Virginia’s defense has steadily fallen off over the last few years but the start to the 2021 season has been worse than anyone could have imagined. Virginia’s staff had to feel good about all of the veteran talent they had returning this season but the defense just hasn’t performed well enough so far. Bronco Mendenhall has done a good job of slowing down Louisville’s offense over the last two seasons and he has to have high hopes that the veteran group can turn things around with a familiar opponent.
The Defensive Line is where things start for this defense as they look to cause disruption and eat up blockers so that their Linebackers can run free. They really haven’t gotten the production out of their front like they had in years past. Mandy Alonso is still a force at his Defensive End spot and Louisville has to have an answer for him. He can really impact the running game if he gets push into the backfield.
The group that seems to have taken the biggest step back has been the Linebackers. Jordan Mack and Zane Zandier are gone and I don’t know that they had the talent to replace such big players in their scheme. Nick Jackson has been very good since he first got extended time against UofL a couple of years ago. Hunter Stewart mans the other Inside Linebacker spot and his production has been less than ideal. Lousiville could have some success running the football if they can keep these guys at bay.
On the outside, Noah Taylor returns at his hybrid role as a pass rusher and zone coverage Linebacker. Taylor had a huge play last year with a pick-six right before halftime that changed the game. Taylor is a very long player at 6-5 and he uses his length to set the edge. Taylor and Alonso are the consistent players UVA has up front. Lousiville has to have a plan for them both.
The secondary for the Hoos is where they have the most veteran presence but the production has not been what they would expect. UNC and Wake Forest had a lot of success throwing the ball and Miami got things moving once they opened up their passing game plan. Virginia has done a good job getting PBUs but they only have two interceptions on the season so far.
Anthony Johnson transferred to UVA after leaving Louisville and earned a starting spot in the defense. AJ has played well so far in the Hoos aggressive scheme where his size is an asset. While I will always be a fan of Johnson after his play here as well as his presence off the field, I will be surprised if UofL doesn’t try to go after him a bit.
Nick Grant, De’Vante Cross, and Joey Blount make up the interior secondary players and all three of them have been in this defense for what seems like a decade. Blount is the most active player as he will play in the box as well as deep in over top coverage. He is also really good in run support. Blount will come up and stick his nose in there against anyone. With Lousiville showing some improvement in the running game last week, we could see the secondary players playing closer to the line which could open up some play-action opportunities.