Some weeks, the picks make themselves. This is one of those weeks.
No. 5 Louisville comes to Scott Stadium this week boasting a 6-1 record after a 54-13 thrashing of NC State last Saturday. Virginia, meanwhile, owns a 2-5 record after last week’s 35-14 loss to North Carolina. On paper where statistics reside, this is a major mismatch. That makes the business of picks fairly easy.
Still, UVA players say they are undaunted by the challenge. In fact, they’re embracing it. Two years ago, the Cardinals came to Charlottesville ranked as well at No. 21 but the Cavaliers claimed a 23-21 win. Last season in Louisville, Virginia led early and the game stood tied at halftime as well as early in the fourth quarter. Back-to-back Card touchdowns eventually lifted Louisville to a 38-31 win, though.
Those recent matchups give UVA’s players some confidence as they try to engineer an upset.
“Micah [Kiser] said it … [when] we had a defensive meeting,” senior defensive lineman Donte Wilkins said. “He said we beat them two years ago at home. Last year, we should have beat them. So it’s just another game. We know that we can win. If we play our best, we’re going to have our best chance to win.”
Those two games, of course, didn’t feature quarterback Lamar Jackson heavily. The one play he saw against UVA last season resulted in a 45-yard carry, though. That doesn’t bode well when you look at this year’s numbers now that Jackson is the starter under center.
Jackson has been responsible for a school-record 34 touchdowns this season, including a nation-leading 16 rushing touchdowns. He has rushed for 908 yards this season with five 100-yard games. Jackson also has thrown for 2,161 yards on 134-of-230 passing with 18 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. Outside observers routinely peg Jackson as a Heisman Trophy front-runner at this point in the season.
Virginia will try to stay focused on its own execution and not the hype for this week’s game since Louisville enters ranked with a high-profile player.
”I’m an experienced guy with this team” senior offensive lineman Eric Smith said. ”The position they have with the ranking, that does nothing to me. I’ve played these guys. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just a new quarterback. He has the spotlight on him. I expect him to make plays but I know my defense is going to make plays as well. I expect my defense to make plays.”
With that in mind, the picks are up next.
Virginia can win if … it wins the turnover battle. Lamar Jackson has only 4 interceptions this season, but the Cardinals have lost 9 fumbles this season. In total, the team has 16 turnovers on the season. UVA forced and recovered a pair of fumbles against UNC last week, but couldn’t capitalize on the momentum changes. Creating turnovers this week would help slow down the Cards’ high-powered offense and perhaps set up the offense for points as well.
Virginia can lose if … it doesn’t tackle well. Bronco Mendenhall mentioned this week that Louisville has had success throwing over the top of the defense for touchdowns. That comes after the Hoos gave up a pair of long touchdown throws against UNC. Combine that fact with some three-man rushes last week already and it sounds like UVA might deploy a ‘keep it all in front of you’ strategy this week in the ‘bend don’t break’ mold. If that ends up being the plan, the Cavaliers will need to take good angles and make sound tackles to make it work.
And the winner is …
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: Greg Waters wrote about an uneasy feeling before the North Carolina game last week because of the matchup and strength-weakness comparisons for the game with the Tar Heels. Multiply by 10 and then do it again this week. The things the Cardinals do well will severely test the Hoos and UVA doesn’t have enough consistency or complexity in hand to do much about it. Enjoy the weather though! LOUISVILLE 55, VIRGINIA 24. Season to date: 4-3.
Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne: Virginia has played Louisville tough each of the past two seasons, including coming away with a win in 2014, the last time the two teams squared off in Scott Stadium. After losing to Clemson and struggling against Duke, the No. 5 Cardinals were dominant last week against NC State. Virginia, meanwhile, has not been able to find its offensive stride the past six quarters, not a good sign against a good defense and a Louisville offense that puts up big points. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Cavaliers keep it close, but Louisville will have too much and pull away. LOUISVILLE 45, VIRGINIA 21. Season to date: 4-3.
Sabre Analyst Greg Waters: I thought going into the game last week it would be a difficult matchup for the Hoos. For many of the same reasons, this weekend’s match up against Louisville will be worse. Look for the Hoos to struggle again and lose their third straight home game. LOUISVILLE 49, VIRGINIA 17. Season to date: 3-4.
Sabre Analyst Ahmad Hawkins (check out The Ball Hawk Show podcast here): Lamar Jackson will continue his bid for the Heisman vs. the Hoos. Louisville will be too explosive on offense and the Cavaliers aren’t explosive enough to keep pace in order to win this ball game. The Cavaliers will try to force Lamar Jackson to beat them with his arm, and he will do just that. LOUISVILLE 49, VIRGINIA 17. Season to date: 2-5.
How about you? Who wins?