The Breakdown – Virginia Edition
Getting to know the Cavaliers
Head Coach: Bronco Mendenhall
Offensive Coordinator: Robert Anae
Defensive Coordinator: Nick Howell
The Virginia Cavaliers, under second year man Bronco Mendenhall might be the biggest positive surprise in the ACC this season. The Cavs were just 2-10 last season, 1-7 in conference. Following a thrilling come from behind victory over Georgia Tech, Virginia now has that coveted 6th win and will certainly be headed to a bowl game for the first time since 2011 where they lost 43-24 to Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
The Cavaliers offense is led by Senior Quarterback, Kurt Benkert. Benkert is completing 59.6% of his passes this season, throwing for 2,278 yards, 20 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions. Benkert transferred in from East Carolina and has really put together a nice season in his second season with the Hoos. He has shown great arm strength and an ability to really push the ball down field using the deep passing game.
In the backfield, Junior Running Back, Jordan Ellis has taken command of the position. After rushing just 14 times in 2016, Ellis currently has 170 attempts for 708 yards and 5 touchdowns, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Ellis is a very speedy back who can be deadly in the open field. He hits the whole full speed and can also catch passes out of the backfield.
At Wide Receiver the Wahoos have a few playmakers but none more explosive than Olamide Zaccheaus. Zaccheaus leads the team in receptions, like he did a season ago, with 66 for 683 yards. He also has 4 touchdowns to his credit and is averaging 10.3 yards per reception. Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall really made utilizing Zaccheaus’ abilities a priority this season and it has obviously paid off. 6’3” Senior Andre Levrone may not lead the team in receptions but he is still a big play maker. Levrone has 22 receptions for 474 yards and 6 touchdowns, averaging a stunning 22.2 yards per catch.
Also providing a reliable target for Benkert is fellow Senior Doni Dowling. Dowling is second on the team in both receptions and yards with 36 catches for 506 yards and 5 touchdowns.
The Virginia offensive line has had some injury issues this season. As a result, multiple freshman have been pressed into action. Including Tackle Chris Glaser who had to burn his redshirt.
Overall, the UVA offense ranks 43rd in passing, 110th in rushing, 92nd overall and 16th in time of possession.
While the offense has made some improvements this season, it’s the Defense that UVA has been able to hang their hat on. While much of the praise goes to the Linebackers and Secondary, we still need to pay attention to the talent in the trenches. Senior Defensive End Andrew Brown and Sophomore Defensive Tackle Eli Hanback have been getting it done this season. Brown (6’4”, 285lbs) is second on the team in tackles for loss with 8.5 and also has 2.5 sacks to his credit. Hanback (6’4”, 305lbs) has 39 total tackles including 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
At Linebacker, Preseason All Everything Micah Kiser returns for Virginia and leads a group that has played very well despite the lack of experience. Kiser (6’2”, 240lbs) leads the Wahoos in total tackles (97), is second in tackles for loss (7) and sacks (5). Kiser is a very physical player, when he tackles you, you know it and he does that a lot.
Sophomore Jordan Mack has started every game this season for UVA and is currently third on the team in total tackles (79). Mack also has 5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
Junior Chris Peace, a converted Defensive End, has stepped in and played very well at outside linebacker. Peace leads Virginia is tackles for loss (9) and sacks (6.5). Peace has carried over the pass rushing concepts he learned as a Defensive End and applied them to his new position, which is exactly what you want in a 3-4 scheme.
The Virginia secondary has been making life difficult for opposing Quarterbacks all season long. Safety Quin Blanding returns along with a host of other play makers. Blanding has been a sure tackler on the back end of the defense, recording 87 tackles. He also leads the team in interceptions with 3. As a unit, the guys in the secondary do a great job of breaking up passes. Juan Thornhill leads the team with 9 pass breakups followed by Corner Bryce Hall with 6 and Safety Brenton Nelson with 4. Nelson also has the team high in interceptions with 4.
Overall, the UVA Defense ranks 30th in total defense, 60th against the run, 15th in passing yards allowed and 14th in interceptions.
Louisville vs. Virginia
Wait, the bye week is over? Already? Crap. Well, at least we play Virginia right… it’s just Virginia…they suck, right? Oh, they’re already bowl eligible…fantastic.
Look we all know that given the way Louisville has played this season, especially on the defensive side of the ball no game is a given. This weekend against Virginia will be no different. Admittedly, I laughed when the point spread was released, and the Cardinals were a double-digit favorite. Has anybody watched this team in Vegas? Have they seen the last three games we’ve played against Virginia? To say I’m not nervous for Saturday would be a flat out lie. Louisville and Virginia have had some hard-fought games and more often than not, the Cardinals have come out on the winning side, but this season Bronco Mendenhall brings his team into PJCS already bowl eligible and hungry for more.
I know I say this every week, but every week it remains true. For Louisville to win this game, the defense has to play better. They don’t need to be the 85’ Bears, they just need to do the simple things. Tackle, run to the ball, be aggressive. You always hear that there is nothing more dangerous in the wild than a wounded animal. They will do anything to stay alive. Right now, this Louisville Defense is a wounded animal, it’s time to start fighting to stay alive. Virginia will likely look to air the ball out, because well, wouldn’t you? The Secondary has to keep things in front of them and wrap up when they tackle. Offensively, Louisville will be challenged by the Virginia defense and the way they run to the ball and cover in the Secondary. The key will be, as it always is, Lamar Jackson. Lamar has to play smart, he can’t force things and make silly mistakes. He will need to be laser sharp as will the entire offense because, frankly, they need to score a touchdown every time they have the ball. Establishing a rushing attack with now three healthy backs will be vital as well.
As I type, Louisville is listed as an 11.5-point favorite. I’m not nearly as confident.
Cards win, 38-32.
Who’s Got the Edge?
Special Teams: Toss Up
Impact Player(s): Lamar Jackson (UofL), Kurt Benkert (UVA)
Player(S) to Watch: UofL Running Backs, Micah Kiser (UVA)