UofL traveled to Virginia last year and came home with one of the more embarrassing losses in recent program history. Virginia hasn't been a good program for a good while and a Louisville team that had beaten Miami soundly two weeks prior was stunned by a team that hadn't even settled on a quarterback at the time. Virginia needs to win out to make a bowl. I'm sure their veteran team will be pushed by last year's result.
Virginia finally settled on their quarterback this past offseason and they went with Matt Johns. It seems that that might have been a mistake as Grayson Lambert set the NCAA completion record at Georgia earlier this year. Really, just the fact that Lambert could transfer to UGA and start sums things up pretty well. Johns is by no means a bad quarterback but he hasn't been the player that you would expect when the coaches decided to go with him over a veteran player. Johns is big and he's mobile enough to pick up a first down if he sees an opening but he's not a runner like a Jon Wolford or Eric Dungey. Johns isn't asked to do much and to be honest he doesn't do anything that really stands out to you. He leads the nation in interceptions and he is only completing 62% of his passes even though he mostly throws to his running back. Johns will have to have the game of his career to pull off the upset.
Virginia's running backs are definitely the best group on this offense and they have a couple of players that are among the better players in the conference at this position. Taquan Mizzell (who goes by "Smoke") is a guy that could give Louisville fits if they don't key on him as a running back as well as a receiver out of the backfield. Smoke leads the team in targets with 78 on the season which is more than James Quick and Jaylen Smith combined. UVA really likes the ball in his hands and he does a lot of really good things when he gets the opportunity. Albert Reid and Daniel Hamm split the backup role and both are solid players that help lessen the impact of Mizzell being out. With an offense that wants to extend drives as long as possible it's important to have guys that can step in and not create a major dropoff.
Virginia lost their top receivers from last year and somehow found a gem in Canaan Severin. Severin is a bigger receiver that has turned out to be a really solid possession receiver for Johns. Callig him a "possession receiver" isn't meant as a slight, but Severin isn't a guy that's going to make a catch and take off for a big touchdown consistently. He is, however, a guy that torched Notre Dame's very good defense for 11 catches and 153 yards. What Louisville needs to do is not fall victim to an unproductive receiver having a big game against them. T.J. Thorpe is the next receiver on the stat sheet and he's only catching 37% of his targets.
The UVA offensive line is a solid group of veteran players that have done a decent job of protecting the quarterback. They're mobile enough to facilitate the screen game that Virginia relies on. UVA also runs a lot of speed sweeps and this offense line has no problem getting to their blocks. Once they get to the blocks they're not always effective in making the block, but sometimes just getting there is enough to spring a big play. Because UVA doesn't push the ball down the field or utilize play action, the line isn't asked to do much to protect the quarterback but they do a really nice job of creating a pocket when not outnumbered. I expect the front seven for UofL to have a game that resembles last week against Syracuse.
KEY PLAYERS: RB Taquan Mizzell, WR Canaan Severin, LG Ross Burbank, RT Eric Smith