High-scoring No. 5 Louisville takes on struggling Virginia
Louisville and Virginia are heading in opposite directions but have taken basically the same approach in their preparations heading into Saturday's matchup.
The Cardinals (6-1, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) lead the nation in scoring at 52.6 ppg and are led by sophomore quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Lamar Jackson. Every week, in assessing the Cardinals' progress, coach Bobby Petrino said he begins with reminding himself what his team is doing well.
''My dad's philosophy is still there, which says `do it until they stop it,''' Petrino said this week, ''so we'll continue to do that, but then we want to know situation-wise, you know, what we're doing in certain situations.''
The review runs the gamut from how the Cardinals use motion, any tendencies they have picked up in play-calling that might put a defense in position to have success to what they need to change to remain unpredictable.
Virginia (2-5, 1-2) has taken a similar us-first approach all season in Bronco Mendenhall's first year as coach.
Changes in the Cavaliers game plan include a switch to the 3-4 defense. Though the Cavaliers spend time studying an opponent's offensive weapons, their preparations mostly focus on their own development on both sides of the ball.
''We're so focused on just our own execution, which there's significant lapses in consistency right now,'' said Mendenhall, who calls the plays for Virginia's struggling defense. ''I mean, my point simply to the team is we have plenty to work on just within our own organization, and so my intent is to keep their focus on us, on us, on us, knowing the external environment will be talking about Louisville and their quarterback.''
And there's plenty to talk about when discussing Jackson. He's thrown for 18 touchdowns and run for 16 more, making him responsible for eight more touchdowns than Virginia has scored.
Some other things to watch when No. 5 Louisville plays at Virginia:
STRUGGLING BENKERT: Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert had his first game without an interception is last week's loss to North Carolina, and Mendenhall said he was ''more insecure in the pocket, escaping.'' The coach added that teams have had seven games of film to watch on Benkert have made the quarterback's preparation more important, and more challenging.
RUN GAME: One of the best ways to keep a dynamic offense off the field is with a productive running game, but Louisville ranks 19th nationally in stopping the run, allowing just 116 yards per game. Over the last two games, Duke and North Carolina State have averaged just 62 yards on the ground against the Cardinals' defense.
TAKE THAT: The Cardinals have turned the ball over 18 times with nine interceptions and nine lost fumbles, and an underdog such as Virginia can make the game more competitive by generating takeaways and converting them into points. Virginia also needs to take care of the ball and the Cavaliers have committed just 11 turnovers.
RANKED VISITORS: The Cavaliers' last home victory against a ranked opponent came in 2014 - against Louisville. Virginia beat the No. 21 Cardinals 23-21, but their record against teams ranked in the top 5 is less encouraging. Their last home victory against a team ranked in the top 5 was in 2005 when they edged No. 4 Florida State 26-21.
OLD SALT RETURNS: Virginia will go back to its football heyday as it honors its winningest coach, George Welsh, on the 25th anniversary of his winning national coach of the year honors. Virginia was 134-86-3 under Welsh from 1982-2000, and made 12 bowl appearances. He was the ACC's career victories leader when he retired.
More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org
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