Players to watch:
Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins
After a performance in which Perkins threw for a career-high 379 yards on 25-of-30 passing, the Virginia quarterback truly showcased his passing game. Adding this to his consistently solid running game, Perkins has the ability to really make a difference in Virginia’s first conference game of the season against the Cardinals. When a team has been able to establish a consistent passing game against Louisville, they’ve either been able to take away the win — as Alabama did after getting 297 passing yards — or keep the game very close — as Western Kentucky did with 260 passing yards in their three-point loss to Louisville. However, against Indiana State, which is the only game the Cardinals won by a comfortable margin, Louisville shut down its opponent’s passing game, holding Indiana State to 37 passing yards. So, Perkins will have a lot of responsibility to replicate his performance against Ohio and give Virginia the strong passing game they need.
Virginia cornerback Bryce Hall
“Our secondary is not playing consistently, but Bryce [Hall] and Darrius Bratton are,” Coach Bronco Mendenhall said after the Ohio game. “Our safety play is inconsistent. Our corner play is actually consistent.” While Virginia shut down Ohio quarterback junior Nathan Rourke for much of the game, on the Bobcats’ 21-3 run in the middle of the game, the secondary was porous. It was Hall who ended that run with a pass breakup at the end of the third quarter, one of a team-high four on the day. Hall has been dominant throughout this year. Against Indiana, he also led the team in pass breakups, with three, and posted four tackles. In the Richmond game, Hall led the Cavaliers with six tackles and had a strip sack. Particularly against a Louisville team with a shaky quarterback situation — it now looks like dual-threat redshirt freshman Malik Cunningham will start — Hall can create the havoc needed to make the young quarterback uncomfortable.
Keys to the game:
Exploit Louisville’s offensive struggles
When Louisville was dominated by Alabama 51-14, the Cardinals were only able to pick up 16 rushing yards. Granted, Alabama is the best team in the country, the Cardinals showed struggles on offense against Western Kentucky as well — only getting 88 passing yards in the narrow 20-17 win for Louisville. If Virginia’s defense comes out strong and puts good pressure on the Cardinals, the Cavaliers should be able to force Louisville to continue to struggle offensively, thus keeping the Cardinals off the scoreboard. This means that Virginia’s defense will have to perform a little sharper and more consistently than they did against Ohio, when they allowed 246 passing yards and 364 total yards.
Balanced attack on offense
Virginia possesses the capability to be a very dangerous offensive team, even in ACC play. Saturday’s game against Ohio showed this, with Perkins, senior running back Jordan Ellis and senior receiver Olamide Zaccheaus all posting career-highs in yards. Virginia’s offense succeeded because of big-chunk, explosive plays — three of their scores came on plays of 75+ yards — but more broadly because of the Cavaliers’ balanced attack. Virginia started out exploiting the Bobcats’ defense with dive plays, one of which Ellis took 75 yards to the house. Then, when Ohio focused on shutting down the middle of the field, the Cavaliers shifted their plan, activating the aerial attack and runs outside. With the passing game going and the rush going, Virginia will be difficult to stop, especially with a quarterback that is always capable of breaking away for a long touchdown run. Against Louisville, the Cavaliers must continue to spread out their attack and not get too reliant on one part of it.