LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (5-4, 4-2) vs. VIRGINIA CAVALIERS (3-6, 2-3)
Game Time: 12:30 p.m.
Card March Time: 10:15 a.m.
Senior Day Ceremony Time: 12:10 p.m.
Location: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium: Louisville, Ky.
Television: ACC Regional Sports Network/Fox Sports South
Announcers: Wes Durham (Play-by-Play), James Bates (Analyst) and Jenn Hildreth (Sideline)
Favorite: Louisville by 14
All-Time Series: Virginia leads 2-1
Last Meeting: Virginia won 23-21 last season in Charlottesville
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
The Virginia defense is arguably the worst that UofL will see this year and it was a complete shock to me. This defense lost a lot from last year with two linebackers leaving early for the draft and a handful of others exhausting their eligibility. Even with those losses, they inserted a five star defensive tackle in Andrew Brown. Brought back an outstanding defensive tackle in David Dean along with Mike Moore at defensive end. They also have Trent Corney who has 6.5 tackles for loss this year. There shouldn't have been a major dropoff with the defense but here we are. The defensive line has played well and they could pose a big test for a Louisville offensive line that looked much improved last week. Louisville will have to get to the second level to really get the offense going.
Virginia had to replace their entire group of linebackers this year and Micah Kiserimmediately showed that he is a future star in the ACC. Kiser leads the league in tackles as well as being in the top ten in sacks and tackles for loss. Kiser teams with Zach Bradshaw to make up a good duo against the run but Bradshaw is an absolute liability in pass coverage. Louisville has switched to a pro-style offense so we could see more of a bas 3-4 or 4-3 defense from UVA. That would put Mike Moore at linebacker as a rusher with Kwontie Moore at defensive end. That will force Bradshaw to cover a tight end or slot receiver. That's not a good spot for him to be in.
The secondary for the Cavaliers has been downright awful. They're a talented group with Marcus Canady and Demetrius Nicholson being veteran cornerbacks that have had solid careers. They also have Quin Blanding who was a freshman All-American last season. Throw in Kelvin Rainey and you have a group of players that most coaches would be happy with on paper. The performance on the field just has not been what one would expect, at all. Blanding is second in the conference in tackles and he has one of the teams two interceptions, but he's also the team's free safety and you don't really want him making that many tackles. Canady and Nicholson have combined for 8 total pass breakups. Rainey, hasn't made very many impact plays either which gives you three guys that are defensive liabilities. Wilfred Wahee, who was the fifth DB last weekend showed what he could do when Stacy Coley blew buy him for a huge touchdown in the second quarter. Why Virginia didn't go with Darious Lattimore in that role, escapes me. Louisville should be able to exploit this group with the performance of the receivers over the last few weeks.
KEY PLAYERS: DT David Dean, MLB Micah Kiser, FS Quin Blanding, DE Mike Moore
Excitement Level: 7.8
It feels like it was legitimately 10 days ago when we were counting down the weeks until the Auburn game, and now here we are about to bid farewell to home football for another season. Enjoy every second of your last chance to tailgate and see your section friends inside PJCS, and let's send the seniors out in proper fashion.
Pregame Meal: Breakfast food, beer
Again, the official pregame meal of 2015 Louisville football home games.
Game Attire: Jeans, black U of L pullover, red Louisville Titleist hat
Riding the hot combination to a fourth straight win. Or at least that's the plan.
Bold Prediction: A freshman leads Louisville in receiving yards on senior day
I almost went with "nothing bold-prediction worthy happens," but that would have been super lame.
Predicted Star of the Game: Brandon Radcliff
I got cocky last week. I'll be the first person to admit it. I got cocky and I got burned.
Brandon Radcliff owned the final third of Louisville's 2014 season. Here's to brief history repeating itself.
Cole Hikutini Touchdown Alert Level: Medium Chrone Green (Even hotter than last week's Light Venetian Red)
Told you I had a better feeling about this than the alert system.
Motivational Opposition Tweets:
Everyone associated with Virginia athletics appears to be tweeting about basketball.
--Bobby Petrino is 10-0 all-time as a head coach on senior day, including 5-0 at Louisville.
--Louisville is 26-2 over the last three seasons when attempting at least 35 rushes in a game. The only two losses came last year at Clemson, and in the 2015 season-opener against Auburn.
--Virginia first played in the Commonwealth of Kentucky on this same weekend 117 years ago on Nov. 12, 1898 against Vanderbilt. UVA won, 18-0, against the Commodores at Fontaine Ferry Park, which was slightly south of the terminus of Market Street near the Ohio River.
--Louisville has won 11 consecutive games when kicking off to begin the game, and has lost seven of its last 11 when receiving the opening kickoff, including three of four games this season.
--Virginia's Taquan "Smoke" Mizzell leads the nation's running backs with 539 receiving yards and with 54 receptions.
--Louisville has won eight consecutive games played in the month of November, the second-longest such streak in program history.
--Fifteen different Cavaliers have scored at least one touchdown this season. That ranks No. 2 in the ACC behind Georgia Tech's 17.
--Four out-going seniors will conclude their home season having played at least 40 games during their Louisville careers. Kicker John Wallace, linebacker James Burgess defensive end Sheldon Rankins and defensive back Jermaine Reve all played 40 or more games during their UofL careers.
--Louisville has allowed opponents to reach the red zone just 19 times in nine games, ranking the Cardinals in a tie with Alabama for fifth nationally in terms of fewest red-zone chance. Michigan leads the way with only 16 attempts, while Wisconsin and NC State are second with 17 and Air Force is fourth with 18.
--Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 195 games dating back to the 2000 season. The streak ranks as the third longest in the ACC behind only Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.
--Louisville is 167-9 all-time when scoring 35 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 5-100 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points.
--"This is a must win. They got us last year, so this game has definitely been a circle on our calendar. Knowing that they beat us last year and this is the game to be bowl eligible, this is a very big game." --James Burgess
--"We know they're very dangerous. I think the No. 1 thing we have to do is prepare for what they do, and then we need to continue to improve ourselves." --Bobby Petrino
--"We've got to do our job a little better. We're close, losing by seven to Pittsburgh, losing by six at Miami, losing by a touchdown against Notre Dame. We're right there. It's something we have to do as a team. We can't veer off. A house divided won't stand. If we fall apart, the rest of this is going to get ugly." --Virginia WR Canaan Severin
--"We need (Bolin) to go out and play well and not worry about winning the job or losing the job. He just needs to have the mindset that, ‘I'm going to keep getting better in practice and I'm going to go out and perform.'" --Bobby Petrino
--"With this challenge coming up, it's a big one. This Louisville defense, they're a buzzsaw. They're really good." --Virginia OL coach Dave Borbely
--"I'm not counting up how many wins. This is the biggest game for us. Then after this one, we'll look to the next one." --Virginia coach Mike London
--"Me personally, I kind of have the mindset that we beat them last year and there's no doubt in my mind that we can do it again." --Virginia defensive tackle David Dean
Card Chronicle Prediction: Louisville 35, Virginia 20