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Game Preview: UVA football, heading to Louisville, looks to build on big win

uva footballUVA football coach Bronco Mendenhall only remembers one play from the Cavs’ 32-25 loss to Louisville.

Lamar Jackson, on his way to a Heisman Trophy, connected with Jaylen Smith on a 29-yard TD pass with 13 seconds left for the game-winner, capping an eight-play, 75-yard drive that included a fourth-down conversion at midfield.

Virginia has played the Cardinals well since Louisville’s entrée into the ACC, winning in Charlottesville in 2014 and losing by a touchdown on the road in 2015.

This time around, it’s the ‘Hoos (6-3, 3-2 ACC) who come in riding high, after a 40-36 win over Georgia Tech that has UVA bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011.

Even so, Louisville (5-4, 2-4 ACC), last place in the ACC Atlantic, is still an 11-point favorite, a sign of the continuing disrespect for the rebuilding Virginia football program.

Which is what it is. Jackson is still the QB for coach Bobby Petrino, leading the ACC in passing yards (2,808) and rushing yards (1,029), and tied for the lead in rushing TDs (14) and third in passing TDs (18).

         

Louisville leads the conference in total offense (549.3 yards per game), but is just 11th in total defense (410.1 yards per game), and 13th in scoring defense (30.1 points per game).

The Cards have been most vulnerable defending the pass – giving up 259.1 yards per game through the air, 13th in the ACC, and allowing opposing quarterbacks to achieve a 148.9 passer rating, worst in the conference.

That porous pass defense will face the suddenly hot UVA QB Kurt Benkert, who leads the ACC in touchdown passes (20) while throwing for 2,278 yards and completing 59.6 percent of his passes.

Benkert recovered from a tough stretch in the second quarter of last week’s win over Georgia Tech when his receivers dropped five straight passes in the driving rain to end up with 260 yards and three touchdowns, rallying Virginia from a 15-point second-half deficit.

On the defensive side, the ‘Hoos are fifth in the ACC in total defense (344.2 yards per game) and first in pass defense (178.6 yards per game).

 

Keys to the Game: UVA vs. Louisville

Discipline on D: The pass rush will need to stay balanced across the front, keeping Jackson in the pocket to limit his opportunities on broken pass plays. The danger there is forcing your secondary to hold coverage an extra couple of seconds longer.

Health of Micah Kiser: Ideally, you have your middle linebacker act as a spy to mirror Jackson and prevent his escapes. Kiser, who had 18 tackles in the win over Georgia Tech last week, has been a bit gimpy of late even with the results on the field. He would need to be as near to full health as possible to properly spy Jackson.

Move the chains: UVA was just 4-of-17 on third downs last week, continuing a disturbing recent trend. The lack of success on third downs factored into the career day for placekicker A.J. Mejia, who was 3-of-3 on field-goal tries, but having three drives stall out inside the 20 and end in field goals is how you can lose an otherwise winnable game.

Preview by Chris Graham

 
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