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Countdown Q&A- Week 8, Virginia

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Duke at Virginia Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This week the Cards take on the formerly ranked Virginia Cavaliers. Would have been a whole lot cooler if they would have stayed in the Top 25 for this contest, but in typical Virginia fashion, they ruin everything for Louisville.

Today I got to speak with the wonderful Caroline Darney from over at ‘Streaking The Lawn’. She was kind enough to answer some of my ridiculous questions and still provide sufficient insight into some things we may see tomorrow here at ‘$9.5mil Cardinal Stadium’. Let’s get it...

1. Last week the Hoos took on a challenging Duke opponent in a highly contested game that went down to the last few moments, making both teams sweat it out in OT. I’m of course talking about the two nationally ranked field hockey teams, seeing as UVA is now a field hockey , mens soccer , womens soccer, basketball school...okay, you’re good at a bunch of stuff now. Congratulations Darney, you’re like Louisville from 5 years ago. Welcome to the party. Dammit, I already forgot my question.

Oh yeah, football. Eight weeks into the year and the Cavaliers are sitting at first place in the ACC [googles other division name] Coastal. At this point in the season is that in line with you expectations? How would you answer my ‘Survey Monkey’ question... “Extremely Disappointed”, “Disappointed”, “As Expected”, “Surprised”, or “Extremely Surprised”?

Despite Virginia being picked first in the Coastal by the media in the preseason, I think I’m still firmly in the “Surprised” category. There have been some performances that have been disappointing, such as the Miami game. Virginia was clearly the better team, but red zone issues on offense cost the Cavaliers a game that would have given them a huge lead in the division. That Miami went on to lose to Georgia Tech, which makes everything more annoying.

That said, it’s nearly impossible to be upset at 5-2 and 3-1 in the ACC. Virginia is doing what we thought they would do, but have added wins over Florida State (no matter how diminished the brand might be right now), Pitt (who have looked extremely competent), and Duke (which was a dominating affair). I’d say “surprised” over “as expected” only because years of tough football have made us a little wary and expecting the worst.

NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 07 Virginia at Miami Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2. During the first half of the season Virginia’s rushing offense was riding on the front row of the struggle bus and hitting every speed bump along its way. They’ve had three games this season where they didn’t crack 75 yards total, including a “4” spot against ND. Then, they go and drop 154 yards and 5 TDs on Duke last week, even outperforming it’s passing game (153 yds). It was their best output of the season on the ground sans the game against the ‘William and Mary Tribe’ (also the name of a new reality show on TLC this fall about a Williamsburg area family with 12 kids). What happened? Is Louisville gonna have to stack the box?

Virginia’s running game against Duke was a very, very welcome sight. There were some changes to scheme and play calling, and the offensive line had arguably their best performance to date. A lot of that, however, was due to the way the offense was moving prior to Wayne Taulapapa really ramping up to truck through the Duke defense. This was the second game that Bryce Perkins was without the knee brace, and I think he 1. looked more mobile and 2. was used with way more designed runs. Part of the increase in Perkins’s runs was the fact that back up quarterback Brennan Armstrong is healthy again and back on the two-deep, so the coaching staff is more willing to take some risks. This improvement comes at a good time, especially considering Louisville, North Carolina, and Georgia Tech (Virginia’s next three opponents) are the three worst in the ACC against rushing.

3. In my brain Bryce Perkins is still a beast because he nearly went for the 200/100 combo last season against Louisville in the air and on the ground, including a hurdle over one of our defenders. I mean, trademark infringement, much Bryce? His stats seem slightly better this year outside of the seven INTs. With the ground game struggles, I’d assume more would be put on Bryce’s shoulders to lead the offense this year. Has his safety net from last season (Olamide Zaccheaus) been tough to replace?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Duke at Virginia Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Losing OZ is definitely difficult, as is losing a running back like Jordan Ellis. There’s way more pressure on Bryce to execute the offense, but there’s also a season of film on him now. The passing game -- especially the short distance passes -- have been much improved and really effective. It obviously helps that there are talented receivers Hasise Dubois and Joe Reed, but this is a very different-looking offense than last season.

4. Enough talk about that side of the ball. UVA didn’t bring in Bronco freakin’ Mendenhall to score points, they brought him in to destroy offenses and to win the “Best Coaching Name” trophy every season in the ACC (suck it, Dabo). Currently UVA is in the Top 25 in all four major defensive statistical categories (scoring, rushing, passing, total) and is Top 10 in sacks (28) and TFL (58). Is QB pressure the catalyst for this defense? How are they taking over games?

My goodness this defense is a damn delight. If it weren’t for the reigning national champion men’s basketball team in Charlottesville (thanks for being such a great host arena for the Sweet 16 and Elite 8, by the way), the football team could have an argument for the best defense in town. The schemes that are drawn up to keep creative blitzes coming at opponent QBs has led to the Cavaliers being tied for third in the country with 28 sacks on the season. The folks ahead of them/beside them? Pitt (who actually leads the country...I’ll let someone else try and work that out), Florida, Penn State, Ohio State, Clemson...that’s some pretty good company. But it’s not just the blitzes. This front line will get you out of position, and linebackers like Charles Snowden, Jordan Mack, and Zane Zandier feel like they’re all over the field.

Joey Blount has had a great season, and, although the loss of Bryce Hall was absolutely horrible for a litany of reasons, cornerbacks Nick Grant and Da’Vante Cross have played well. I love this defense so, so much.

5. Pardon my divergence but not sure if you saw Caroline that Ken Pom, the smartest man in the known College Basketball Universe (outside our own Mike Rutherford, of course) released his initial rankings for the season. Cards checked in at third. No question, just wanted to let you know. We’re coming.

Hey, I picked y’all to finish first in the ACC this year!

6. The story on Virginia coming into this season was that they may be the second best team in the conference behind Georgia Tech Clemson and so far, you could still make that argument. While there isn’t that one “big win” to point to this year they have handled their business for the most part and won the games they needed to. Cards have been building some momentum with Satterfield and I think they present a decent challenge for Virginia on Saturday afternoon. How do you see this one shaking out?

I actually picked this as a loss in the preseason podcast we do, and I actually feel much better about that after seeing the way that Coach Satterfield has the Cardinals playing this season. That said, I’m actually going to pick Virginia because of the way they came out and executed against Duke. Obviously forcing five turnovers can’t be counted on again this week, but I like the matchups. I hate picking scores...but let’s go 35-24 Virginia?

***

Thanks again to Caroline. You can follow her on twitter right here, and follow our friends over at ‘Streaking The Lawn’ right here. I kind of have a love/hate relationship with Virginia. In both major sports they have caused me significant indigestion and forced me into a few expletives but their fans, for the most part, have been great towards Louisville and me personally. I think this game is close but Cards are in trouble with poor weather and that tough front seven for UVA. The inability to pick on the DBs as much as Satterfield would like could be detrimental. If the rain holds off....we all cheer for Kevin Harned and the Cards win by double digits.

I answered some questions for ‘STL’ this week as well which I’ll link below when they get them posted later today.