Keys & Picks – Virginia Football At Louisville

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Virginia is bowl eligible.
Chris Peace and the Hoos hope to get another big win this week. ~ Mike Ingalls

Now what?

One week ago, the Virginia football team reached the bowl plateau for the first time since 2011 with a resilient win against Georgia Tech. The coaches and players alike clearly put a lot into the game as they all sounded exhausted afterward with the media. That even seemed to carry into Monday’s weekly press conference day as well.

Of course, win or lose, the triple option can have that effect. Between the sheer number of running plays, cut blocks, and overall physicality of the Yellow Jackets, it’s just a rough game to get through. Throw in the fact that UVA players said they went really hard with the amount of reps in practice to prepare and you can see where some fatigue can sink in.

The question is how much longer does that toll last? Since Paul Johnson and his option offense arrived at Georgia Tech in 2008, Virginia has never won the next game on the schedule. That’s a record of 0-9 in those games.

The good news is that Bronco Mendenhall defeated Georgia Tech twice while at BYU and then won again the next week. He didn’t realize that until Monday, but had a great response to the news.

“Oh, okay. We’ll just keep doing that,” he said smiling. “Whatever that was, I’ll try to find those notes and just keep doing that.”

The task won’t be easy. The Cavaliers are on the road at Louisville with the Cardinals just one win away from bowl eligibility themselves. Plus, they have the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Lamar Jackson. Virginia did a good job with him for the most part last season, but he led a last-minute touchdown drive that ended with a 29-yard touchdown pass to get the win.

Mendenhall said that Jackson is an even better passer this season, while remaining the same dynamic running threat.

“Any play can go the whole distance,” Mendenhall said. “One player to get him down is difficult. He can make anybody miss, and any play can score. But it’s clear that their plan this year is for him to be more intentional about staying in the pocket, to deliver the ball on a pass play, to read it through, and to be more poised and patient. But that doesn’t mean if there’s not an opening, he’s not going to take it. He was just quicker to run a year ago. He’s more poised and patient than he was a year ago.”

Kris’ Keys To Winning

1. Limit Jackson on scramble plays. With that last thought from the introduction in mind, one of the big keys this week is to limit Lamar Jackson’s chances to run on passing plays. That means discipline with rushing lanes will be important as will rallying to the ball. Virginia has had some trouble with quarterback scrambles on passing plays periodically throughout this season, due in part to the fact that the defense plays a lot of man coverage in the secondary. This will be the biggest challenge in that regard yet because if Jackson gets to the second level, there may not be another chance to stop him.

2. Don’t give away good opportunities. Another theme for the season has been the offense’s struggles to finish off drives once it crosses midfield. The Hoos even got away with that a little bit last week when the first four drives all reached GT territory, but produced only six points. Louisville’s defense has not slowed many opponents down all season long. The Cardinals come into this game tied for 93rd nationally in scoring defense by allowing 30.8 points per game. In the red zone, they rank 110th by allowing scores 88.89% of the time. Those scores are touchdowns 74.07% of the time, which ranks 124th nationally. In other words, this is a weakness vs. weakness category. Who can improve the most this week?

3. Limit chunk plays. When Virginia dropped back-to-back games against Boston College and Pittsburgh, the defense showed vulnerability with play-action passes, tight ends or receivers moving against the action, and with run fits on certain plays. Those explosive chunk plays can be costly on the scoreboard. Louisville presents a tough challenge as the nation’s No. 5 team (tied) for plays of 20+ yards with 62 on the season.

The Picks

Sabre Editor Kris Wright: Virginia got the bowl monkey off its back last week with an inpired comeback effort against Georgia Tech. Will it play free of that burden in Louisville? I think so. Still, I see an unfortunate letdown coming this week even though the Hoos’ Coastal Division hopes are still technically alive until Miami wins one more game. That GT hangover thing mentioned in the open sticks in my mind until that streak is broken. LOUISVILLE 28, VIRGINIA 21. Season to date: 5-4.

Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne: These two teams should be very familiar with one another, having played in tight battles each of the past three years. Virginia has the edge defensively, but no matter how good a defense is, Lamar Jackson has the ability to spark his team to big points. UVA’s offense has been inconsistent but should be able to take advantage of a suspect Cardinals’ D. I think UVA uses last week as a springboard and scores a close victory at Louisville. VIRGINIA 35, LOUISVILLE 31. Season to date: 4-5.

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