One week after securing bowl eligibility, the Virginia Cavaliers struggled against the Louisville Cardinals, losing 38-21. The Cavaliers kept things close in the first half, but were simply overwhelmed in the final two quarters as their offense was unable to find any sort of rhythm until it was too late. Below are the keys to the game, as well as a look ahead to next week’s difficult game against Miami.
Keys to the Game:
Protecting the Quarterback: Louisville’s defense has been heavily criticized this season, but they played well against the ‘Hoos, allowing only 277 yards of total offense and forcing two turnovers. The Cardinals’ defensive line was especially problematic for Virginia. They were able to generate consistent pressure, overwhelming UVa’s offensive line and forcing quarterback Kurt Benkert out of the pocket time and time again. Louisville defensive end James Hearns sacked Benkert three times and forced three fumbles, and the rest of the Cardinals’ defensive line added six quarterback hurries and another sack. The pressure quickly affected Virginia’s play calling — Benkert completed 19 passes, but was only able to gain 214 yards because the Cavaliers were forced into calling so many quick throws. The running game also never got going, which allowed Louisville’s defense to sit on the short routes. The Cavaliers put together three touchdown-scoring drives, including one on their first possession of the game, but otherwise were unable to move the ball. Virginia was unable to give Benkert time to push the ball down the field and open up the offense, limiting their offensive success.
Lamar Jackson: Heisman winners are going to do what they are going to do, and Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson did his thing against the ‘Hoos. Although Virginia’s defense kept Jackson below 426 total offensive yards, it was still a dominating performance by one of the best players in college football. He completed 15 of 26 passes for 195 yards and three touchdowns, and added 147 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Jackson’s mastery of the run-pass option has propelled the Cardinals for two years, and against the Cavaliers it was very effective. He found a seam in the first quarter and turned it into a 68-yard touchdown run, and later delivered an absolute dime to wide receiver Seth Dawkins for a 14-yard touchdown. Jackson is the consummate dual-threat quarterback, capable of picking apart defenses on the ground or through the air, and his efficiency and play-making ability resulted in a convincing Louisville victory.
Running Game: Running the football has been difficult for Virginia all season, but it was particularly tough against the Cardinals. Despite 28 total carries, the Cavaliers could muster just 63 yards on the ground for an average of 2.3 yards per carry, their lowest of the season. Louisville had no such problems. They ran 43 times for 295 yards, led by Jackson’s 147 yards and 88 yards from RB Dae Williams.
More importantly, the Cardinals’ ability to move the ball on the ground wore down Virginia’s defense in the second half and helped seal the game. Aside from Jackson’s long touchdown in the first quarter, the ‘Hoos generally prevented big plays relatively well. But Louisville was able to lean on the ground game to consistently move the chains and put points on the board. The Cardinals scored touchdowns on their first three drives of the second half; UVa’s first three drives in the same span ended in two punts and an interception. Virginia’s offensive line had a tough time creating running room, which forced the ‘Hoos to become one-dimensional and rely completely on the passing attack. The Cavaliers have shown this season that they need offensive balance to win games, and against Louisville the running game was nowhere to be found.
Player of the Game: LB Micah Kiser
This may seem odd given the final score and stat sheet, but the Virginia defense actually did a decent job of containing Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals until they simply ran out of gas. As is usual, Micah Kiser led the way. He had nine tackles, including a tackle for loss, and added a fumble recovery and a quarterback hurry. Kiser also passed 100 tackles on the season for the third consecutive year – his 347 tackles since 2015 are the most in the nation during that time span. Bottling up Jackson is never easy, but Kiser and the Cavaliers made an admirable effort and kept things competitive for much of the game.
Next Week: Saturday, November 18th vs. #2 Miami (8-1), 12:00pm EST at Hard Rock Stadium
The difficult stretch of the schedule continues for Virginia, as they head to Coral Gables to face the Miami Hurricanes in Week 12. It will be the Cavaliers’ first match-up against a ranked opponent this season. Miami is coming off a dominant 41-8 win over #3 Notre Dame, and they subsequently jumped up to #2 in the AP poll, their highest ranking since 2003. They are led by their defense, which has received national attention thanks to the introduction of the “Turnover Chain”, an actual gold chain given to a player who forces a turnover. So far it has worked – the Hurricanes have forced 20 turnovers this season, including four takeaways in four straight games. On the other side of the ball, the Miami offense is no slouch, averaging over 450 yards and 32.6 points per game. Something to watch: Miami’s team speed. Their defense is not particularly big, but they fly around the field making plays, and speedy running back Travis Homer is a big play threat on offense. This will easily be Virginia’s toughest test of the season, but if the offense avoids turnovers and makes a few plays the Cavaliers might be able to make things interesting.