Virginia hit the road in a Thursday night contest at L&N Federal Credit Union Stadium against No. 11 Louisville. The Cavaliers (2-8, 1-5 ACC) were looking to rebound after losing by 28 to Georgia Tech. The Cardinals (9-1, 6-1 ACC) were hoping to continue their success at home and secure their 11th straight home victory. Ultimately, Virginia played some of their best football, but the Cavaliers could not finish the job, losing the game 31-24.
This season the Cardinals have outscored their opponents 76-7 in the opening frame, and that first-quarter success continued on their second drive. Junior running back Jawhar Jordan exploited a huge opening, securing an impressive gain of 42 yards to bring Louisville into the red zone. Capitalizing on a well-executed play fake, graduate student tight end Josh Lifson found himself wide open, effortlessly walking into the endzone to propel the Cardinals to an early lead.
Many questioned who would be behind center for the Cavaliers, since the Virginia depth chart had senior quarterback Tony Muskett and freshman quarterback Anthony Colandrea listed as equally probable. But all were answered as Colandrea took the field, likely signifying that this is his team for the rest of the season as Muskett recovers from injury.
Louisville’s next drive almost culminated in points, but ultimately they came up empty handed. The Cardinals picked up big gains over the course of an 11-play drive including a crucial 23-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Jimmy Calloway on a third down and long to extend the drive. Despite the promising momentum, Louisville found themselves settling for the field goal attempt. However, the snap was muffed by junior punter Brady Hodges so the Cardinals came up empty.
Graduate student wide receiver Malik Washington showed why he was the ACC-leading receiver on the next possession. Colandrea dropped back and looked downfield, his pass sailed a bit too far, but Washington showcased his talent with a spectacular dive to secure the catch. Unfortunately, the momentum was taken away when just two players later, sophomore wide receiver JR Wilson received a pitch but lost control of the ball while being tackled. The Louisville defense jumped on the ball and took possession.
Luckily, the Cavalier defense made another stop. However, a perfectly placed punt, coupled with a false-start penalty, forced Virginia to start its drive from its own one-yard line. The offense could not get anything going, which brought on the punting unit. As senior punter Daniel Sparks initiated the kick, sophomore defensive back D’Angelo Hutchinson put his hands up and blocked the punt. Calloway pounced on the ball for a touchdown to put Lousiville up 14-0.
When it got the football back, Virginia was able to push downfield more successfully and gained 50 yards. Facing a short fourth-and-two while trailing by two touchdowns, Coach Tony Elliott made the decision to opt for a field goal attempt. However, the attempt by sophomore kicker Will Bettridge went wide left, causing the Cavaliers to enter the locker room losing 14-0.
Things looked like they were taking a turn at the beginning of the second half. Fields executed a double move, allowing some separation between him and his defender. Capitalizing on the opening, Colandrea threw a stellar pass for a 40-yard gain. Despite this promising start, the momentum took an unfortunate turn a few plays later. Colandrea targeted Washington for what seemed like a routine completion, but junior defensive back Devin Neal ripped the ball out of his hands for the interception. Once again, Virginia found themselves unable to finish the drive successfully.
The bright spot throughout the entire game was the performance of the Cavalier defense. Despite Louisville boasting an average of 32.9 points per game, Virginia allowed only one score across six Cardinal offensive drives. This continued on the next drive when Louisville missed their second field goal attempt of the night.
The Cavalier offense took advantage and marched downfield for their first scoring possession of the night. Colandrea set the tone of the drive by connecting with senior running back Kobe Pace for 28 yards on the play. Collandrea also found success on the ground, bursting for a gain of 22 on the very next play. Eventually, Virginia faced fourth and goal from the one-yard line. The ball was handed off to walk-on sophomore running back Jack Griese, who punched it in for his first career touchdown, narrowing the score to 14-7.
Within 10 seconds, the game was tied. Senior quarterback Jack Plummer tried to connect with a receiver in the middle of the field but instead connected with Virginia freshman linebacker Kam Robinson, who took the interception into the endzone for a pick-six. In an instant, the momentum had shifted completely.
On their next possession, the Cavaliers took the lead, but the play resulted in a very scary moment. Graduate student running back Perris Jones rushed forward and collided hard with a Cardinal, fumbling the ball. Washington was in the perfect position and recovered the ball and rushed the ball into the endzone — trainers from both teams had already rushed out to check on Jones. Following the dedicated efforts of the medical team, Jones was taken to U of L Medical Center.
The Cardinals got the ball back and Virginia seemed to have forced a crucial three-and-out when Plummer failed to connect with junior wide receiver Jamari Thrash due to an impressive defensive play by freshman cornerback Dre Walker. However, a defensive pass interference was called which allowed Louisville to get within field goal range and narrow the score to 21-17.
But the Cavaliers responded right back with a field goal of their own to keep the lead at seven.
Unfortunately, this lead would not hold and it took the Cardinals just four plays to tie the game. From their own 48-yard line, Plummer dropped back and hurled the ball down the field to junior wide receiver Ahmari Huggins-Bruce, who was wide open for the easy touchdown, tying the game at 24.
With just six minutes left in the game, Colandrea began a drive to try and give Virginia the lead. However, a disputable facemask penalty was called on Washington on a short pass attempt. This call set the Cavaliers back and proved pivotal in rendering the drive unsuccessful, leaving Virginia empty-handed.
On the last drive of the game, Colandrea had a prime opportunity to tie the game as he targeted Washington in one-on-one man coverage but overthrew him by a step. On the last play of the game Collandrea made another attempt to connect with Washington, who was held by his defender. The pass fell incomplete, sealing the Cavaliers’ loss. Washington reflected on the team’s performance in his postgame press conference.
“I think it’s just doing the little things,” Washington said. “Nobody needs to make this extraordinary play. We’re not looking for anyone to be Superman. We’re just looking for everyone to just do their job. And so once we get all 11 guys playing on one heartbeat, on one sound, and everyone doing their job, we’ll come out victorious, because we’re good enough.”
Outside of their victory against North Carolina, Virginia arguably played their best football in this game. The defense was strong, while Colandrea and Washington performed exceptionally well. They just faced some tough breaks that prevented them from taking the win. In order to seal the deal next week, the Cavaliers need to avoid unforced errors such as the breakdown defensively that led to a touchdown.
The Cavaliers will return home Nov. 18 as they take on Duke at 3 p.m. at Scott Stadium. You can also catch the game on the CW.