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Virginia vs. Louisville — a breakdown

The Cavaliers look to end road woes with matchup against the Cardinals

<p>Senior wide receiver Hasise Dubois leads Virginia in receiving yards with 489 yards so far this season.</p>

Senior wide receiver Hasise Dubois leads Virginia in receiving yards with 489 yards so far this season.

Virginia continues its stretch of conference play against Louisville Saturday afternoon. The Cavaliers (5-2, 3-1 ACC) look to remain atop the ACC Coastal as they travel to take on the Cardinals (4-3, 2-2 ACC).

After finishing 2-10 last year — including a 27-3 loss to Virginia — and having to adapt to new schemes with an entirely new coaching staff, most pundits counted out the Cardinals this year. Yet in Coach Scott Satterfield’s first season as head coach, Louisville has exceeded all expectations.

Under Satterfield’s lead, Louisville has developed an explosive, dynamic offense — sometimes reminiscent of the Lamar Jackson days — and will pose a significant challenge for Virginia. While the Cardinals’ defense remains inconsistent, it has also outperformed expectations. Their dynamic 3-4 scheme will disguise pressures easily.

Virginia is not facing the same Cardinals team as last year. But the Cavaliers’ defense has what it takes to slow down Louisville’s dynamic offense, and Virginia’s offense can spread out a Cardinals’ defense that has been vulnerable this year. The Cavaliers have what it takes to pick up their first road win since beating Pittsburgh week one.

Players to watch:

Junior safety Chris Moore

Virginia’s secondary has been strong this year, regardless of who has been asked to step up. The Cavaliers’ passing defense ranks No. 2 in the ACC, allowing just 174.3 yards per game. Saturday against Duke it was Moore who stepped up. 

Moore is seeing increased playing time as a result of the season-ending injury of senior cornerback Bryce Hall. Other than two tackles in the William & Mary game, he didn’t record a tackle until he had to step in against Miami after Hall went down. Then, he got his opportunity, starting against Duke at safety as junior safety De’Vante Cross moved over to cornerback to replace Hall. He seized that opportunity, recording a career-high 12 tackles.

Moore will need to have another big game against Louisville, as the Cavaliers face the challenge of preparing for two quarterbacks. Satterfield has confirmed that both sophomore quarterback Micale Cunningham and freshman quarterback Evan Conley should see the field Saturday. Both can throw the deep ball, and Louisville has two talented weapons in sophomore wide receiver Tutu Atwell and junior wide receiver Dez Fitzpatrick, who have 1,017 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns combined. Moore will need to continue to make tackles against the Cardinals and prevent long passing plays.

Senior wide receiver Hasise Dubois

Over the last few weeks, Dubois has really come into his own as an elite receiver for the Cavaliers. Ever since exploding for a career-high nine receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown against Notre Dame, Dubois’ confidence has been sky-high. His physicality as a route-runner, positioning and reliable hands make him a consistent target for senior quarterback Bryce Perkins when the Cavaliers need to move the chains.

Beyond consistency, Dubois has been making incredibly difficult catches. Along with senior wide receiver Joe Reed, Dubois has been going up to get balls, beating out cornerbacks in 1-on-1 coverage. Against Duke, he made a one-handed catch in traffic, which was particularly impressive, even if it was ruled out of bounds.

Dubois is a key part of a passing attack, and is poised for another big day against Louisville’s vulnerable secondary.

Keys to the game:

Take shots down the field

Although Virginia dominated Duke en route to a 48-14 victory, it was not because of the offense. Perkins finished 13-26 with 141 yards passing and an interception. Instead, the Cavaliers capitalized on good field position from defensive stops and turnovers, and finished drives on the ground.

Virginia’s passing game needs to get going to take it to Louisville on the road. The run game has been inconsistent, and to attack the Cardinals’ defensive vulnerabilities, the Cavaliers’ offense should look for the deep strike. Dubois and Reed are great targets for Perkins to look for down the field in 1-on-1 coverage. Regardless, taking the shots will spread out the defense to open up shorter routes and the run game.

Be ready for the option run

A key part of Louisville’s offense is the Cardinals’ dynamic running game. The rushing attack is led by athletic freshman running back Javian Hawkins, who Virginia Co-Defensive Coordinator Kelly Poppinga described as “the best guy we’ve seen all year.”

Hawkins, who has 751 yards rushing this season on 5.5 yards per carry, is a small, quick back with elusive speed. Cunningham is also a strong rushing quarterback, and Conley can also run the football.

Beyond personnel, the Cardinals’ schemes in the running game are dynamic. The option is central to their ground game, with a traditional triple option style used frequently. This makes it hard to know which player is getting the football, and the Cavaliers' defenders will have to be on their toes. Louisville’s zone blocking schemes can also be difficult to defend against.

So far this season, Virginia’s running defense has largely held up strong. The added threat of the quarterback run and the option will make the trip to Louisville, Ky., the Cavaliers’ greatest challenge yet.

They will be ready. The linebacking corps is ready to disrupt these schemes with high pressure, just like Virginia did against Duke last week.

If Virginia wins, it would be the Cavaliers’ first-ever win at Louisville.

Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m. from Cardinal Stadium. The game will be broadcasted on ACC Network.


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