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Pass-Happy Virginia Offense Awaiting Louisville

Cavaliers quarterback Brennan Armstrong leads the nation in passing yards.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It has been a rough go to start the season for defensive side of the ball for the Louisville football program.

A season removed from being a top-five statistical defense in the ACC, the Cardinals have seen a significant dip in defensive production. Their 245.5 passing yards and 418.2 total yards allowed per game both rank in the bottom three in the league, with the 26.0 points per game surrendered coming in at ninth in the conference.

While disappointing, these numbers are partially inflated by the level of quarterback they have faced. Ole Miss' Matt Corral is now the front runner for the Heisman Trophy, UCF's Dillon Gabriel was a dark horse candidate before suffering a season-ending injury, and Wake Forest's Sam Hartman is one of the more underrated signal callers in the ACC.

When Virginia visits Cardinal Stadium this weekend, another tall task under center is coming to town with them.

Brennan Armstrong started to appear on ACC radars last season, taking over after All-ACC selection Bryce Perkins had graduated. In nine games, he had a respectable 2,117 passing yards and 18 touchdowns on a 58.6 completion rate, but also had 11 interceptions to boot

Through their first five games of this season, the southpaw has exploded. He has already thrown for 1,917 yards - which is No. 1 in FBS - and 14 touchdowns, while increasing his completion percentage to 64.7 percent and lowering his interceptions to four.

"He does a really good job of finding open receivers, puts the ball on the money," Defensive coordinator Bryan Brown said. "He does everything that you want a quarterback to do. He pulls it down and runs when he needs to, but he's like a surgeon out there at times."

Part of what makes Virginia's passing attack so deadly, is that Armstrong doesn't rely on just one wide receiver to make plays. Sure, he does have a favorite target, as Dontayveon Wicks is currently third in the nation is receiving yards with 535.

But beyond Wicks, there are several other significant contributors. BIlly Kemp is WR2 with 362 yards - good for 29th in FBS - then Keytaon Thompson, tight end Jelani Woods and Ra'Shaun Henry all have at least 230 yards on the year. That makes five pass catchers who are in the top 110 nationally in receiving yards. 

"There's so many different formations, and personnels, and shields, and motions," Brown said. "They do a lot to try to mess with your eyes, and that's one thing we've worked on this week is making sure we keep eyes on the key, and just doing our job. Then the rest of take care of itself."

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As prolific as Virginia is throwing the football, the run game leaves a little bit left to be desired. Their 128.6 rushing yards per game is the second-worst in the ACC, with go-to running back duo Wayne Taulapapa and Mike Hollins averaging just 58.6 yards per game.

Knowing that Virginia is going to opt for the pass over the run in the majority of situations, that should present a bit of an advantage for the defense, right? Brown doesn't necessarily think so.

"They have scholarship players just like we do," he said. "They put up 30 on Miami, Wake I thought played them pretty well, and did a really good job of stopping them inside the red zone. That's why they missed a couple opportunities on fourth down."

Where it could help is with the defensive game plan, as it allows Louisville to get clued in on what formations they seem to favor and some of their overall tendencies. But at the end of the day, like in previous games this season, it all boils down to execution and staying focused. That won't come easy against a team like Virginia, who uses a ton of pre-snap and post-snap motions to get defenders to lose sight of their assignment.

Even against a seemingly one-note offense, inside linebacker CJ Avery believes that the key to defeating the Hoos will actually be to completely stop the run. Force Armstrong to make throw after throw after throw, and eventually he will make a mistake that the defense can capitalize on.

"Once you make a team one dimensional, it's kind of easier to play them," he said. "That's what we plan on doing, and that's the hope of the game."

Kickoff against the Cavaliers at Cardinal Stadium is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 9 at 3:00 p.m. EST.

(Photo of Brennan Armstrong: Jasen Vinlove - USA TODAY Sports)

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