Louisville at Virginia Preview

NCAA Football: Virginia at Louisville
Credit: USA Today Sports

#5 Louisville at Virginia ABC Noon (UL by 33.5)

Last Time: Tied 17-17 at halftime, Louisville relied on a strong running game to put away the Cavaliers on a brisk November afternoon. Brandon Radcliff had a then career-high 146 yards and two touchdowns, while Kyle Bolin and Reggie Bonnafon both added touchdown passes in a 38-31 shootout win over Virginia. Matt Johns threw for four touchdown passes for the Cavaliers, including three to Canaan Severin.

The Cardinals and Wahoos are tied at two wins apiece in the series.

About the Virginia Cavaliers

Do we call them the Cavaliers, Cavs or Wahoos? Regardless of how you refer to the football team from Charlottesville, new coach Bronco Mendenhall has had a lot of work to do with the Cavaliers. Mendenhall had some outstanding teams at BYU, leading them to multiple Top 25 seasons and only failing to win eight games in two of his 11 seasons there.

Unfortunately, former head coach Mike London, who resigned after only one winning season in six tries as Virginia’s former head coach, left the cupboard pretty bare for Mendenhall to take over. There are some defensive playmakers still on the team, but with the sheer depth of the Coastal, Virginia might be a budding project before they can contend for a division title. Virginia enters the game 2-5, with wins against Duke and Central Michigan at home. But one of their five losses includes a 17-point loss to FCS Richmond in the season opener. Another two losses for the Cavaliers would make it five straight seasons without a bowl appearance.

Players to Watch

  • LB Micah Kiser: In contrast to Mendenhall’s usual offensive prowess, this Cavaliers team is led by a defense filled with solid playmakers. Kiser is one of them, and is probably one of the best linebackers in the ACC. Kiser is a tremendous playmaker who can disrupt the run and his size in the 3-4 can challenge offensive linemen. Expect him to be the main player in trying to contain Lamar Jackson.
  • S Quin Blanding: Blanding has to be one of the top safeties in the country. There’s not a lot of negatives to Blanding’s overall game, he does a lot of things well and he’ll likely see some time in the NFL. He’ll usually play as the high safety, which means he can prevent Louisville from killing Virginia with a lot of the deep skinny posts they’ve ran with the likes of Jaylen Smith and James Quick. He might be asked to do some more with playing closer to the line, but I’d expect him to be a major factor in tomorrow’s game.
  • RB Taquan Mizzell: Mizzell is one of the more interesting running backs that Louisville may face. Mizzell is an all-around threat, someone who can not only run between the tackles, but he excels the most as a receiver out of the backfield. There aren’t a lot of these types of running backs that Louisville has faced, and it showed last year as Mizzell had 129 total yards (47 rush, 89 receiving). Mizzell is also coming off a career-high 106 yards against North Carolina next week. Expect him and fellow RB Albert Reid to be used a lot, as Bronco Mendenhall as pointed to milking the clock as a strategy against Louisville.

Keys to the Game

  1. Contain Mizzell/Reid. Virginia’s quarterback situation is very shaky (even if Matt Johns had a solid game last season at Louisville), so being able to stop the run is important for the Louisville defense. Mizzell has more explosion on the perimeter (and especially out of the backfield as a receiver), but Reid can plow between the tackles and grind through tacklers. Louisville’s linebackers will play a big role in trying to bottle Virginia’s offense, and stopping the running back duo would be a solid first step.
  2. Take advantage on offense. Mendenhall has indicated he wants to milk the clock and keep the ball out of Jackson’s hands. That means when Louisville has the ball, they will have to take advantage of the opportunity and avoid having the lulls that they had against Duke. Expect a lot of the passing game to be used, as Virginia is ranked 113th in pass defense. UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s win against Virginia, and Lamar could be due for yet another monster game throwing the football. Blanding is a spectacular safety capable of stopping the deep ball, but the short passing game has killed Virginia this season.
  3. Who will lead Louisville’s backfield?  Even though Radcliff dominated the touches at running back the first half of the season, Jeremy Smith has been coming along and had the lion’s share in last week’s blowout against NC State (14 carries, 52 yards and two touchdowns). The power back has been coming along as a reliable between-the-tackles threat, and is actually second on the team in touchdowns (7). One thing to watch going forward will be if Petrino ends up going back to Radcliff for more of a 50/50 share with Jeremy Smith, or if Smith has earned the starting role to provide a “thunder/lightning” dynamic that him and Lamar Jackson would be able to have together.


Justin Krueger: 45-10. I think Virginia’s strategy of keeping the Louisville offense at bay will sort of work. Virginia has played Louisville very competitively the last two seasons, including an upset in Charlottesville in 2014 when Louisville was ranked. But this is a significantly better Louisville team on offense, and Virginia is lacking a dominant vertical threat that they had the last couple years with the likes of Myles Gooch and Canaan Severin. Mizzell will get his share of yards in spite of a shaky quarterback situation, but Louisville rolls again heading into next week’s trip to Boston College.

Jacob Pratt: 56-10

Jeremy Wahman: 52-17

LJ The Fiasco: 49-28

Mitch Motley: 67-7

Jeff Nunn: 48-17

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