NO. 5 LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (6-1, 4-1) At VIRGINIA CAVALIERS (2-5, 1-2)
Game Time: Noon
Location: Scott Stadium: Charlottesville, Va.
Announcers: Allen Bestwick (play-by-play), Mike Bellotti (analyst) and Kris Budden (reporter)
Favorite: Louisville by 33
All-Time Series: Tied 2-2
Last Meeting: Louisville won 38-31 on Nov. 14, 2015 in Louisville
TV Coverage Map:
Louisville Depth Chart:
Virginia is in their first year with a new head coach and new offensive staff and it is showing in the win-loss column. Bronco Mendenhall came to Virginia from BYU where he never had much of an issue with generating offense. The Cavs run a multiple offense that is mostly built on spread tendencies but they haven't been able to get much of anything going so far this year. BYU was known for having a strong running game and an efficient passing attack but UVA has been very pass heavy this season. Louisville has been very good on the defensive side of the ball over the last two games but if there is an area where they've been vulnerable it's in the passing game.
Virginia entered the season with a three-way race for the starting quarterback position but they settled on Kurt Benkert as the starter. Benkert transferred from ECU where defensive line coach Ruffin McNeil was the head coach last year. Benkert has a big arm and he's been pretty solid with his decision making this year. I can't say that it's Benkert or the offensive game plan, but Virginia's offense has been unbelievably boring. Benkert is only averaging 5.8 yards per attempt and most passes only travel a few yards down the field. Benkert was benched in favor of Connor Brewer late last week but he's been named the starter for Saturday. Brewer is averaging negative yards per attempt so I guess it makes sense that he won't be taking over the job. Virginia will have to push the ball down the field and utilize their quarterback's arm strength if they want to pull the upset.
The running back position is the strength of the UVA offense and Taquan Mizzell is the best talent of the group. "Smoke" as he is known, is a super quick back who has pretty good speed in the open field and outstanding hands out of the backfield. Mizzell had 129 total yards in last year's game but he didn't have nearly enough carries. He's still not receiving enough carries in the new offensive system, but for some reason I think that the offense will tweak things this week. UVA is in danger of having a two win season and something has to give. Albert Reidshares carries with Mizzell in a "thunder and lightning" style backfield. Reid will get the bulk of the carries if UVA decides to spread the field with Mizzell in the slot which they've done a good amount this year.
Virginia has played a lot of receivers this year and it seems like they're still looking for the right mix of guys. Keeon Johnson has been targeted nearly double the amount of times as the next receiver but he only leads the team in receptions by 3. Johnson is also averaging under 10 yards per catch, which I'm not sure I've seen from a leading receiver in my time writing these posts. UVA's big play threat at receiver is Olamide Zaccheaus who is putting up just over 14 ypc as well as being a guy that the offense will use on some designed running plays. Doni Dowling is also a guy that can be utilized on some plays down the field. Dowling is a big kid at 215 pounds so I wouldn't be surprised to see him used in the red zone and on sideline routes. I personally think that the Cavs have pretty solid receivers, but they don't utilize them very well.
The offensive line has been very good opening holes for the Cavs running game and I honestly have no clue why their offense is so unbalanced. Virginia has been playing from behind a lot this year, but they start games flinging the ball around when two of their three best players on the offense are running backs. They've been successful, too. Mizzell is averaging 5.6 ypc and Reid is at 4.7. Hell, Virginia has allowed 20 sacks this year while they've only allowed 16 tackles for loss that weren't sacks. It's pretty obvious that this team should get behind their veteran line and pound the football. Louisville will have a field day if they continue to be pass happy this weekend.
KEY PLAYERS: QB Kurt Benkert, RB Smoke Mizzell, RB Albert Reid, WR Olamide Zaccheaus, RT Eric Smith
Mike London did a really good job of putting together good defenses that mixed NFL talent with solid talent. Bronco Mendenhall is a former defensive coordinator who took over a defense that still had some of that NFL talent on it as well as some young guys with potential. The Cavs run a 3-4 base defense that they typically stick to and they have NFL caliber players at all three levels.
The defensive line for the Cavs has been pretty ineffective as it comes to making impact plays, but they have been pretty good at holding up blocks and letting second level players roam. Andrew Brown was the top ranked defensive tackle in the country a few years ago but for some reason he just couldn't get onto the field consistently until this year. Brown lines up at left end and he looks like he's in outstanding shape at 290 pounds. Brown's stats are somewhat skewed because he had a monster game against UConn but he has been able to make some plays in other games and he's been disruptive in the games I've watched. He and Donte Wilkinsprovide the veteran presence along the front while freshman Eli Hanbeck mans the right end spot. These linemen will be tasked with chewing up blockers this weekend so that their linebackers can spy and try to contain Lamar Jackson.
Max Valles and Eli Harold are long gone, but Micah Kiser is by far the best linebacker that Virginia has had since UofL joined the ACC. Kiser is a "do everything" guy that makes a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage. UVA has a very similar system on both sides of the ball and Mendenhall's 3-4 allows Kiser to blitz as well as play downhill in the run game. Kiser has the size to take on blockers but he really does well when he can used his speed to sift through the wash and get to the ball carrier. Zach Bradshaw lines up next to Kiser and he's a solid player in small spaces. He doesn't do nearly as well when he has to take on a runner in space but he is a strong tackler when he gets to square up. Chris Peace and Jordan Mack are both solid at the outside spots. Mack is pretty good at rushing the passer for a young guy. His speed could help UVA clamp down on Lamar Jackson.
The secondary for the Cavs is led by Quin Blanding who is one of the best safeties in the country. Blanding is one of my favorite players to watch play and that's been the case for three years. Blanding rarely misses a tackle and he can make big plays occasionally. UVA needs Blanding to make more impact plays for them, somehow. As a deep safety he doesn't get a ton of opportunities to do so but he is the best player on the team and those plays have to be made. Kelvin Rainey is the safety partner with Blanding. Rainey is a solid player but he also struggles in space with quick players. That obviously doesn't bode well when you're trying to contain Jackson.
The corners for the Cavs are young players that have shown flashes of good potential. Juan Thornhill is solid in coverage and he's a good tackler in run support. Thornhill plays on the "field" side, so he would probably be more likely to see the deep post routes Louisville loves to run. Bryce Hall is the boundary corner for the Cavs and he's a true freshman. Hall is a confident player that I think will grow into a pretty good corner, but he's raw and he isn't a guy that can really be agile enough to turn and navigate routes with quicker receivers. It will be interesting to see how he holds up against James Quick and Jamari Staples outside.
KEY PLAYERS: DE Andrew Brown, ILB Micah Kiser, FS Quin Blanding
Excitement Level: 9.0
Opponent be damned, Louisville is in the top five and has the best player in college football running its offense. The EL will not dip below 9.0 unless this team loses again.
Game Attire: Grey Cardinal sweatpants, red long-sleeved Louisville Cardinals shirt
Casual home viewing outfit. Don't let it fool you.
Pregame Meal: Coffee, toast
Been on a huge toast kick these last couple of weeks. No need to get deeper into it.
Bold Prediction: Virginia attempts a trick play and it fails in hilarious fashion
Throwin' darts blindfolded while hanging out of a truck doing 90. Still got a chance to land it.
Cole Hikutini Touchdown Alert Level: Orange-Yellow (very high)
Don't expect this bad boy to dip too far between now and the end of the season.
Predicted Star of the Game: Lamar Jackson
Again, it'd be disingenuous to pick anyone else at this point.
Motivational Opposition Tweets:
I don't know who this person is or if he's even a Virginia fan, but yeah, here's this.
UVA will beat Louisville by 10— Zachary Lam (@ZachLamYMCMB1) October 26, 2016
--Louisville leads the nation in scoring at 52.6 points per game, and is one of three teams leading the country with
48 touchdowns scored this season. The Cardinals have scored 50 or more points five times this season, which is two
short of trying the school record of seven set in 2004.
--No. 5 Louisville is the highest-ranked team to visit Scott Stadium since then-No. 2 Oregon in 2013. The Ducks won that game, 59-10.
--Louisville is 0-5 all-time in games played in the state of Virginia.
--Louisville is bowl eligible for a seventh straight season.
--During Saturday's game Virginia honor its winningest coach, George Welsh, on the 25th anniversary of his winning national coach of the year honors. Virginia was 134-86-3 under Welsh from 1982-2000, and made 12 bowl appearances. He was the ACC's career victories leader when he retired.
--Louisville is 35-3 over the last four seasons when attempting at least 35 rushes in a game. The only three losses came this season at Clemson, in 2014 at Clemson, and in the 2015 season-opener against Auburn.
--Virginia is No. 2 in the nation in red zone chances that result in a touchdown. UVA is posting a rate of 82.6 percent of its red zone chances resulting in a TD.
--Louisville is 34-4 under Bobby Petrino when winning the turnover battle. The Cardinals have lost the turnover battle in four of their seven games this season, but have gone 4-0 in those games.
--Virginia RB Taquan "Smoke" Mizzell has a reception in 40 straight games, which is tied for the third-longest active streak in the nation.
--Louisville has won 14 consecutive games when kicking off to begin the game, but has received to start all seven games this season.
--The 33-point spread is the largest ever for a Louisville road game against a power five conference opponent. The previous high was 22 against Kentucky in 2005.
--Louisville ranks 19th nationally in stopping the run, allowing just 116 yards per game. Over the last two games, Duke and NC State averaged just 62 yards on the ground against the Cardinals' defense.
--Lamar Jackson needs 92 yards to become the school's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2010, and the first QB to do so.
--The previous four games played between Louisville and Virginia have been decided by a total of 12 points.
--Virginia hasn't defeated a ranked opponent at home since its 23-21 upset of Louisville in 2014. It hasn't defeated a top five opponent at home since a win over Florida State in 2005. All-time, the Cavaliers are 2-8-1 against top five foes.
--Louisville is 9-2 all-time in games played on Oct. 29, with its most recent game being a 27-10 win over Syracuse in 2011.
--The Cards have the fourth-most wins nationally since 2011 with 22 wins — tying themselves with Alabama and Stanford.
--Louisville is 22-8 in road games since 2011, and 2-1 this season.
--Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 206 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 174-10 all-time when scoring 35 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 5-102 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points.
--"We're so focused on just our own execution, which there's significant lapses in consistency right now. I mean, my point simply to the team is we have plenty to work on just within our own organization, and so my intent is to keep their focus on us, on us, on us, knowing the external environment will be talking about Louisville and their quarterback." --Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall
--"We just want to go out and play well. One of the things we really try to harp on with our football team is, let's not worry about the scoreboard. Let's do a good job, playing your best. Getting ready each play and executing your job on each play and then the scoreboard takes care of itself. I think they've worked extremely hard at it and we've seen our effort grades get a lot better." --Bobby Petrino
--"I mean, we pay attention to it. It's definitely in the back of all our minds. We're going to put ourselves in the best situation. We're not going to rely on anyone else to win or lose or do certain things. We're just going to play our game." --Jonathan Greenard
--"Two years ago, we beat them at home, and last year we should've beat ‘em. So it's just another game that we know we can win, and if we play our best, we're going to have our best chance to win." --Virginia nose tackle Donte Wilkins
--"I think there is some history there. Obviously, I was not here and ... part of it, but to these players, that's real. So I'll do everything I can to build the momentum off of that. Really, what they think is what matters most, that's internal, and that's what they believe." --Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall
--"To us, to be honest, it's just another game. We have to come out and be physical from start to end. If we do that and play consistently at a high level, the game will turn in our favor. So we look forward to it." --Virginia wide receiver Keeon Johnson
--"As far as I'm concerned, it's just a new quarterback." --Virginia right tackle Eric Smith
--"I haven't heard anything their players are saying. But they are a good football team. They have always been very, very talented, and we have had great respect for their players and how they play the game. We lost a close game up there a couple years ago. We made a couple mistakes late, but they played us very, very tough. And then last year, we had a really nice win at home." --Bobby Petrino
--"Duke, to this point, was overmatched but did the very best job not only schematically but execution-wise against them. That gives us the best chance, a similar approach." --Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall
--"I think they have great running backs who run hard. They are athletic on the outside with their receivers, you know, James Quick and the other receivers that they have. They have a team. It's not just him doing it by himself, because I don't think he could." --Virginia nose tackle Donte Wilkins
--"Looking at ESPN, I see his name all over the place. He's a very dynamic quarterback, and you can see it. The stats, they show it all." --Virginia cornerback Juan Thornhill
--"We can't control other teams' wins or losses. We just have to go out and win every game from here on out. We can only control what we can control. We try to focus on winning each week and showing the country that we can dominate. We want to be the best team in the country at the end of the day." --Cole Hikutini
--"It would be kind of a signature statement for this particular group of players because of all their hard work and what they have been through in the past. I think [it] would ignite them and revitalize them for years to come, not only in this program, but as they move on in their lives." --Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall