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Game Preview: Virginia at Louisville

Everything you need to know about the Cavaliers’ matchup with the Cardinals on Saturday

Game Details

Who: Virginia Cavaliers (3-2, 1-2 ACC) vs. Louisville Cardinals (3-2, 1-1 ACC)

When: Saturday, October 9th at 3pm

Where: Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky

How to watch: ACC Network

SI Sportsbook Odds: Louisville -2.5

All-time series: Louisville leads 5-4 and the Cardinals have won each of the four meetings in Louisville.

Last meeting: Virginia defeated Louisville 31-17 at Scott Stadium last season. Brennan Armstrong threw for 203 yards and touchdown and added another 60 yards on the ground and two rushing touchdowns to lead UVA. Lavel Davis Jr. had four receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown as he continued his superb freshman campaign. 

Louisville this Season

The Cardinals come into this game following a loss at Wake Forest, but make no mistake, Louisville has been playing some very good football this season. The Cards started off the year with a rough 43-24 loss against Ole Miss, but followed that up with three straight victories before losing a very close and hard-fought 37-34 game on a late field goal at Wake Forest, who may just be the best team in the ACC this season.

Quarterback Malik Cunningham is the engine of the entire offense, accounting for 17 of Louisville’s 19 total touchdowns this season, including ten rushing scores. Cunningham’s ability to throw and run gives opposing defenses a complicated and difficult challenge of choosing how best to try to contain him. A quarterback spy only works if you have a defensive player, usually a linebacker, who is able to make the tackle on the quarterback in the open field. Cunningham’s speed makes it nearly impossible for any linebacker to keep up. Keep an eye out for how UVA defensive coordinator Nick Howell decides to attempt to stop Cunningham, whether that is through a quarterback spy or by switching up pass rush strategies to surround the pocket and make sure Cunningham is not able to scramble.

Cunningham is certainly not alone, as he is accompanied by more than a few weapons on the offensive end. Marshon Ford and Jordan Watkins each have over 200 receiving yards this season, while running back Jalen Mitchell is explosive enough to allow Cunningham to run the option out of the backfield.

Louisville’s defense has not been a strength so far this season. The Cardinals are giving up an ACC-worst 434.8 yards per game and an ACC 11th-best 28.2 points per game. Louisville has given up at least 23 points in all but one game this season, with the one exception being a 30-3 victory over Eastern Kentucky in week two. There ought to be some offensive fireworks in this one. 

By the Numbers

Virginia Cavaliers vs. Louisville Cardinals

By the NumbersVirginiaLouisville

Scoring Offense

34.2 points per game

32.2 points per game

Rushing

128.6 yards per game

168.6 yards per game

Passing

398.0 yards per game

273.4 yards per game

Total Offense

526.6 yards per game

442.0 yards per game

Scoring Defense

27.6 ppg allowed

28.2 ppg allowed

Total Defense

412.8 ypg allowed

434.8 ypg allowed

Turnover Differential

-4

0

Scoring Differential

+33

+20

Louisville Players to Watch

Quarterback Malik Cunningham

As we covered before, the Cardinals go as Cunningham goes. With Louisville’s defense struggling as it has this season, Malik Cunningham has had to put the team on his back. Cunningham has completed 104 passes this season for 1,307 passing yards and seven touchdowns and has also carried the ball 70 times for 309 yards and ten touchdowns. Cunningham is the fourth-leading passer in the ACC and the tenth-leading rusher.

Receivers Marshon Ford and Jordan Watkins

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Tight end Marshon Ford and wide receiver Jordan Watkins have developed into an impressive duo in the Louisville passing game this season. Ford has recorded 23 receptions for 241 yards and a touchdown, while Watkins has 18 catches for 213 yards and a touchdown. The UVA secondary is still very much a work in progress and as Cunningham uses his legs to extend plays, it is critical that the Virginia defensive backs stay with these dangerous receivers.

Defensive Back Kei’Trel Clark

Sophomore defensive back Kei’Trel Clark has been a bright spot for a struggling Louisville defense. Clark ranks second in the ACC with three interceptions and eighth in the ACC with five passes defended. The Richmond native has tallied 27 tackles this season, including 2.5 tackles for loss. Clark has an instinct for the ball, so Brennan Armstrong should be careful about throwing in his direction. 

Three Keys to the Game for Virginia

1. Contain Malik Cunningham

If the Hoos can keep a lid on Cunningham and force even a few punts this game, it should be enough for Armstrong and the UVA offense to outlast the Cardinals. Cunningham will inevitably lead Louisville on some scoring drives, as it is impossible to entirely stop such a dynamic talent. But, if Virginia can keep him in the pocket and limit his runs, the Cavaliers will have a solid chance of picking up the win.

2. Maintain momentum in the rushing game

Virginia’s rushing attack was nowhere to be found in the losses to North Carolina (24 yards) and Wake Forest (99 yards). Against Miami, however, UVA rushed the ball 35 times for 181 yards and two touchdowns. Saturday’s game against Louisville will likely be a shootout, as both teams have explosive offenses and below-average defenses. Louisville’s last three games have each been decided by single digits with an average combined score of over 67 points. If UVA is able to establish a reliable running game against the Cardinals, not only will that open things up for Brennan Armstrong in the passing game, but it will also have the effect of keeping Malik Cunningham and the Louisville offense off the field for longer periods of time.

3. Play with high energy on the road

Despite the strides the UVA football program has made under the direction of Bronco Mendenhall, the team has continued to struggle on the road. Virginia’s victory at Miami last Thursday was the team’s first road win since 2019. In a hostile environment, the Hoos will have to generate their own energy on the sideline to avoid falling behind early and giving the Cardinals fans something to cheer for. A good start is especially important in road games and the Cavaliers should try to take the home crowd out of the game early on if possible. 

What's at Stake

Virginia has never won at Louisville. The Cardinals lead the all-time series 5-4 and have taken each of the four games played in Louisville. On Saturday afternoon, the Cavaliers can win in Louisville for the first time and tie up the all-time series all at once. With a win, the Hoos can also get back to .500 in ACC play. The Cardinals look to get back into the race for the ACC Atlantic Division after last week’s loss to current frontrunner Wake Forest. 


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