LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (2-1, 0-0) At VIRGINIA CAVALIERS (2-1, 0-0)
Game Time: 12:30 p.m.
Location: Scott Stadium: Charlottesville, Va.
Television: Regional Sports Networks (Fox Sports South in Louisville)
Announcers: Wes Durham (play-by-play), Jim Bates (analyst), and Rebecca Kaple (sideline)
Favorite: Virginia by 5
All-Time Series: Louisville leads, 4-2
Last Meeting: Louisville won 38-21 on Nov. 11, 2017 in Louisville
Louisville Depth Chart:
Louisville will start conference play this week with a road game against a Virginia team that is four points away from being undefeated. Virginia came into this season with a lot to replace on the offensive side of the ball and they’ve gotten mixed results from the new things they’re doing this year.
Kurt Benkert and his big arm led a pass heavy offense last year that liked to push the ball down the field as much as possible last season. With Benkert graduating, the staff looked to the JUCO ranks to find his replacement. Bryce Perkins transferred in and the offense has completely flipped through three games. The Hoos run the ball much more than they pass and Perkins is a big factor in that.
Perkins is a dual threat quarterback who doesn’t have blazing speed but has plenty to get into the open field and take a run all the way to the endzone. Perkins is averaging 14 carries per game but this past weekend against Ohio, he didn’t keep the ball very many times on option plays and he got the ball out of his hand quickly on passing plays. That helped him avoid scrambling out of the pocket like he did a bit in their first two games. His mobility and ability to make people miss will be a big issue for a Louisville defense that has not been able to get the quarterback to the ground much this year.
From a passing standpoint, Perkins really impressed me against Ohio last weekend. He connected on 83% of his passes for 379 yards and 3 touchdowns. He hit guys on quick screens and hitches as well as touch passes on the sideline. One negative in the game was that he wasn’t decisive enough when his first read wasn’t there. He took a bad sack and he ended up bailing out too quickly a time or two. Louisville has to make him uncomfortable because he showed last week that he’s an accurate passer when he has the time.
The running back spot has benefited the most from the addition of Perkins. As we saw with the Louisville running backs behind Lamar Jackson, the attention he received helped open up holes for the backs. Jordan Ellis has enjoyed a very good start to the season after only averaging 3.9 yards per carry last year. He’s up to 7.45 to start this year and a couple of his long runs have gone untouched into the endzone. Ellis is a bowling ball type of back with solid speed and size. He probably won’t run away from the guys in UofL’s secondary but he can definitely break a chunk run here or there.
The group of receivers for the Hoos has been much better this season that I expected, personally. I’ll eat my crow for hyping up Andre Levrone and Doni Dowling last season only to see them do nothing in the game. This year, Virginia has replaced them pretty well with Hasise Dubois and Joe Reed. Neither are downfield threats like the guys they’ve replaced but they are reliable options in the short passing attack. Reed has really good speed but hasn’t been able to do much outside of being a good return man. Teams have spread the ball around against UofL so far, so he could break out this weekend.
The guy that Louisville really needs to worry about outside is Olimide Zaccheaus. That sentence has been true for a few years now but UVA is using him exclusively as a receiver now and he has rewarded that decision by averaging 121 yards per game which is 8th in the country. Coming off of a game where he had 247 yards receiving, Louisville will have to find a way to scheme around stopping him from getting the ball. Zaccheaus is the type of player that can take a short pass and turn it into a 70+ yard touchdown. He can make people miss in the open field and he can run through ankle tackles. His play making ability has to be accounted for.
Virginia’s offensive line has been pretty good so far, but you can see the issues that they have with the transition to a mobile quarterback. Perkins has a habit of holding onto the ball too long and the line just isn’t used to having to hold their blocks for that long. Overall, I think they’ve done a good job of creating a pocket for Perkins to stand tall in. I also think they’ve done really well to create big holes for the running game. These guys weren’t recruited to run read option stuff or to protect a mobile quarterback but they’ve done well to block in space and to get to their assigned blocks on run plays.
Bronco Mendenhall came to Virginia with a strong history as a defensive coach. He was gifted two of the better players in the country in Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding. With those guys gone and a couple of recruiting classes to bring in his own guys, the defense has looked somewhat inconsistent so far this season.
The front for UVA is trying to find a way to replace Andrew Brown at defensive end. They have utilized former nose tackle, Eli Hanbeck at that left end spot but he hasn’t been able to make very many plays so far. Hanbeck is a massive player and does a good job as a run defender but he doesn’t bring anything to the table as a pass rusher. Jordan Redmon is a guy to keep an eye on. He’s a 320 pound true freshman that starts in the middle of the line.
So far this year, the linebackers have been the best group for this defense. Jordan Mack has moved over to take over for Kiser and he already has 2.5 tackles for loss. He hasn’t had the amount of tackles that Kiser put up but his impact is seen on every defensive play. He’s always around the ball. Malcolm Cook shifted into the weakside inside linebacker spot but he missed the Ohio game with an injury. He’s expected to be back this week and that would be big for this defense. His backup left a lot to be desired last week.
On the outside is where you really get the impact plays from this defense. Chris Peace led the team in tackles for loss and sacks last year and he’s doing the same so far this year. Peace is a really good edge rusher but his game has developed to be a more complete player. So far he is playing the run much better and can use his speed in coverage at times. Charles Snowden is a super intriguing player to me. He came to UVA as a 6-7/200 pound outside linebacker and he’s bulked up to 225. He uses his length so well and has made more of an impact than the stats show. These two guys will be key for the defense defending the read option.
I expected the Virginia secondary to be one of the best in the conference but that hasn’t been the case so far. It hasn’t helped that the pass rush has been almost nonexistent but these guys were expected to be able to hold their own without much help. Bryce Hall has been able to do that with 7 pass break ups on the year. He gave up a touchdown pass against IU but they played in bad weather and he slipped on the play. Outside of that, he has been a lock down corner all year.
The safety spot has done pretty well so far replacing Blanding. Juan Thornhill returned at his “Sabre” spot. It’s kind of a strong safety spot but he is also used in coverage a good amount. Thornhill is a very good player and I would expect him to make a play on any balls over the middle that miss their mark. Brenton Nelson is still the odd man out in the secondary but he plays plenty as the fifth defensive back. He earned some accolades last year as a freshman. Joey Blount is the new guy at free safety and he leads the team in tackles. He is also used as a cornerback sometimes so those plays could provide an opportunity for the offense to take advantage.
Excitement Level: 5.8
I’m trying here, guys. You’re gonna have to give me something this week.
Game Attire: Block L Louisville hoodie shirt, grey Cardinal bird hat
It’s going to finally feel like fall and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to take advantage of that. I don’t care where the team is playing.
Pregame Meal: Fish sandwiches
Doing the pregame show on 790 from 10-11:30 and then rolling to the Suburban Social Fish Fry to grab a to-go order. My dad and I would get it every Saturday in the fall when I was growing up, and it’s always been the best fish in the city.
Bold Prediction: Malik Cunningham has more passing yards than rushing yards and more passing touchdowns than rushing touchdowns
These have actually been getting progressively worse every week, so I’m toning down the boldness a touch here. I think.
Rodjay Burns Kick/Punt Touchdown Return Alert Level: Canary (very good)
Rodjay came close to making it two returns for scores in as many weeks. He’s got at least one more in him before the end of the season. I’m feeling good about this week.
Predicted Star of the Game: Robert Hicks
These have been every bit as bad as the bold predictions so far, so let’s the flip the script and go defense. Hicks was all over the place last week in his first major action. He’s going to have to be even better to stop a Virginia offense that features a dual threat quarterback and the best running back Louisville has seen since Bama.
—Louisville is 17-17 all-time in conference openers, including a 10-9 record in road games. The Cards have been victorious the last four times their first league game has been on the road (2012 at Pitt, 2013 at Temple, 2016 at Syracuse, 2017 at North Carolina).
—Louisville is 3-1 in conference openers since moving to the ACC in 2014. The only loss over that span came against Clemson in 2015.
—Virginia is 25-39 all-time in ACC openers.
—Bobby Petrino is 5-3 in conference openers at Louisville.
—Louisville is 9-7 in ACC road games under Petrino.
—Louisville has won 10 of its last 12 road games in the month of September.
—This is the second time UVA has opened ACC play against Louisville since the Cardinals joined the league. UVA opened up league play in 2014 with a 23-21 upset over No. 21 Louisville at Scott Stadium.
—As a member of the ACC, Louisville is 6-2 in games against Coastal Division opponents.
—Virginia will celebrate Military Appreciation Day Saturday at Scott Stadium.
—Redshirt freshman quarterback Malik Cunningham will be making his first start for Louisville.
—Virginia Olamide Zaccheaus is coming off a game in which he set the UVA single-game record with 247 receiving yard. Zaccheaus’ 247 receiving yards ties him with Randy Marriott of UNC (1987) for No. 10 on the ACC’s all-time ledger of single-game receiving yards
—Virginia and Kentucky are two of the four constituent states of the United States of America that officially use the name “Commonwealth” instead of the word state in all references. The other two are Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
—Mekhi Becton is the only player on Louisville’s roster who hails from the state of Virginia.
—With a Louisville victory, Bobby Petrino would become the 12th active FBS head coach to with 120 career victories.
—Virginia is the only men’s basketball team to lose an NCAA tournament game to a No. 16 seed, falling last season to UMBC by a final score of 74-54.
—Last year’s game is the only one in this series that has been decided by more than a touchdown.
—Louisville is off to a 2-1 start for the second straight season.
—Louisville is 20-3 under Bobby Petrino when scoring on its first drive, and just 16-16 when failing to.
—Louisville is 54-1 all-time and 18-0 under Bobby Petrino when rushing for at least 300 yards.
—Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 228 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 183-12 all-time when scoring 35 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 5-107 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points.
—“It’s a feeling that I’ve been waiting my whole life. I’ve waited for the opportunity to prove what I can do. I just have to keep going and keep working.” —Malik Cunningham
—“The main reason we’re starting (Malik) is because of the success he’s had when he’s come in. Twelve starting possessions, eight scoring possessions. He’s really been able to generate enthusiasm and play-making ability. But, yeah, he’s pretty good at the option game himself.” —Bobby Petrino
—”Every time you can get an advantage in this league, at any level, no matter how minuscule or how significant, you have to leverage it because they don’t come very often. If you have a chance to be at home or any advantage you can possibly get, to squander it, it’s very difficult to get it back if you do.” —Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall
—“When we play at home, we have to win.” —Virginia wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus
—“Oh man, we have a lot more to show. Each week we keep adding, we’re changing plays. The playbook that we have run in these past few games is not even close to complete.” —Virginia QB Bryce Perkins
—“(Cunningham)’s a dynamic athlete, for sure. He doesn’t yet possess the ability to throw the ball or the complete set of skills Lamar has, but his athleticism is where the two would compare.” —Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall
—“I mean, we do some different things, but they’ve both been executing the same thing. Malik can throw the ball down the field. He can make the throws we need to make.” —Bobby Petrino
—“We have great players around everywhere, so it doesn’t matter. Somebody’s going to get most of the load and somebody’s going to make the big plays. … Throwing is great, touchdowns is great, but if we’re not winning, it doesn’t mean anything. Anything I can do, the coaches think I can do to win, it doesn’t matter.” —Virginia QB Bryce Perkins
—“I felt like Louisville was the best fit for me. And I also felt like Virginia might be the best fit for me. So it was really hard to decide. It is tough. But you have to do what’s best for you.” —Mekhi Becton
Card Chronicle Prediction: Louisville 29, Virginia 27
Just find a way to win this one. We’ll worry about prettying things up as we go along.