Louisville faces another top defense against Virginia
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville hopes it fares better this time around against one of the nation's top defenses.
After mustering season lows in yardage (263) and points against Clemson's fifth-ranked defense, the Cardinals (4-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) play host to Virginia (5-2, 3-1) on Saturday. The Cavaliers aren't very giving either; Virginia has the nation's eighth-ranked FBS defense and gives up 270.3 yards allowed per game.
"They do a good job of containing everything on the edges and making you come inside," said Louisville coach Scott Satterfield, praising the Cavaliers' linebackers. "They've done well in the secondary. They stay on top of everything. There are not guys running free on film, where you can get easy yards down the field.
"You have to earn everything."
For Louisville, earning anything will mean improvement in all phases of the game.
The Cardinals have allowed nearly 45 points and 576 yards the past four games, including 551 in last week's 45-10 loss to the No. 4 Tigers. Their scoring average on both sides of the ball is similar (33.4 points) and they're gaining just over a yard more per contest than opponents (456.7-455.0).
Louisville was minus-1 in turnover ratio last week, with two of their three mistakes going for 10 points. And there's no room for errors against a Cavaliers squad looking to stay atop the ACC's Coastal Division.
Virginia bounced back from a disappointing loss at Miami by crushing Duke 48-14 . Defense played a big role in slowing down the high-scoring Blue Devils, with five takeaways helping set up the Cavs' for four short scoring drives.
Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall believes his team will need repeat performances to keep the Cardinals in check.
"Louisville is certainly not struggling offensively," he said. "What Scott has already done there is really impressive, (with) how hard they're playing, their culture. They're certainly capable of scoring on anyone at any time at any quarter at any minute, no matter where they play in the country."
Some other things to watch heading into Louisville's ACC matchup against Virginia:
CAVS' PASS RUSH
Virginia is tied for fourth nationally with four sacks per game with its linebackers applying much of the pressure. Inside backer Jordan Mack leads the ACC with seven and ranks 11th nationally. The Cavs had just one against the Blue Devils, the effect of pressure that forced them to throw quickly.
Cavs receiver Joe Reed has a career average of 29.2 yards per kick return and a yardage total of 2,837. He's the only FBS player with at least 2,700 return yards and an average of at least 28 yards.
Reed has returned five kicks for touchdowns, including a 95-yarder last week. His 39.4-yard average this season ranks just ahead of Louisville's Hassan Hall (38.7), who has helped the Cardinals rank third nationally in returns at 31 yards per attempt. Hall is questionable with a lower body injury that could keep him out of the return and running games.
Louisville quarterbacks Micale Cunningham and Evan Conley both played against Clemson and emerged healthy for a change after being dinged the past few weeks. Offsetting that welcome news was the fact each went 4 for 11 with an interception passing and combined for just 107 yards. Satterfield has indicated using both again for different looks and hoping the offense can eventually establish continuity with one.
CARRYING THE LOAD
Redshirt freshman Javian Hawkins was Louisville's offensive bright spot against Clemson with 129 yards rushing and the Cardinals' lone touchdown on a career-high 26 carries. The redshirt freshman ranks 13th nationally with 751 yards and is second to Memphis' Kenneth Gainwell (830) among FBS freshmen. Hawkins could get more touches with Hall's status uncertain, though Satterfield has worked freshman Maurice Berkley this week as a backup.
Louisville leads 4-3, including 3-2 in ACC play. The home team has won every game except for 2016, when Lamar Jackson rallied the Cardinals to win 32-25 in Charlottesville.