Cardinals, Cavaliers meet in Charlottesville for virus-delayed ACC matchup
In keeping with the unpredictability of 2020, last week's game between the Louisville Cardinals and the Virginia Cavaliers was postponed following a COVID-19 outbreak that impacted Louisville. A week later, the two schools will finally meet in a key ACC matchup.
The Cardinals lost 42-35 to Virginia Tech two weeks ago. At 2-5 on the season, Louisville could use a win within the conference. The Cardinals' defense is improved this season (29.6 ppg vs. 33.4 in 2019), but the offense has taken a step back (29.4 ppg vs. 33.1).
On the other hand, Virginia is coming off a 44-41 upset victory against North Carolina. The Cavaliers are looking for their third ACC win of the season. A year after winning the Coastal Division for the first time, Virginia is already out of the ACC title game picture at 2-4.
Saturday marks the ninth time meeting between the two schools on the gridiron and this will be the seventh as ACC foes. Louisville leads 5-3 overall and 4-2 in conference matchups since the Cardinals joined the ACC in 2014.
Louisville at Virginia
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 14, at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Virginia -3.5
When Louisville Has the Ball
The biggest matchup on Saturday could be between the Virginia defense and Louisville running back Javian Hawkins. The sophomore leads the ACC in rushing with 822 yards on the ground and has crossed the 100-yard threshold in three of his last four games.
The Cavaliers ranks fourth in the ACC against the run, as they're allowing 126.8 yards and 3.3 yards per carry, and they've only allowed two 100-yard rushers in six games. Virginia is led by linebackers Nick Jackson and Zane Zandier, who rank fourth and 10th, respectively, in the conference despite their shortened schedule.
Louisville also has a versatile quarterback in Malik Cunningham, who has thrown for 1,746 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season. He has also rushed for 220 yards and three touchdowns.
When Virginia Has the Ball
When the Cavaliers face the Cardinals on Saturday, they will be facing a defense that's been impacted by critical absences. Louisville was missing eight players on that side of the ball against Virginia Tech, including three starters and linebacker Monty Montgomery.
When the Cardinals took a pause last week because of the virus, 15 players tested positive and another seven others went into quarantine, and a majority of the players were on the defensive side. That could spell trouble, especially against a Cavaliers team that scored 44 points against the Tar Heels.
Offensively, Cavaliers quarterback Brennan Armstrong is expected to play after suffering a left leg injury against UNC two weeks ago. Virginia could get a significant boost offensively since true freshman Lavel Davis Jr. is also likely to return after missing games against Miami and North Carolina. Virginia could also see the debut of running back Ronnie Walker Jr., who transferred from Indiana.
Usually, with evenly matched teams, it is all about who wins the turnover battle. This game will likely be the same, as both of these teams rank among the nations worse in turnovers margin. Louisville has a -1.57 turnover margin, while Virginia sits at -0.67.
Both teams have had their struggles this year, but Louisville has a potent offense with Cunningham and Hawkins, which could be the difference in a close game if neither team dominates the turnover battle.
Prediction: Louisville 24, Virginia 21
Podcast: Week 11 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.