The Louisville Cardinals return to the field at Cardinal Stadium this Saturday sitting at 4-3 (2-2 ACC) in the second half a season that many had written off even before the first snap. Yet here we are, feeling the sting of a Clemson rebuke but still positive about a season that’s been anything but disappointing. Offensive coordinator Dwayne Ledford spoke of the need to, “…have a big Sunday,” after the 45-10 loss to the Tigers. All reports indicate the self-motivated Cardinals were quickly back to focus and dedication headed into the contest against the Cavaliers.
That focus will be needed against a Virginia team (5-2, 3-1 ACC) coming off an impressive 48-14 victorious demonstration against Duke. Despite a sluggish setback against Miami, the Cavaliers under Bronco Mendenhall now sit atop the Coastal Division with a relatively clear path to the ACC Championship. But before any talk of bowl games and title matches, it’s Saturday at Cardinal Stadium that will determine the path for both teams.
DATE: Saturday 26 Oct 2019
TIME: 3:30 p.m. EDT
LOCATION: Cardinal Stadium
WATCH: ACC Network
Tailgate – 57°F Cloudy w/ periods of rain
Breezy w/ wind gusts up to 20 mph
At Kickoff – 67°F Cloudy w/ periods of rain
Breezy w/ wind gusts up to 25 mph
End Of Game – 68°F Cloudy w/ periods of rain
Breezy w/ wind gusts up to 25 mph
Slight chance of thunderstorms
Not To Be Taken Cavalierly
It’s been a relatively slow return to adequacy in Charlottesville under Bronco Mendenhall but the Cavaliers now sit poised for back-to-back winning seasons as the preseason pick to win the Coastal Division. Much of 2019’s success to date has been thanks to key defensive performances that place UVA at the top of the ACC along with Clemson and Miami. The Wahoos have limited all opponents this season to sub-400 yard performances and average just 19.7 points and 270.3 yards allowed per game. Indeed, it’s difficult for an opponent to advance the ball when the defense can seemingly penetrate at will. With Virginia averaging four sacks and eight tackles for loss per game it’s been a case of going nowhere fast for their opponents.
The Cavaliers secondary did take a hit with the loss of pre-season All-American cornerback Bryce Hall against Miami. There’s been some additional attrition as some players, particularly DE Tommy Christ, have migrated to offensive duties to plug gaps in that line. But having a veritable murderer’s row on the defensive line has made it easy for the Hoos to give up a few bodies here and there. Safety Joey Blount is performing quite capably while De’Vante Cross slid into Hall’s position at cornerback. The Hoos line is led by ILBs Zane Zandier and Jordan Mack with a combined 10.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss. Suffice to say, if the Cardinals plan to go anywhere, they’re not likely going to go far.
The stout defense for Virginia has been crucial with an offense that leaves slightly more to be desired. Any conversation about the Hoos scoring has to include the defense and special teams. But every conversation has to center around QB Bryce Perkins. Perkins is the Virginia offense on the ground and through the air. As the second leading rusher in both yards and TDs the fourth year standout represents the consummate dual-threat. On the receiving end are Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois who combine for six of eight UVA passing TDs and the bulk of the yardage. Dubois is a particularly choice target for Perkins on third down.
But despite the notable individual accolades, the Cavaliers offense has struggled. Red zone production is sketchy at best, with the Duke game being the exception. Most damaging, however, is an offensive line that stands in stark contrast to its defensive counterpart. The Hoos have allowed nearly as many sacks as they’ve produced, and the pressure on Perkins has led to some key interceptions. This is of course mitigated by his scrambling ability, but it makes the Virginia attack dangerously one dimensional. One thing to note is the return to the sideline of backup QB Brennan Armstrong, which has allowed Mendenhall to free Perkins in taking some additional risks.
The Cardinals are in the middle of a three-game stretch against the top three defenses in the ACC. The primary difference between Clemson and Virginia/Miami is a notable drop-off in comparative offense. Despite losing Hassan Hall, Louisville has proven to have a multi-dimensional offense in stark contrast to that of Virginia. All signs point to Saturday being a close one, as despite having a lot of talent on defense, Louisville just hasn’t had the bodies. But if they can shut down Perkins, and limit impressive returns by the Hoos special teams unit, it will provide ample opportunity for Cunningham and Conley to find rhythm in their rotation.
Oh, and it’s supposed to rain. A lot. Louisville fans have a lot of good memories in the rain. And it will be interesting to see how a soggy day impacts both teams’ ability to move the ball through the air. If Javian Hawkins can have another high-production game, things look good for the Cardinals.
Every game from here to the end is a winnable game. Two more wins and you’re going bowling. Virginia has never won at Louisville. Sorry, Mother, but we just don’t like you like that anymore.