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Opponent Breakdown: Virginia Cavaliers Defense

Virginia returned a lot of starters on defense but they’ve struggled much of the season.

Liberty v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

The Virginia defense has been the key to the program’s success over the last few years. Bronco Mendenhall has recruited guys who fit his scheme very well and they’ve been suffocating offenses with those guys. 2020 has been a surprise for this program as they brought back nearly every starter from last year’s team but they haven’t had their normal success on that side of the ball.

The front three for Virginia is really reliable when it comes to stopping the run and helping the Linebackers. They get penetration fairly often but what they do best is occupy blockers and gum things up. Jawon Briggs is the best of the group in my opinion and he will be a big test for the interior of Louisville’s Offensive Line. Louisville will likely try to use the stretch runs even more this week as these guys aren’t really speedy players who chase things down.

The Linebackers are the best group on this defense and they’re the most important. Charles Snowden is one of the best defenders in the ACC and he’s finally getting the results everyone expected early in the year. Over the last two games, he has 7.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks. On the other side of the field is Noah Taylor who at 6-5 is somehow only the second tallest player on the defense and isn’t even in the top five on the roster. Taylor and Snowden are outstanding bookends with Taylor being a solid player in coverage as well. In my opinion, these two players are the key for Louisville. They can’t let them have big games.

The Inside Linebackers for Virginia are really productive. Zane Zandier is back for year 15 or something and he’s still flying around racking up tackles. Zandier is really good at chasing down plays and the line keeps him clean all game. He’s not great in coverage and I think that UofL could have some success targeting him with misdirection plays. Nick Jackson played solid in a backup role in the game last year and his extended time playing last year has paid off. He looks much more comfortable and he has made a good amount of plays.

The secondary for UVA has been quite bad this year. They are giving up a lot of big plays and they’ve been beaten consistently in man coverage. The lack of a consistent pass rush hasn’t helped but UNC and Miami both hit big plays in the passing game even with Charles Snowden playing out of his mind. Nick Grant and De’Vante Cross are both solid corners but Cross is essentially a Safety who converted from offense and he’s being asked to run with high level receivers. It hasn’t worked too well and Louisville should look to exploit this.

Virginia has been down their two starting Safeties the last two weeks and both could miss the Louisville game as well. Joey Blount and Brenton Nelson are really good players who are also very veteran players. I think their absence has been a big factor in the defense struggling over the last two weeks. Virginia has given up a bunch of 20+ and 30+ yard pass plays this year and These guys not being at the back of the defense to make sure everyone is lined up correctly is probably part of that. Louisville likes to attack opposing Safeties, so the big plays could be there if these two are still out.