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Virginia Film Review: First Quarter

NCAA Football: Virginia at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Louisville pulled of another upset on Saturday with a big win over Virginia. The UVA defense came in with a very good reputation when it came to stopping the run and avoiding big plays. Micale Cunningham put that rep to the test in the first quarter. Louisville’s defense also started off well but made a costly mistake that put UofL behind.


Louisville started the game with a triple option run that they haven’t run all too often this year. It set the stage for what would be a heavy dose of misdirection and option looks. I really like that they used Tutu as the pitch man here. Down the stretch of the season, Louisville will be facing a few very good defensive lines and they need to add as many wrinkles as possible when it comes to edge runs. Scott Satterfield said that he wanted to utilize the “Q run” more this week now that his quarterbacks were healthy so him using it early was great.


Here’s my hot take of the post. This was the biggest play of the game and if Joey Blount doesn’t make this tackle it would have changed the way both teams called the game. UVA would’ve been playing from behind which would have changed how much they ran the ball early. Louisville would have had their confidence stoked by a huge play early on which would have helped their running game. It also allows for a more effective play action game.

Louisville has been explosive on offense this year and that threat is a huge factor in how they’re going to be defended. If they’re able to hit a big play on a run you’ve spent all week planning to stop, you’ll start second guessing your game plan.


Early on (and later also) it felt like Virginia just didn’t plan for Louisville’s option game. They haven’t used it as much as I’d like but it’s a known part of the offense. On this play, Charles Snowden bites on the dive man so hard that he gets spun around. I talked about the offense maybe running away from Snowden because his length makes it easier for him to set the edge. On this play he takes away his own advantage. If he just splits the difference here, he could use his 6-7 frame to get his hands on either player and possible bring them down. He commits and Cunningham makes him pay.


I wanted to post this play because it’s actually a good example of what went wrong with Louisville’s running game early in the game. They ran the ball to the short side a lot and I think they were looking for this result. Mekhi Becton and Caleb Chandler end up working as a moving wall that doesn’t allow guys to chase the play from inside out. If you watch the path of the run you can see Becton just bulldoze a path and Chandler plays off of his hip. That doesn’t allow the flowing linebackers an angle to the ball and they end up diving for ankles or chasing the play.

This just didn’t happen much early in the game. UVA was able to find the gaps between the blockers and shoot them to get to Hawkins. Becton creating the path off the snap is key as it takes away the need to be patient. Hawkins sees it and hits it. That’s how you run on a downhill defense like Virginia.


There’s a bit of an ongoing issue with the passing offense that it’s working way too hard to get Tutu Atwell the ball. We all saw it over the first few games and then it seemed to be a thing of the past once Dez Fitzpatrick and Seth Dawkins got going. However, the last two weeks have shown that the quarterbacks tend to look to him before anyone else.

The play speaks for itself but you can see that Tutu runs a double move in the slot that just isn’t open. Virginia has a safety on him in man coverage and he bails out at the snap to make sure Tutu can’t eat up his cushion. The safety in the middle of the field has no threat on the other side of the field so he stays in the center of the field. Then you have the outside corner who is also bailing at the snap. Cunningham should be throwing this ball at the first down marker where Dez can make the catch while moving away from the coverage and shielding the ball if this corner somehow closes on it. Getting the first down here should be the goal not just looking for the big play because it’s your first read.


Cunningham still has an issue with not seeing the field when he feels quick pressure. He has Dez wide open on this play at the top of his drop. Dez is the outside receiver to the bottom of the screen and this is the same play that he scored on against Boston College. It’s a mesh concept where two players cross on shallow routes. You’re making the linebackers chose who to cover and you throw to the other guy. Nothing too complicated.

The UVA linebacker identifies Jordan Davis at the snap and keeps his eyes on him. Dez runs right behind him into the open window that is created. Cunningham just doesn’t throw it for whatever reason. It was a little hard to tell from the other angle the broadcast showed but it did look like he might have been looking to Tutu who is in the slot to the bottom running a “flag” route to the corner.


If you’re looking to see what it looks like when coaches try to take advantage of things they see on film, look no further. BC hit Louisville with motion all day long and it led to tight ends being wide open in the middle of the field. WKU essentially ran this exact play against them earlier this year. So Virginia tries to combine things and confuse the coverage with motion and sneak the tight end up the seam. Louisville shows some growth here as everyone plays it perfectly and it falls incomplete. Definitely a good sign.


This is one of those times when I really wish I had the all-22 film. Bryan Brown calls a corner fire here which shows too early. It’s not the end of the world that they show it because Khane Pass is still in position to cover the outside receiver. However, Pass is looking into the backfield at the snap and he takes a terrible angle to the receiver because of it. That puts him in chase mode which is never ideal in man coverage.

The reason I wish I could see more is that I don’t understand how Pass ends up so far behind the receiver. Even though he’s behind him, he ends up over five yards behind him as the ball is in the air. This is one of those plays that you can’t allow a bad offense to make. Instead of getting off the field here, they end up giving up a touchdown.


I will try to point out some specific plays later but this play gives a look at what they ended up adjusting later in the game when it comes to the run game. UVA flies up the field here on the edge and their second level linebackers flow hard to the play side. #11 makes this play even though he doesn’t make the tackle. He cuts off the outside for Hawkins and forces the play inside. Then the backside defenders can get to him because there’s no one there to block them.

What the did later on was cut the backside players at the snap. Then Hawkins started looking for the cutback lane that would be right up the middle here. So instead of shuffling his feet like he does here and then hitting the cutback without any momentum, he just started sticking his foot in the ground and cutting it up. No one was there to tackle him because they were on the ground.


Marshon Ford is unbelievable important to this offense and this is example 3,482 of why. Louisville was much faster than UVA and they looked to take advantage of that with the pop pass that they’ve been running with Tutu this season. This play doesn’t work unless Ford does two things. First, he he chips the defensive end that Ean Pfeifer is blocking. The end plays this perfectly and gets a great punch on Pfeifer. That gives him outside leverage and you can see that Pfeifer is going to lose this battle and the play will be strung out. Ford gets a little chip and stops #56 from moving further outside. That gives Tutu the corner.

Then Ford puts the corner on skates and takes him all the way from inside the numbers to out of bounds. This is clinical. Ford has been great this year and I hope that he gets some accolades from around the conference or at least from the coaching staff after the season. It’s also great that you can see him start to celebrate at the end of the clip.


I thought Bryan Brown called superb game on Saturday. Virginia’s offense is very much just “okay” but they do a really good job of getting into scoring position and then getting just enough to move the chains. This was one of the few plays I saw where UVA put two guys down the field. Louisville gets to play this with zone because they are in trips to the field side with no real threat on the backside. You can see that Russ Yeast plays outside the initial outside receiver because he knows that Khane Pass will be in the middle of the field. That allows him to break on the wheel route here and he’s in position to make a play on the ball if it were in bounds. While they didn’t really do too much to confuse Perkins, they did take away almost everything past ten yards or so.


This might be NSFW for anyone that loves run blocking. Everyone gets a hat on their guy and the line creates a little sliver of a hole to run though. Then Marshon Ford comes through like a sword and cuts down two guys on the backside of the play.

Robbie Bell does an excellent job to get to the second level and take Jordan Mack out of the play. He’s right above the arrow on the down and distance graphic. You can also see Isaac Martin come through and meet his guy at the second level. This is about as good as it gets when it comes to run blocking. If they could get this on each play and Hawkins gets more of these 5-7+ yard runs, this offense would take off. To me, this is what the future of the running game looks like. It’s fairly crazy that their executing this well in year one.


Micale Cunningham brings a different element to the offense with his ability to make people miss in the open field. We saw that Jawon Pass could run in this new scheme and Evan Conley has a similar ability to Pass. Neither of them would likely be able to cut off of Javian Hawkins’ block like Cunningham does here. It’s just a different athletic level that he brings to the table.

This is the same play they ran on the first snap of the game and you can see how differently UVA plays it. The safety flies up the field when he sees Tutu go in motion. He then takes away the pitch. On the first play Cunningham ends up getting the edge but they take that away here. So he just cuts it up the field. Even if Hawkins doesn’t the block here Cunningham has a solid gain and might just make the safety miss on his own.


Javian Hawkins has shown an unreal ability to make people miss. He doesn’t get a path to run through from the line here so he starts to work outside looking for one. The way that he makes the two UVA defenders miss him as he works forward is really impressive. He jumps through the arms of the first guy but gets his footing back before making one of the best linebackers in the conference look silly. Watch his feet throughout this clip. They’re always moving and he uses body lean so well once he’s in the grasp. Hawkins has the chance to be special.


Hawkins worked hard for the yards on the previous play but they gave most of them back here. Virginia knew what to expect when when Louisville went motion to the boundary like they do here. That’s very obvious based on how the defense shifts. Louisville tried hard to run behind Becton and Chandler and UVA knew it. Virginia was able to do things like this a handful of times in this game. They sold out to stop the traditional run and really sold out to stop the outside zone runs. Wake did the same and if I were a betting man, I’d put money on the UVA coaches wanting to take away those runs while still being able to cover in the back end. Louisville just didn’t test them enough with play action off of that run action.