The answers from inside linebackers coach Cort Dennison and linebacker Stacy Thomas make one item clear about Saturday’s game against Virginia: pay attention to detail.
The Louisville football team has played plenty of teams this year that featured one or multiple elite athletes that could change the dynamic of a game.
When the Cardinals take on the Cavaliers in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, Louisville’s defensive unit knows it has a bit of a different task at-hand.
“Mainly, it will be the formations,” Thomas said. “They’ll run 20 different formations. With that, you have to be dialed in on your keys and know what’s coming.”
While the seasons stats point to Virginia as a pass dominant team, with the Cavaliers averaging 256.0 yards through the air to rank 43rd nationally, the team’s top two running backs are achieving better than 4.0 yards per carry each.
Louisville can rely on Kurt Benkert lining up at quarterback for Virginia, but 15 different players have registered at least one catch on the year. And, Benkert has been solid as the Cavaliers’ signal caller, tossing 20 touchdowns and averaging more than 24 completions per game – both top-15 marks nationally.
To stop that, one piece Louisville hopes Thomas can replicate his performance from two weeks ago. The senior was remarkable against Wake Forest after missing the two previous games with an injury. He totaled 10 tackles, including a career-high 3.5 for loss. Though he’s only played six games, he is fourth on the team in tackles for loss (5.5) and fifth in tackles (37).
“They have talent all across the board,” Dennison said. “They have an experienced quarterback. They have an offensive line with a lot of experience. They’re going to give multiple personnel groups. They’re going to show you multiple formations. They’ll show formations out of 4-5 different personnel groups.”
Collectively, 21 players have started on offense for the Cavaliers this season.
Fortunately, Louisville is coming off a bye week and has nearly two weeks to prepare for Virginia. The coaching staff knew the extra time allowed for two things: more film on Virginia and more time to continuing to build confidence.
“You’ve got to stay positive all the time,” Dennison said. “Our guys believe that we’re going to come out and execute the game plan and play together. It takes us, the coaches, to enable that belief in them. We also need to bring that positive energy, a positive juice, to practice. We’ve got to be flying around, we’ve got to be positive.”
Provided the Cardinals bring that mindset, the two teams are likely in for another battle. Each of the past three battles – since Louisville joined the ACC in 2014 – have been decided by one score or less. Last year, Jaylen Smith hauled in the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds left in regulation.
Kickoff for the sixth meeting in series history is set for 3:30 p.m.
by Rocco Gasparro