Another season is upon us, and therefore it’s time to embark on the whimsical journey of the weekly opponent Q&A. Sometimes we only gain a little insight, but often our football brethren from across the country share a wealth of knowledge about their respective teams and what we may see when they roll the ball out there in the next few days.
The Cards next opponent is the Cavaliers of Virginia. After a challenging year leading up to the football season, the Cavs have shown signs of life at times, but have not performed up to the expectations of many in the program or the fanbase. A big game this week for the Cards (Glow Game, of course), so I reached out to our longtime friends over at ‘Streaking The Lawn’ to get a read on what this Virginia team is going to bring to Cardinal Stadium on Thursday Night. Zach Carey, as always, has all the answers for us. Lets get it.
In today’s world where last week’s news stories are often forgotten, it’s beneficial to remind people that UVA even playing football this season was a question mark a few months ago. Care to briefly recap the roller coaster of emotions for this program in the last year?
Yeah, of course. Nearly a year ago four Virginia football players were victims of a tragic shooting on Grounds at UVA. Three of them — Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chandler, and D’Sean Perry — died, while Mike Hollins survived the shooting. Since then there’s obviously been a significant healing process that’s carried over into this season and will continue for this program, this school, and this community for years to come.
It’s hard to put the on-field results into the context of the grander scheme of things. It’s something those of us covering the team struggle to do, and it’s no easier for fans. Without a doubt it’s incredibly impressive how this team and the program as a whole has rallied around Hollins — who has seven touchdowns this season as Virginia’s go-to redzone back — and each other. Beyond the football side of things, Head Coach Tony Elliott’s leadership in the face of tragedy has been heroic to say the least, and it’s impossible to not root for these young men to succeed at whatever they choose to do.
Zeroing into the actual results, yeah it hasn’t been necessarily pretty. In some sense they’ve been so close to being a solid football team, evidenced by the win on the road against then #10 North Carolina. But then they’ve also been straight up bad, which was on display in Saturday’s 28-point home loss to Georgia Tech.
Balancing the off-the-field tragedy with the on-the-field results is a pretty tight rope to walk. On the one hand how can someone reasonably expect this program, this staff, this team to succeed less than a year out from something like that? But, on the other, wins are what keep fans and (more importantly) recruits engaged, so it’s impossible to abandon care about the final score. Ideally for Virginia they’ll find a way to make something of the last three games of the season.
UVA has been a bit all over the place this year with some tight contests and some....not so tight contests. The play at QB by Tony Muskett had shown flashes but it appears he’s questionable this week after going down on the first drive against Georgia Tech. What does that mean for the offense?
If Muskett’s out it means true freshman Anthony Colandrea gets the start. At times he’s been elite this season, like the best true freshman quarterback in program history good. At others he’s been straight up disastrous (see: interceptions on three consecutive throws against Maryland after being in the red zone and only down seven midway through the second half).
He can make plays with his legs and create something out of nothing, but he also gets himself into major trouble by trying to do too much. Colandrea doesn’t have the deep ball accuracy or over the middle zip that Muskett does, meaning defenses can stack the box and take the running game away. UVA has seriously good wide receivers in Malik Washington and Malachi Fields. But the offensive line has been inconsistent at best, so stacking the box and bringing pressure is a recipe to beat Colandrea in particular.
If Muskett plays, he’ll be playing through two injuries after he already missed time with a left (non-throwing) shoulder injury that he suffered in the season opener. His ability to tuck and run is one of his strengths, so that’ll be limited. He is absolutely a more commanding pocket presence than Colandrea. If he goes Virginia will be able to move the ball more. It’s simply a question of how much more.
The Cards have leaned heavily on the run the last couple weeks and UVA is fighting through injuries on the D Line almost all year. The stats aren’t pretty (giving up 180yd/g and 22 TDs) but does that tell the whole story? Are things as rough as they appear?
Yeah more or less it does tell the whole story. The biggest issue is there just isn’t depth on this defense, especially not up front. Virginia came into the year with four really solid options at linebacker. Their linebacker-safety hybrid Lex Long is now out for the season, true freshman phenom Kam Robinson left the Georgia Tech game with a lower body injury, and experienced vet Josh Ahern has been battling injuries for more than a month now. The ‘Hoos are missing their most productive pass rusher in end Kam Butler after he went down for the season, and the defensive tackle room has suffered injuries to key depth pieces including Su Agunloye who went down for the season against Tennessee in game one.
Nose tackle Jahmeer Carter has been the one consistent performer in Virginia’s run defense. But teams can double team one guy, and that’s what tends to happen to Carter. With him taken care of, gaps open, and UVA’s best hope most of the time is to stuff runners at the second level. If Louisville wants to run the ball in this game, the Cards should be able to do what they want.
Brief side step as the ‘STL’ site is slowly shifting focus to the basketball season with bowl eligibility slipping away. While we’re still dialed in to the football season with an ACC Title berth on the line, let me give you a beat to talk about the ‘Hoos roundball squad this year. (We still love basketball around these parts).
Haha, thank you for that. Yeah I think everyone in the UVA sports world is relieved to have basketball back. The men’s team is a borderline top-25 team right now, but they’ve got the talent to be a special group if all the new pieces come together. Only three rotational players return from last season. Yet a Tony Bennett team is a Tony Bennett team, and having Reece Beekman leading the team on either end of the floor is a pretty good place to start.
Ryan Dunn and Isaac McKneely are due for sophomore season breakouts, freshman big Blake Buchanan is the best true freshman center the program has had in a long time, and transfers Dante Harris, Andrew Rohde, and Jake Groves all fill necessary holes for this roster. Unlike last year’s squad that brought back its five starters, peaked in November, and then faded in February and March (as Louisville fans saw at the end of the regular season), this group is built to improve throughout the season to peak at the right time.
With only a few exceptions, the last nine games between these two teams have all been a one score game. While the “forced rivalry” between the programs fades away starting next year with the expanded ACC, do you think we see another close one, or do we close out this chapter in the series with a blowout one way or the other?
If it’s Colandrea starting at quarterback I have little hope for UVA. I just don’t think he’s there yet and he’d need the running game to be productive to lead the offense to a win. The defense is also just so banged up — don’t mean that as an excuse, it’s just that there’s zero depth on this roster — that I don’t see a repeat road upset.
If it’s Muskett then maybe, but he’d be playing through a bum ankle and an injured left shoulder. Off a short week, it would take one heck of a miracle for this severely outmatched road underdog dealing with injuries to come out on top. Then again UVA basketball has done some pretty miraculous things in Louisville over the years with a stunning Elite Eight comeback win against Purdue in 2019 and that 0.9 second comeback against the Cardinals in 2018. So, maybe that luck carries over?
I’m not banking (pun intended) on it though. 38-13 Cards is my prediction.
I used to really like Zach, seemed like a good guy. Now he is banned and I’m fairly certain he’s a puppy kicker on the weekends. All jokes aside, appreciate him jumping over and dropping some insight on UVA this year. You can catch up on all things Virginia over at TwitterX right here. While this game has had some craziness over the years, I think this one gets ugly in the second half and the Cards are sitting on a 20+pt lead when the ‘Joker & The Thief’ riff starts the fourth. Glow Game, Glow Up. Cards 38-10