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Louisville Cardinals vs. Virginia Cavaliers Preview and Prediction

Lamar Jackson

Lamar Jackson

Last weekend, Louisville (6-1, 4-1 ACC) made easy work of NC State as the Cardinals won their eighth straight game in Papa John’s Stadium, beating the Wolfpack 54-13. Heisman Trophy front-runner Lamar Jackson finished with 431 yards of total offense (355 passing) and four more touchdowns (3 passing, 1 rushing) to bring his season total to a whopping 34 in seven games

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Virginia (2-5, 1-2) is coming off of its second straight loss loss, as the Cavaliers fell at home this past Saturday to North Carolina 35-14 behind 310 passing yards from quarterback Mitch Trubisky. With just five games remaining, Virginia needs to rally if the Cavaliers want to go to a bowl game in head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s debut season.

Saturday will be the fifth time that the Cardinals and Cavaliers have played one another. The previous four games have been split with the home team winning each time.

Louisville at Virginia

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct 29 at 12 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ABC/ESPN2

Spread: Louisville -32.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Kurt Benkert

Last weekend against North Carolina, Virginia struggled to get much going on offense, finishing with just 253 total yards. Benkert, the Cavaliers’ quarterback, finished just 19 of 32 passing for 126 yards and was pulled before the end of the third quarter. Despite the poor outing, head coach Bronco Mendenhall has already said he’s sticking with Benkert, the graduate transfer from East Carolina, as his starting quarterback.

Benkert has had some success this season, as he enters this game sixth in the ACC in passing yards per game. But over the last six quarters, he has thrown for just 226. Virginia averaged just 3.3 yards per play against the Tar Heels, who rank near the bottom of the conference in defense. Obviously, Benkert is going to have to play much better if the Cavaliers have any hope of keeping up with the nation’s top-scoring team.

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2. Cardinals’ Defense

Louisville’s offense, namely Lamar Jackson, may be getting all of the attention, but the defense has done its job too. Last week, the Cardinals held NC State to 250 yards of total offense. It was the fourth game in which Louisville’s defense gave up 250 yards or fewer this season.

The Cardinals also recorded three interceptions against the Wolfpack, which increased their season total to nine. NC State, which entered last week’s game averaging nearly 190 rushing yards per game, could only muster a total of 25 (on 14 carries) against Louisville. On the season, the Cardinals are 19th in the FBS in rushing defense (116.1 ypg).

3. Taquan Mizzell

One of the few bright spots in Virginia’s loss to North Carolina last week was the play of Mizzell. The senior running back gained 106 yards on the ground (on 19 carries) and scored the Cavaliers’ lone touchdown. He also caught seven passes for 25 yards, which extended his streak to 40 straight games with at least one reception.

Virginia’s offense is much better the more they get Mizzell involved, especially with Benkert’s recent struggles. But Mizzell will have his work cut out for him against a Louisville defense that has done more than just ride the offense’s coattails.

Final Analysis

Virginia will have its hands full trying to slow down Lamar Jackson and Louisville’s offense. The Cardinals rank first in the nation in scoring and second in yards per game. Jackson alone already has 34 total touchdowns (18 passing, 16 rushing), as he looks to become the first FBS player since Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois with 20 touchdown passes and 20 rushing scores in a season. It’s not out of the question that he accomplishes that feat in this game.

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Louisville is averaging 52.6 points per game, or twice as many as the Cavaliers (26.3). There’s no question which team has the advantage here.

Virginia was 3-of-19 on third downs last week against North Carolina and the Tar Heels’ defense doesn’t stack up the Cardinals’. There’s no reason to expect the Cavaliers’ offense to have a breakthrough against an underrated Louisville defense. The Cardinals should win this game with ease and the only thing that may keep Jackson from setting another record is that he won’t play the entire game because of the score.

Prediction: Louisville 55, Virginia 20

— 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.