Louisville’s Offense has played 2 games to start the season without two of its expected primary weapons in Michael Dyer and DeVante Parker. The Cards will not get Parker back for at least 3 more weeks but they are expected to finally get to see the 2014 version of Michael Dyer. Dyer missed the 2nd half of the 2013 season with a sports hernia injury that required surgery and then missed the first two games of the season with a deep quad contusion.
The Cards didn’t need him after starting 2-0, leading the nation in Time of Possession, and scoring the 12th most points in College Football thus far. Louisville has moved the ball with balance thus far in 2014 and have been wildly successful in converting 3rd downs. Coach Petrino is known for his offense and has lamented his team’s lack of connected deep passes and yards after catch thus far.
Virginia’s Defense has been excellent against the run and in creating turnovers as the Hoos are the #7 in the nation in Turnover Margin through 2 games at +4. It all starts with the UVA pressure upfront in the mostly 3-3-5 defense. Eli Harold (6-4, 250) formerly the #1 OLB in the country (5-star) and on the Watch List for the Bednarik Award starts at Defensive End for the Cavs and has already registered 9 tackles, 3 TFLs, 1 sack, and a forced fumble + recovery. On the opposite side Mike Moore (6-4, 265) has 3 TFLs of his own with a sack and a fumble recovery. Harold and Moore together are great at getting behind the line of scrimmage and disrupting an offense.
Defensive Tackle David Dean (6-1, 295) does an outstanding job of holding the point of attack to free up his linebackers. Dean is backed up by Andrew Brown (6-4, 305) who was #1 Defensive Tackle in the country out of high school last year has registered 1 tackle thus far in his true freshman season.
The Linebackers REALLY shine for UVA and particularly the combo of Henry Coley (6’2, 245) and Daquan Romero (6-1, 230). Coley is on the Lott Impact Watch List and currently is the Hoos leading tackler with 22 including 4 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, 2 pass break-ups, and 2 forced fumbles. THAT is productivity from your middle linebacker. Romero is just as effective & 2nd on the team in tackles with 20, 3 TFLs, a sack, an INT, and a forced fumble with a recovery. Major disruption in the offense comes from these two. But don’t count out Max Valles (6-5, 240) who also makes his share of plays with 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble to his credit. The front 6 of Virginia’s Defense REALLY gets after it and they have allowed opponents to rush for just 92.5 yards per game and are 13th in the nation in Sacks and 6th in Tackles for Loss.
Virginia’s Defense is all about pressure and gaining takeaways….Safeties Anthony Harris (6-1, 185) SS was an All-American in 2013 according to Sports Illustrated after leading the nation in interceptions with 8. Harris was a 1st Team All-ACC performer for a team that won ZERO ACC games. Anthony is on the Watch List for the Walter Camp, Bednarik, Nagurski, Thorpe, and Lott Impact Awards. THAT should tell you something. Free Safety Quin Blanding (6-4, 215) is a 5-star true freshman and was the #3 safety in the country out of high school last season. So far Blankding has been up to the task registering 16 tackles (tied for 3rd) with an INT and 2 pass-break ups. This is a dangerous duo.
Virginia has BIG corners. Brandon Phelps (6-0, 185), DreQuan Hoskey (6-0, 180), Maurice Canady (6-2, 190) and Tim Harris (6-2, 200) are your usual suspects in the Cavalier defensive backfield. Clearly the UVA defense is set up to create pressure and stop the run as the Cavs do such a great job upfront but have given up 302.5 yards per game through the air (109th) which is worse than UVA’s 67th finish a year ago. Small sample size, but neither stat is where a coach would like his pass defense to be. UVA could get some help from its most veteran player Demetrious Nicholson (with 30 career starts) if he can return from a nagging turf toe injury. Nicholson has yet to play this year.
When Louisville has the ball, it will be interesting to see how the Cards attack the Virginia defense given UVA’s ability to rush the passer and create takeaways. With 9 turnovers gained by the Virginia defense, 6 from fumbles (5 forced) I would expect the Cards to put a premium on ball security in this game. Will Gardner’s two lost fumbles inside his own 15 against Miami are reason to give pause to going into a drop back game and trying to pick apart the Virginia secondary, but it is a risk worth trying. I expect that the Cards will really do what they can with their backs and tight ends to occupy as much of the Virginia Front 6 as possible to keep the pressure off and give Will Gardner time to work the Virginia secondary.
But I don’t expect Louisville to abandon the balance that we’ve seen Bobby Petrino exercise throughout his career particularly with Michael Dyer returning to the backfield. Louisville is going to run the ball, but they are also going to hit their backs in the flat a lot (I predict in this game) and I wouldn’t be surprised if Corvin Lamb finally gets a run at a screen on a 3rd and long.
Also look out for the Cards to really use a quick release system for Will Gardner when passing, and probably even some zone read to keep the defensive ends honest. Once the running game is established as a viable part of the offense I expect the Cards to take a handful of shots deep off play-action.
The biggest key for Louisville offensively isn’t scoring each time it has the ball, but rather to NOT turn it over to Virginia’s ball-hawking defense and creating easy scoring opportunities either directly from the Virginia Defense or a very pedestrian Hoo Offense.