Virginia and Louisville are both experiencing streaks, just in two different directions. The Louisville Cardinals have won four of their last five games and seem to be settling down in ACC play. The Cardinals are averaging 26 points per game, but are only giving up 21 points on the season and even fewer than that over the last five games. That consistency has made them ready to seize another bowl game opportunity, which would be the fifth in a row for the university.
Louisville has not settled all of its issues but this team has done just enough to win games. Head coach Bobby Petrino's young team has taken its fair share of bumps and bruises this season and have survived, even though it has not always looked pretty. There are a myriad of questions that still exist with this team, but the Cards have found ways to win by piecing their needs together to pull out victories.
The Virginia Cavaliers are streaking downward, with no visible end in sight, losing four of the last five. The Cavaliers can't seem to score when they have to score, and have lost a bunch of heart-breakers this season with the only exception being a beatdown by Boise State and the opener against UCLA. Virginia has given up an average of 32 points a game and over 400 total yards per game. Head coach Mike London is searching for answers everywhere and needs to inspire his team to win the close games, if the Cavaliers can keep it close. They need a spark, a critical play, and a moment that shifts their season and changes the trend. They need... something.
Virginia at Louisville
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Spread: Louisville -11
Three Things To Watch
1. The Future QB of Louisville Is...
Since Bobby Petrino has taken over the Louisville Cardinals, they have yet to settle the one position that Bobby Petrino is known for: quarterback. Freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson is available, but still not playing due to his ankle injury. Sophomore QB Kyle Bolin went 24-of-35 for 362 yards and a career-high three TDs Saturday. Every time it appears that Petrino is ready to finalize the decision for their immediate future at the "head" position, something happens and makes that decision very difficult. Bolin performed masterfully on Saturday. Can he do it again?
2. Defense is To Winning As...
The past four wins for Louisville have seen great offensive games from former backup and now starting quarterback Kyle Bolin, as well as RB Brandon Radcliff, who picked up his fourth 100-yard game, rushing for 117 yards on just 10 carries. However the "rushing number" that is most impressive over the last few weeks has been 42.7, which is the total yards per game on the ground given up in the Cardinals' last three conference games. Add to that, a masterful individual defensive performance by sophomore CB Trumaine Washington, who recorded 12 tackles, including four tackles for a loss. The Cardinals have only surrendered 16 points per game over the past three performances. They seem to be figuring things out and an offensively challenged Cavalier team should not change that much.
3. The Cavs Are Big-Play People Who Can't Finish
The Virginia Cavaliers are not good at the small plays. They are great at the big plays. And it's the big plays that have kept them in games. They just can't seem to close the deal. The Cavs have five players on their roster with big offensive plays of 35 yards or more. It's this love, however, for the spectacular that has probably caused Virginia's quarterback Matt Johns to throw more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (13). Virginia can't seem to help itself and old habits are just hard to break sometimes.
The Louisville Cardinals, regardless of their offensive leader, have begun to get the stops necessary to make an impact and win games with defense. They are ready to send their winningest senior group out with a bang on Saturday, and Virginia will pay dearly for the fever pitch of excitement that will be in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Expect to see the quarterback duo of Lamar Jackson and Kyle Bolin light up the Cavaliers on Saturday, while an overly charged Cardinal defense feeds on Matt Johns' mistakes.
Prediction: Louisville 37, Virginia 17
— Written by Lloyd H. Spence, Jr., who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Spence also has written for the Dallas Morning News, Yahoo!'s Rivals.com, and ESPN Louisville. Follow him on Twitter @TalkinNOIZ.