Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. (Thursday)
TV / Radio: ESPN / 93.9 The Ville
Spread: Louisville -20.5, O/U 50.5 (FanDuel Sportsbook)
With Malik Cunningham out for the game with an injury, Brock Domann stepped in and led Louisville to a 34-17 win on the road over Virginia. Domann completed 17-of-30 passes for 275 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions, and also ran for 71 yards and a touchdown. The Louisville defense also stymied Virginia after trailing 10-0 at the end of the first quarter; the Cardinals held the Cavaliers to six rushing yards, logged seven sacks, and forced three turnovers.
Louisville leads the all-time series 6-5. Louisville and Virginia have split each of the last six meetings.
Heading in: Virginia
Year two in the Tony Elliott era at Virginia has not been a good one. After finishing 3-7 last season, the Cavaliers enter Thursday night’s game with a 2-7 record. One of their wins, though, came on the road against a then #10 North Carolina.
Virginia Offense: What to Know
Virginia quarterback Tony Muskett suffered an ankle injury in last Saturday’s loss to Georgia Tech that may end up sidelining him for Thursday’s game, so in comes freshman Anthony Colandrea to replace him. Colandrea’s numbers have been solid but not spectacular, completing 60.4% of his passes for seven touchdowns and interceptions apiece. He’s a willing scrambler that can make some throws and give his team a spark in crunch time, but is also prone to the stereotypical freshman mistakes.
Not helping his effort is the fact that Virginia is among the worst teams in FBS in allowing negative plays; they’ve allowed 32 sacks (121st in FBS) and 68 tackles for loss (120th). The Cavaliers also haven’t been able to run the ball effectively this season, averaging 120.2 yards per game (13th in ACC) on the ground. Clemson transfer Kobe Pace (86 carries, 292 yards, TD) was brought in to try and help out the running game but it hasn’t panned out. With that said, Virginia has been able to rush for over 220 yards in both of their wins this season (221 against William & Mary, 228 against North Carolina).
Virginia’s biggest threats at receiver by a wide margin are Malik Washington and Malachi Fields. Washington has been on pace for an All-ACC caliber season, posting 100+ receiving yards in all but two games this year and one of four players in FBS (as of 11/9/23) with over 1,000 receiving yards. He’s a dynamic playmaker that can get yards after the catch and keep the chains moving. Fields is a huge target at 6’4″ and 220+ lbs., able to stretch the field and win jump balls.
Players to Watch: QB Anthony Colandrea (60.4% completion, 224.6 passing YPG); WR Malik Washington (79 rec., 1,044 yards, six TDs); WR Malachi Fields (44 rec., 563 yards, two TDs)
Virginia Defense: What to Watch
Virginia’s defense has had a rough 2023 season. The Cavaliers currently rank 13th in the ACC in total defense (395.4 YPG) and have forced the second-lowest turnovers in the conference (10), which also contributes to their -6 turnover margin (worst in ACC). They also have eight total sacks (worst in ACC) and 43 tackles for loss (12th in ACC).
Also hurting Virginia’s defense is that they have had multiple key players out with injury. Leading sack getter Kam Butler had season-ending surgery in late September. Linebacker Kam Robinson also suffered an injury in last week’s loss to Georgia Tech and will be a game-time decision for the Cavaliers. This is a banged up defense that has issues with their depth already, but they still have some talent on the field.
Defensive tackle Aaron Faumui leads the team with 6.5 TFLs and has been a long time veteran on this group, making over 20 career starts. He’ll be instrumental in trying to contain a Louisville rushing attack that has rushed for over 230 yards in both games since their bye week. They still have Chico Bennett at the EDGE spot; he posted seven sacks and 7.5 TFLs last year, but hasn’t been able to replicate that success with just 3.5 TFLs and zero sacks through nine games.
Their pass defense has been pretty solid, though; Virginia ranks seventh in the ACC in passing defense (215.1 YPG allowed) and has only allowed North Carolina to throw for over 300 yards this season. Coen King has six PBUs and should be the top cornerback shadowing Louisville’s top receiver on Thursday.
Players to Watch: DL Aaron Faumui (6.5 TFLs, two PBUs); CB Coen King (53 tackles, two forced fumbles, six PBUs)
Keys to the Game
- Louisville should continue to run the ball effectively
Against a Virginia defense that has had issues with stopping the run all season (180 YPG allowed, 13th in ACC), Louisville should be looking to run the ball against them. And given Louisville’s depth at both running back and offensive line, all signs point towards the Cardinals having a tremendous mismatch in the trenches. The only question at this point would be how much Jawhar Jordan would we see on Thursday night, given that he has been dealing with a hamstring issue since the Pittsburgh game.
- Louisville needs to continue to get pressure and force the QBs into mistakes
We are entering our tenth game of the 2023 season, and arguably the most impressive thing about this Louisville team is their defense. They are constantly playing with an edge and getting pressure regularly, especially coming off the bye week. After giving up 34 points in the season opener to Georgia Tech, this has been an outstanding job by the defensive staff at Louisville to have this unit playing at a very high level at the right time in the season.
Their ability to get pressure on the quarterback should be on full display against Virginia. Louisville needs to contain Colandrea’s ability to escape the pocket and get easy yards, force him into throwing into tight windows and giving Louisville’s secondary a chance to create turnovers.