Virginia hits the road in late October to face Louisville, which is one of four teams in the ACC breaking in a new coaching staff this season.
The Cardinals finished up 2-10 and were winless in the ACC in Bobby Petrino’s final season.
In comes former Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield, who has his work cut out for him in rebuilding a team which ranked dead last in the conference last season in total offense (352.6 ypg), total defense (483.5 ypg), rushing defense (277.3 ypg), sacks allowed (43) and sacks recorded (11).
Our 2019 Virginia football opponent preview continues with Louisville, which was picked to finish last in the ACC preseason media poll.
Can the Cards run?
One of the first things Satterfield said when he arrived on campus was that he wants to run the ball. Louisville ranked 13th in the ACC last season with 141.5 rushing yards a game. Only Florida State put up fewer yards on the ground.
Sophomore Hassan Hall finished second on the team last season with 303 rushing yards. Only quarterback Malik Cunningham had more. After putting on 20 pounds in the offseason, Hall got the nod as the starter when the Cardinals released their post-spring depth chart. Behind him is redshirt freshman Javian Hawkins, who only saw two carries last fall but finished his high school career in Florida with more than 4,000 rushing yards. Redshirt junior Dae Williams had been plagued with injuries, but he should also see some snaps, especially after Louisville lost two of last season’s top five rushers to the transfer portal.
The Cardinals have myriad question marks all over the depth chart, but one position they aren’t too concerned about is wide receiver. Louisville returns four of last season’s top five receivers, led by Dez Fitzpatrick, who put up 422 yards and three touchdowns in 2018, Chatarius Atwell (406 yards, 2 TDs) and Seth Dawkins (329 yards, TD). Six-foot-6 redshirt junior Devante Peete also is back after catching 21 passes last season. The biggest concern in the passing game is who will be delivering the ball.
Not just this game but the success of the Cardinals’ season will come down to who wins the job at quarterback. There was a resounding or between Cunningham’s and Juwan Pass’ names on the post-spring depth chart. Pass, a redshirt junior, is a dual threat, and of the two, he has the better arm and command of the passing game. Cunningham is a next-level athlete and probably one of the most explosive players on the roster. He led the team last season with 497 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, but his arm and ability to understand coverages is suspect at best. Depending on who starts, the Cavaliers will have to put together very different game plans. Against Pass, it’s all about getting in his face and forcing him to make decisions on the run. Against Cunningham, it’s about forcing him to stay in the pocket and deliver the ball and disguising blitz and coverage schemes to bait him into a mistake.
Virginia is 3-4 all-time against Louisville. Last season’s 27-3 home win snapped the Cardinals’ three-game winning streak in the series.
Unless they experience some miracle resurgence between now and then, Louisville is going to find itself at the bottom of the conference standings again. The Cardinals are breaking in a new coaching staff and scheme, their roster was ravaged by the transfer portal and after last season, confidence among the players has to be at an all-time low. Virginia should be heavily favored in this one, but the Cardinals’ front seven could give the Cavaliers trouble after returning defensive ends Amonte Caban and Tabarius Peterson and last season’s top two linebackers Dorian Etheridge and CJ Avery. That being said, given the expectations around Virginia’s loaded defense, 21 points by the offense wins this one for sure.