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What To Watch For: Virginia

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This week’s #W2W4 assumes that Louisville will have to keep up with Virginia’s offense.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

CAN LOUISVILLE TURN THIS GAME INTO A SHOOTOUT?

This Louisville football team is what it is at this point. They’re a team that can slow down the opposing offense but they can put up a ton of yardage. I don’t expect things to be different this weekend against UVA. But, Louisville has been beaten easily in 3 of their 4 losses and they were down by 3 scores in the fourth quarter in the other. Louisville hasn’t been able to turn tough games into shootouts very often this year. They would likely have the advantage in those games.

Louisville is 3rd in the country in yards per game this year but they’re only ranked 21st in points per game. That illustrates a big issue with the offense when it comes to finishing drives and protecting the football. UofL is averaging about a turnover and a half per game and we’ve seen how big some of them have been. Wake Forest got a pick in the endzone. Clemson, NC State, BC, and FSU all returned a turnover for a touchdown. You can even go back to the Purdue game where Jeremy Smith fumbled on the goal line.

The other issue for Louisville’s offense is that they don’t score enough touchdowns in the red zone. This is compounded by the fact that the defense is allowing touchdowns in the red zone 75% of the time. So Louisville ends up trading field goals for touchdowns and that’s not how shootouts work. Louisville has to score touchdowns against UVA and every team left on the schedule, really. I believe that this starts with big plays being made by people not named Lamar Jackson and hopefully we see that this weekend.

VIRGINIA’S RECEIVERS SHOULD HAVE A BIG DAY

In the breakdown of UVA’s offense I pointed out how their receivers reminded me of guys that UofL has already faced this year. I might have undersold the talent they have outside with Andre Levrone and Doni Dowling. I watched a couple more games and it jumps out how athletic these guys are even though they’re massive. Levrone is the number three option on the team and he’s the most talented in my opinion. He runs well and that allows him to get behind defenses on the go routes that they like to use him for. He is, quite literally, the exact player that Louisville has not been able to handle all year.

Dowling is a bit shorter at 6-1 but he’s still 220 pounds and has enough speed to get the separation that he needs to beat man coverage. Dowling and Levrone are both capable of making plays after the catch and that’s where I’m concerned going into this game. Louisville hasn’t been terrible when it comes to bring receivers down this year, but they haven’t gone up against guys that are this big and athletic. The guys that have had the most success have been smaller receivers that are easier to tackle. I can’t help but wonder if these two guys have a big game outside of the deep balls. I could see them turning a 10-15 yard catch into a 50 yarder this weekend.

BOBBY PERTINO NEEDS TO GO BACK TO HIS GAME PLAN FROM THE FSU GAME

UofL has one win since September and in that game they ran the ball on about two thirds of their total plays. That’s the only game that they have achieved that imbalance. The cliche is that teams need balance on offense. That’s just not true. Teams need to do what they do best and for Louisville that’s running the ball. To take it further, it’s running the football with Lamar Jackson with read option plays. It forces the defense to to think and that puts aggressive defenses at a disadvantage.

For whatever reason, Bobby Petrino didn’t roll out this game plan before he got to the FSU game and even after it worked well against FSU he abandoned it against Wake Forest. This was also after Reggie Bonnafon had a career day against Boston College. They just happened to score 42 points in that game. Louisville is throwing the ball way too much and they’re lack of desire to run the ball has killed the play action aspects of the offense that they need. Louisville doesn’t have receivers that can consistently just beat coverage down the field. They need play action to move or freeze the defense to give the receiver an advantage.

The game plan against FSU utilized the biggest strengths of the offense and made the passing game easier for Lamar and his receivers. Why they don’t go with this game plan more often? Who knows.

UVA’S SPECIAL TEAMS HAVING ANOTHER BIG GAME

Joe Reed comes into this game fourth in the country in kickoff return average. He’s putting up a ridiculous 31.72 yards per return and that includes four games where he averaged over 30 yards per return. Last week he started the game with a long return down the middle of the field that put UVA in plus field position. He was also the spark for their comeback after Virginia gave up two touchdown in consecutive plays. Georgia Tech had a 78 yard touchdown run and UVA threw a pick-six on the first play of the next drive. Reed returned the ensuing kick for a touchdown and the Hoos got some momentum back.

Louisville rarely kicks the ball into the end zone so Reed will have the opportunity to take one back when Louisville scores. The Cards have only given up one touchdown return on the year but the short kicks mixed in with the nearly 20 yard average they’re allowing leads me to believe Reed could break one. At the very least, he could set up their offense with strong field position.