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Virginia football set to take on Louisville in a matchup of winless ACC teams

Two underachieving teams will take aim at their first ACC win of the season, as the Cavaliers meet Louisville for the first time since last year’s wild contest

<p>After an underwhelming start to conference play, the Cavaliers are in desperate search for their first ACC win.</p>

After an underwhelming start to conference play, the Cavaliers are in desperate search for their first ACC win.

Virginia football dug itself out of a 17-point hole to upend Louisville 34-33 on the road last year. In arguably the most thrilling game of the season, the 2021 matchup was chock-full of offense and continued the theme of close contests between the Cardinals and Cavaliers. One year later, both teams have found themselves in the bottom rung of the ACC ladder. Louisville (2-3, 0-3 ACC) nearly defeated Florida State and Boston College yet ultimately fell short, while Virginia (2-3, 0-2 ACC) gave Syracuse a fight before falling flat against Duke Saturday. 

Both squads will be eager to capture their first ACC win of the season Saturday afternoon. Victory has narrowly eluded the Cavaliers and Cardinals, both of whom were predicted to finish higher than their record suggests they will at the end of the season. Virginia stands at dead-last in the ACC Coastal, while Louisville possesses the worst conference record in the Atlantic Division. A still-early season, however, will light a fire in each team as they take the field Saturday.


Senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong’s struggles

Is it time to scrap the playbook? Armstrong — who set the Virginia single-season record for passing yards in 2021 — has looked unrecognizable throughout the first five games of the year. The departure of offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterback coach Jason Beck are possible reasons for Armstrong’s slump, yet the senior play caller has turned the ball over at an alarming rate while failing to connect with his star wide receiver group. A stat to note is Armstrong’s completion rate this season — 52 percent. A more than 13 percent dip from last season has revealed Armstrong’s unexpected inconsistency even in a new system.

It’s tough to pin the struggles on one single factor, yet one can only wonder whether Armstrong will eventually reach his former level of play later this season. The offensive line — completely reconstructed after the departure of all five starters from 2021 — has certainly taken some time to gel and will require Armstrong to make quicker decisions in the pocket. Against a Louisville defense which gave up a total of 69 points to Florida State and Boston College, Armstrong may see one of his best chances to put a complete performance together. 

Injuries to Louisville’s top rushers

Despite what the record shows, the Louisville offense has been more than capable on the ground through its first five games. A rushing attack led by senior quarterback Cunningham — currently second in the nation for rushing yards by a quarterback — has accounted for 13 of the team’s 16 offensive touchdowns. After the Virginia run defense’s collapse against the Blue Devils this past weekend, all eyes will be on Cunningham and junior running back Tiyon Evans — both currently questionable after suffering injuries against Boston College. If neither player can go against the Cavaliers, the Cardinal offense will likely be forced to move the ball through the air — an area where it has struggled mightily.

Players to watch

Louisville senior wide receiver Tyler Hudson

Albeit playing in a run-heavy offense, Hudson has paced Louisville as Cunningham’s top receiving target. The junior has not recorded a touchdown this season yet remains a threat on account of his 312 yards recorded through five games — highlighted by an eight-catch, 102-yard performance against Syracuse. If Cunningham or Evans is unable to play on Saturday, the Cardinals will lean on Hudson and sophomore wide receiver Ahmari Huggins-Bruce more than they have before. The Cavaliers, however, have been relatively stout against the pass and will certainly pay close attention to the Cardinals’ rushing attack if one of the more inexperienced players takes the field.

Virginia sophomore defensive back Jonas Sanker

Sanker — who has emerged for the Cavaliers as a first-year starter in the secondary — has steadily improved throughout the season. Having tallied two consecutive games with double-digit tackles, the sophomore has been a rock behind Virginia’s talented defensive line — having also posted one interception and a forced fumble. If Louisville turns to the air attack against the Cavaliers, Sanker will once again have the chance to step up in a big way as Virginia looks for its first ACC win. Second on the team in total tackles, the defensive back may be busy guarding either Hudson or Huggins-Bruce in this contest.

Much of this game hinges on the status of Evans and Cunningham — primarily the latter — but, regardless, this will likely be a matchup of two evenly-talented squads. Kickoff is scheduled for noon and the game will be televised on ACC Network.


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