Three-List Game Preview 2019: Virginia Heads To Louisville

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Virginia tries to get a road win.
Virginia’s Eli Hanback works in the trenches against Duke. ~ Kris Wright

The Virginia football team hits the road once again after a brief one-game homestand as the Cavaliers travel to Kentucky to take on the Louisville Cardinals.

Last week, the Hoos ended a two-game losing streak and dominated the Duke Blue Devils in an almost must-win game for the team’s hopes of a division title. Going into the week, the Cavaliers were tied with Duke and North Carolina for first place in the ACC Coastal Division with 2-1 records. Virginia took care of business by dismantling the Blue Devils 48-14, and the Tar Heels fell to Virginia Tech 43-41 in a six-overtime thriller. The Hoos now hold a half game lead over Pittsburgh for first place in the Coastal. Virginia also has the tiebreaker over the Panthers as a result of their 30-14 victory against them back in week one.

While the Cavaliers were enjoying week eight of the college football season, the Cardinals were blown out at home by the Clemson Tigers. The 45-10 loss to the Tigers snapped a two-game win streak for Louisville. The Cardinals come into Saturday’s matchup with a 4-3 record. Two of their losses did come against top 10 opponents, though. In addition to Clemson, Louisville was defeated by Notre Dame 35-17 in week one. UVA, of course, lost to the Irish 35-20 to close out September.

Since joining the ACC back in 2014, Louisville holds a slight 3-2 edge over the Cavaliers in the series history. The Cardinals had won three in a row in this matchup before falling to the Hoos 27-3 at Scott Stadium last season. Virginia looks to build a winning streak against Louisville, while also expanding its lead in this tight ACC Coastal race.

Essentials

Three Questions

1. Can the Hoos end their struggles on the road?

While the Cavaliers are undefeated playing at Scott Stadium this season, they have not experienced the same success on the road. Both losses this season have come in games played outside of Charlottesville. These struggles on the road are nothing new for Virginia under head coach Bronco Mendenhall.

In the Mendenhall era (including this season), the Cavaliers are a combined 5-14 in away games. To keep their dreams of making the ACC Championship Game alive, the Hoos will need to start winning on the road.

2. How will Louisville’s two-quarterback system play out?

The two-quarterback system is something long-time Cavalier fans are all too familiar with and may give nightmarish flashbacks to the Mike London days. While the Hoos have their guy in Bryce Perkins, the Cardinals cannot decide between two of their quarterbacks.

In their game last week against Clemson, Louisville played both Malik Cunningham and Evan Conley. They both struggled, combining for an 8-22 performance for 107 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield announced Monday that he plans on playing both quarterbacks again against Virginia.

When asked about game planning against a two-quarterback system, Mendenhall said, “I think there’s not enough time to truly prepare for both. You have to look at what they’ve done well, what concepts really work, and then treat both quarterbacks like they are the starter.”

3. Can the Cavaliers continue to convert on third downs?

After struggling on third downs against Notre Dame, converting only 4 of 14 attempts, the Virginia offense has improved mightily in this area. In their last two outings, the Hoos are 17-34 on third down. The Cavaliers will need to continue this positive trend against the Cardinals. Converting third downs on the road can take an opposing crowd out of a game and even break the will of the opposing team.

Three Opponents to Watch

1. Chatarius (Tutu) Atwell, Wide Receiver, #1

The 5’9”, 153-pound sophomore speedster has been a nightmare for opposing defenses this season. Atwell leads the way for the Louisville passing game with 35 receptions for 546 yards and six touchdowns on the year. He is first on the team in all three of these categories. This Cardinal offense will look to Atwell to test the Cavalier secondary that is still adjusting to life without Bryce Hall.

2. Javian Hawkins, Running Back, #10

The 5’9”, 182-pound redshirt freshman has been a staple of this Louisville offense. Hawkins leads the team in rushing this season with 137 carries for 751 yards and four touchdowns. Averaging just over 107 yards per game, he is fourth in the ACC in rushing yards per game. With questions at quarterback, watch for the Cardinals to rely on Hawkins to get their offense going and open up the playbook.

3. Dez Fitzpatrick, Wide Receiver, #7

The 6’2”, 204-pound redshirt junior provides another option for either Louisville quarterback to target if they try to pick on Hall’s replacement DeVante Cross. Trailing only Atwell, Fitzpatrick is second on the team in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns with 24 catches for 471 yards and five touchdowns. Both him and Atwell have big-play ability that stretches the field as they respectively have catches for 74 and 62 yards this season. An explosive moment from either one could drastically change the momentum of the game.

Three Positives from Last Week

1. Joe Reed

With still around half of his senior season left, Reed is already referred to as one of, if not, the greatest kickoff returner in Virginia football history. In his time with the Cavaliers, he has amassed 2,837 kickoff return yards, averaging over 29 yards per return. Additionally, he has taken five of these all the way back for a touchdown. His five kickoff returns for a touchdown have him tied for ninth all-time in FBS history and third in ACC history.

This season, he is averaging nearly 40 yards per return with two touchdowns. It is baffling that teams still decide to put the ball in his hands on kickoffs. Last week, Duke made this mistake, and Reed made them pay for it. The Blue Devils kicked it to him on two different occasions, and they resulted in a 43-yard return and a 95-yard return to the house for six.

The Cavaliers and Reed should be salivating if the Cardinals give him any opportunities on a kickoffs this Saturday.

2. Defense Without Bryce Hall

Virginia football fans held their breath when cornerback Bryce Hall went down with a season-ending ankle injury two weeks ago against Miami. For the past couple of years, this Cavalier defense had leaned heavily upon the play and leadership of Hall. There were plenty of questions and tremendous doubt in what they would be able to do in his absence. The majority of this surrounded the secondary and the former quarterback who had been converted to a safety, DeVante Cross.

Cross and his teammates stepped up against Duke. The Cavaliers allowed 250 total yards on the day, while only surrendering 118 of those through the air. Not only did the defense not give up many yards, but, they also forced turnovers. The Hoos turned Duke over five times through two interceptions and three fumbles.

All of this led to the Cavaliers holding the Blue Devils to only 14 points the entire game, with seven of these coming in garbage time with under three minutes to play.

3. A Complete Game

For the first time all season, the Virginia Cavaliers played a complete game of football against an FBS opponent. The Hoos had struggled to put together a complete 60 minutes of football week in and week out. These struggles were put to bed this past Saturday. The Cavaliers dominated the Blue Devils from the opening whistle. Virginia scored 27 unanswered points before Duke finally scored their first points of the game to make it a 27-7 game. The Hoos responded by scoring 21 more unanswered points to take a 48-7 lead in the fourth quarter. The Blue Devils took advantage of the Cavalier backups late in the game to score a touchdown. In the end, Virginia outscored Duke by 34 points in 60 minutes of play.

Remember When …

The Hoos cruised past the Cardinals last season to a 27-3 victory in Charlottesville that snapped a three-game losing streak to Louisville.

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