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Key Matchups: Virgina Cavaliers

Virginia's top defensive players will have to make impact plays for the Cavaliers to pull off the upset.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports


Louisville's offensive line had their best game last week against a pourous Syracuse defensive front. They will face at least one player this week that is much better than anyone on that Cuse defensive line. Dean is a potential NFL player and he's one of the few players on the Cavs defense that has been a consistent performer throughout the year. He doesn't always line up as a nose tackle where he will be heads up with Hughley, but they do blitz a good amount and when that happens he will stunt to the middle to attempt to create a hole for Micah Kiser behind him. When that happens (and honestly before it happens) Hughley will have to adjust quickly to avoid being pushed back into the pocket. Dean has good burst as well as really nice power. He's a handful for the best centers in the league and Hughley hasn't shown to be that.

Hughley played better last week with his double teams as well as his pass protection. One negative play stood out when he made a lazy attempt at cutting the defensive tackle in front of him on a quick out to Jamari Staples. The tackle simply stepped over Hughley and hit Kyle Bolin as he was about to release the ball. That forced a bad throw and killed the play. Those types of plays can easily become a turnover or they can kill a drive. They've plagued the offense all year and Hughley has been involved in them more times than not. He has to have a good game against Dean as the other tackle spot for Virginia has been completely non-effective. If Louisville can control Dean the running game should have a big day.


Virginia hasn't gotten a lot of great play from the majority of their defense but Quin Blanding has been his usual self racking up 80 tackles on the year. He's on pace for 100+ tackles for the second straight year and he's been the last line of defense for a defense that has needed one far too often this year. Blanding is a big guy at 6-2, 205 but I personally think that he plays much bigger. Blanding can run well and he delivers big hits when he arrives at the ball carrier. He's truly a complete safety.

Blanding will have another test this week as he will be asked to do a little of everything against an offense that will want to run the ball a lot as well as work the middle of the field with tight ends and crossing routes. That's a lot of plays that will be coming right at Blanding and he will have to make impact plays and not just solid plays. Virginia has forced a good amount of fumbles this year, but they only have two interceptions as of now. They need their best player to help change that number and help get their offense more plays to score.


I think that the biggest thing that Kyle Bolin brings to this offense is his ability to check plays depending on what he sees at the line of scrimmage. Some of that is called in the huddle with a run/pass option but a good amount of it comes from Bolin getting to the line and adjusting the play call once he sees the defensive alignment. Bolin also works the ball to his tight ends much better than Jackson. The middle of the field is where he likes to work and he likes to work the ball there quickly. It's really a testament to his ability to read the defense before the snap.

Bolin will be playing a little bit of a chess match with Micah Kiser this week. The Cavs middle linebacker has been, statistically, the best defensive player in the ACC this year. Kiser is only a sophomore so he's not to the point where he can match adjustments with Bolin, yet. Virginia gets their calls from the sideline and that's about it. They don't move around a lot or react to changes the opposing quarterback makes. They didn't do this last year with a veteran group of players, either. This matchup is more about Bolin being able to adjust plays and execute plays without letting Kiser make big plays. Kiser does a great job of getting penetration and blowing up running plays and he's athletic enough to be a factor in pass coverage. It's not his strong point but he is a player that can play in short zones and take away quick passes. Bolin and Garick McGee will have to get the ball in between Kiser and the third level on Saturday.


Virginia's secondary has been the weak link of a pretty weak defense overall. Canady and Nicholson are both talented players that should have been strengths of the group but both have been routinely beat in coverage all season. Canady has the size and speed combination that coaches dream of for a cornerback. He also has plenty of experience as he's a returning starter and a senior. Nicholson was the top corner back in the nation coming out of high school and had 15 PBUs as a sophomore in 2012. Since then, he's been injured and ineffective. Neither Nicholson or Canady has picked off a pass this year and they each have only 4 PBUs. Throw in the fact that neither have been above average against the run and you have two players that haven't performed up to par.

Jamari Staples has been playing outstanding football since he finally got on the field after his injury. He's been able to beat coverage over and over again on slant routes and short hitches. He's also been a reliable deep threat which Louisville was missing early in the season. Staples is catching 73% of his targets this year which is exactly what young quarterbacks need. Smith has been very inconsistent this year as he's dropped passes and struggled creating separation from defensive backs. This weekend is an opportunity for him to change that. He should be an option down the field as the running game has improved and these cornerbacks have a terrible habit of looking into the backfield with no deep help. Kyle Bolin has spread the ball well this year after being reliant on DeVante Parker last year. Smith and Staples could be the first two guys he looks for this week, however.