After a one-week hiatus/postponement, Louisville’s football team (currently) plans to travel down to Charlottesville for the fourth time since joining the ACC. Normally, against any middle-of-the-road ACC opponent Cardinal fans wouldn’t have such feelings of annoyance and angst. But when fans see a trip to the University of Virginia on their calendars, they collectively groan and plan which items in their homes should be broken next.
Perhaps much of this is due to the dumb and lopsided basketball rivalry where Virginia’s dominance and awful style of play haunts Louisville fans annually. Or perhaps it’s something else. Perhaps it’s what fans are beginning to refer to as the “Bermuda Triangle of Louisville Football.”
When Louisville joined the ACC in 2014 the Cardinals were assigned to the Atlantic division where they would face the same six divisional opponents annually. In addition to their Atlantic pals came a permanent cross-division “rival” from the Coastal division. Many hoped for Virginia Tech as Blacksburg is the closest ACC-town to Louisville, and the two programs had some beef in Jacksonville about a decade earlier. But the ACC didn’t feel like moving things around and basically just plugged Louisville into where Maryland was, which meant Louisville’s permanent cross-division foe would be the University of Virginia Cavaliers.
Louisville fans at the time couldn’t have cared less at the time about drawing Virginia as they were just happy to be saved from college football’s eternal purgatory. And with fans dreaming of battling for the Atlantic division titles with the likes of Florida State and Clemson, picking up a seemingly easy yearly win against the Hoos seemed like a fair shake.
But the Cardinals learned quickly that Harrison III Field is cursed ground, and that Louisville football should never be played there.
Let’s break it down:
2014: After blowing out Miami to kickoff Louisville’s arrival in the ACC, the Cardinals traveled up to northern Virginia following an easy home win over Murray State. The 21st-ranked Cards rolled into Scott Stadium for a sleepy 12:30 kick in front of an even sleepier crowd of 34,000 fans. What proceeded to happen over the next four quarters was one of the grossest and uninspiring losses Louisville had had since Kragthorpe was on the sidelines. The Cards and Hoos combined for seven turnovers, with James Quick’s muffed punt late in the 4th capping off an extremely ugly 23-21 loss for Louisville.
This was the only other time the entire season that Louisville was outgained by its opponent (FSU), as well the second lowest yardage total of the season for the Cards (264).
Unfortunately, this was just the beginning of a bizarre series of events in Charlottesville, Virginia.
2016: Two years later the 5th-ranked Cardinals, led by Heisman-front-runner Lamar Jackson, travelled back up to northern Virginia to face a lousy 2-6 Virginia who had just been blown out at home a week earlier by 22nd-ranked North Carolina. What should have been an easy win wound up being an absolute nightmare.
Louisville’s seven points at the half was its lowest first half total of the season at that point, and the Cards wouldn’t lead the game until a Jackson-Bonnafon TD pass would put them ahead with 13:47 left in the game. Louisville would extend their lead to 24-17 only for Virginia to score and convert a 2-point conversion with under two minutes left in the game.
Jackson would proceed to convert on 4th and 3 at the 50-yard line on the ensuing drive, and then win the game on a legendary 29-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Smith with only 18 seconds left on the clock.
Only the greatest player in school history could save Louisville from the hellish façade that is Scott Stadium.
2018: Okay, I know, Louisville was supposed to lose this game. But, of course, they lost in a very weird way.
Against conference opponents not named “Virginia,” the saddest Louisville team to ever play averaged 22.7 points to their opponents’ average of 53 points (:/). However, instead of the Hoos scoring a million points on the Cards, they thought it’d be fun to play Tony Bennett-style football and hold Louisville to their lowest scoring total since 2010’s 20-3 loss at Pittsburgh.
UofL’s 214 yards would go on to be its lowest total of the season. Yes, even lower than their totals against Alabama, Clemson, and Kentucky.
How? Virginia is how.
The final score: 27-3, Hoos. Still dumb. Still weird.
In all, Louisville has turned the ball over eight times in just three visits to Charlottesville. And out of the seven conference foes that UofL faces every year, the Cardinals only have losing records to three of those teams when going on the road. They are 1. Clemson (0-3), 2. Florida State (1-2), and 3. Virginia (1-2).
One of those teams is not like the others.
And it’s not even like Virginia has been great in the years that Louisville has visited their campus. 2014 Virginia finished ranked 60th in the SP+ (Louisville 23rd), and they went on to finish 5-7 with a league record of 3-5. 2016 they finished ranked 83rd (Louisville 9th) with a 2-10 (1-7) record. And in 2018 they finished ranked 42nd (Louisville 98th, :/) and beat South Carolina in the Belk Bowl to finish 8-5 (4-4).
But if you need further proof that UVA’s campus is Dante’s first circle of the inferno, look no further than the fact that in road games against teams Louisville has visited more than once since joining the ACC, Louisville averages 32.33 points per game to their opponents’ 33.33, as well as 438.78 yards per game to their opponents’ 426.78.
But against Virginia they average a barftastic 18.67 points to UVA’s 25, and 334.67 yards to 336.
Not only is that BY FAR Louisville’s lowest road scoring average, but only two other conference foes have an average road point and yardage differentials greater than Virginia’s.
Both have won national championships in the last 7 years.
So while Louisville is only a 3-point underdog on the road this weekend, which equates to a pick ‘em game on a neutral field, and while Bill Connelly’s SP+ sees the Cards escaping with a 32-31 win (1.8 point advantage), when the Cards are playing in Old Dominion it’s time to bust out your voodoo dolls, Ouija boards, CCBMs.
We’re going to need them.