game seemed to be the exception, not the rule for the Hoos (much like ND for the Cards.) I expect there to be some points on the board at the end of this one.
Louisville – 38 Virginia – 28
Go Cards. Beat Virginia.