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Opponent Breakdown: Virginia Cavaliers

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Louisville's new permanent conference rival will rely on an aggressive defense that has made a living off of turnovers early this season.

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Mike London entered this season on what was probably the hottest seat of any power five head coach. London is pretty much hanging from an 8-5 bowl season three seasons ago and a few wins over name teams. This season has started off somewhat well for London with a close loss that his team gave away to a highly ranked UCLA squad. His defense is playing lights out, while the offense is doing its best to lose games for the team. There's no doubt that London is hoping that his excellent front seven can cause issues for Will Gardner in his first road game.

OFFENSE

Virginia will continue to go with a two quarterback system after Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns have both had one good game and one not so good game. Both are big kids with plenty of arm strength to get the ball down the field. Lambert won the starting job in the offseason but was benched in the first half of the UCLA game after the offense gave up three defensive touchdowns. Johns came in and immediately looked like a much better weapon for the offense. He connected on multiple deep balls to his taller receivers down the field. However, last week against Richmond Lambert was nearly perfect and moved the offense fairly well. John's threw a really bad interception on a deep ball.

Whichever quarterback is taking snaps should get used to seeing constant pressure from Louisville's defense. Todd Grantham has crowded the line of scrimmage in both games this season and challenged teams to block well enough to get the ball down the field. While Murray State had a few big plays last weekend, the defense has been stifling for the most part.

Kevin Parks is one of the better all around running backs in the country. Parks ran for over 1,000 yards last year while also nearly leading the Hoos in receiving. He's a small back that relies on his quickness to get around the edge but he can also get tough yards up the middle. Yards have been much harder to come by on the ground this year with Parks only averaging 3.6 yards per carry. Louisville held Duke Johnson in check in the first game of the season and it will need to do the same against Parks. He can take a lot of pressure off of the quarterbacks if Louisville has to bring another defender in the box. I suspect that Virginia will use screens heavily in this game with Louisville being so aggressive so far.

The Cavs aren't overly athletic at the wide receiver position but Darius Jennings is definitely capable of taking a short pass and taking it the distance. He has great feet and can make guys miss in open space. Louisville's tackling has been excellent and it will need to be when he has the ball. Virginia also has a lot of size outside. Jennings is the only receiver on the depth chart under 6-1 with everyone else also being 210 pounds or heavier. Louisville doesn't have a large secondary and John's has shown that he likes to throw the ball up and let his receivers make plays. That could be a factor in the game.

Virginia's offensive line has been outstanding so far this year. The line is comprised of five guys that are practically the same size and stature. All tall, long guys that don't carry a ton of weight. Virginia runs a spread attack that likes to push the pace at times. The skill of the line allows them to be pretty balanced on offense. The line has only given up one sack in two games while also allowing only 5 tackles for loss. For context: Louisville's line that has been playing pretty well has given up 14 tackles for loss and five sacks. The line's ability to handle Louisville's relentless pressure will be the biggest factor in this game in my opinion. Louisville has been collapsing the line of scrimmage in the run game and if Virginia can't get something going there, there defense will tire just like Miami's did in game one.

KEY PLAYERS: RB Kevin Parks, WR Darius Jennings, QB Greyson Lambert

DEFENSE

Virginia's defense has really played well so far this season. They list their defense as a 4-3 on their depth chart, but I have yet to see them play it other than on short yardage plays. They typically are in a 3-3-5 nickel package that for the most part only has two down linemen. They have started both games this way and I don't see that changing Saturday. Eli Harold has been the star of the defensive line so far with 3 TFLs, a sack, a forced fumble and fumble recovery for a touchdown. He is a stand up defensive end that has done pretty well at holding his ground at the point of attack even though he is a little undersized. He has really caused some havoc with his ability to get off the ball at the snap. He will be matched up with Jamon Brown for the most part but could cause some issues for Ryan Mack if the line flips on some passing plays.

Henry Coley, Max Valles, and Daquan Romero have been all over the place as linebackers. Each has at least one sack and multiple tackles for loss with Max Valles also doing a great job opposite Harold as a rush linebacker at times. Coley has done so well with crashing the line against the run and supporting the two down linemen in the scheme. Jon Tenuta's defensive philosophy is based on pressure and his team has brought it so far this year with the linebackers leading the way. At times the pressure has left the middle of the defense susceptible to crossing routes and option routes. Two things that Louisville's offense has used very well.

Virginia's secondary is led by All-American Anthony Harris. Harris led the nation in interceptions last year while also making 80 tackles. He is joined this year by Quin Blanding who was a consensus 5-star prospect in last year's class and has had a strong start to the season. Both are asked to do a little of everything. They play the run, cover out of the back field as well as being deep zone safeties. One has to wonder how much more aggressive this defense can be with two stud safeties to erase mistakes. Very reminiscent of Louisville's defense last year. The cornerbacks are a fairly deep group without any real standouts. They all have great size but have been beaten in coverage quite a bit. How they handle Michaelee Harris and Eli Rogers in the slot will be something to keep an eye on.

KEY PLAYERS: DE Eli Harold, MLB Henry Coley, SS Anthony Harris, FS Quin Blanding, DT David Dean

Notes:

  • Virginia will be the second defense the Cards face this year that features two former 5-star prospects.
  • Virginia's three quarterbacks have names that could easily be mistaken for a lacrosse team's midfield.
  • Mike London is the second straight coach the Cards will face that has a FCS National Championship.
  • Mike London's Richmond team received a vote in the FBS AP poll in November of 2009