Tony Elliott knows the value of a good defensive coordinator and he got a good one in John Rudzinski from Air Force. Rudzinski has fielded very good defenses over the years and he knows how to do a lot with a little. While the defense has had some struggles this year at times, his unit has been able to force turnovers and they are one of the best teams in the country in coverage.
Everything on defense starts up front and UVA has been good at getting tackles for loss as well as sacks. They also do a good job of stopping the run even though they’re giving up a lot of yardage. Duke ran for 248 yards last week but that was a bit out of the ordinary. The line is led by Chico Bennet who is a very good pass rusher and Aaron Faumui who can stuff the run. Bennett fits the bill as the 250-ish pound edge player that has given UofL fits all season. They can’t let him take over this game like we saw last week.
The Hoos have a good group of linebackers again this year with Nick Jackson leading the way. Jackson made his debut against UofL after a targeting call a few years ago and he has pretty much held down the spot since. Jackson is at his best when he has room to work and he plays downhill better than just about anyone. He will be a key player against the stretch runs that UofL relies on. He can shoot gaps and cause havoc.
The rest of the group has great depth with guys like Hunter Stewart, James Jackson, and Josh Ahern are guys that have stood out to me. While they aren’t putting up big numbers, I think they have all been well-rounded and have helped the defense as a whole. UofL hasn’t done much of anything when it comes to misdirection but this weekend would be a good opportunity to start. There’s some inexperience here and they could take advantage.
Anthony Johnson will always be one of my favorite UofL players and it’s good to see that he found a good spot where he could develop on the field at UVA. AJ is putting up numbers this year with 3 tackles for loss, an interception, and 4 PBUs. On the opposite side of the field, Fentrell Cyprus has been very good on the year with 6 PBUs. The UVA corners are all bigger guys who have good length. With the issues UofL receivers have had getting open, this will likely be a problem area.
UVA has been good at safety since the Cards joined the conference and I think they may be a bit better this year than in recent seasons with some addition by subtraction. Jonas Sankere and Lex Long rack up a lot of tackles and while both are young, they look to be guys who will improve with more and more experience. Antonio Cleary is the veteran in the group and it seems like he may be a good leader for the secondary. The secondary has allowed a lot of passes to be completed but they don’t give up very much yardage at all.