LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville’s lone loss has forged an all-around edge that it is determined to maintain with a lofty goal within reach.
Keeping that edge will be even more important for the No. 11 Cardinals on Thursday night against Virginia. The Cavaliers are a few weeks removed from a 31-27 upset of then-No. 10 North Carolina and have been competitive in most of their ACC games.
And mindful of the trap they fell into with a 38-21 loss at Pittsburgh, the Cardinals want to avoid a repeat outcome. A win for Louisville (8-1, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 11 College Football Playoff ) coupled with a UNC loss, clinches a spot in the conference championship against No. 4 Florida State.
The Cardinals didn’t foresee this bright scenario this soon. But they are keeping it in perspective.
“For us, it’s simple: if you win and take care of business, then good things can happen,” said first-year Louisville coach Jeff Brohm, whose squad has won 10 consecutive home games. “It’s important that we understand that none of this can happen if you’re not winning.”
Louisville’s defense has been especially stingy the past two weeks, holding Duke and Virginia Tech without a touchdown. The Hokies managed a second-quarter field goal in last week’s 34-3 beatdown, and getting that took everything they had. Even with the Pitt loss, Louisville has held its past five opponents below 300 yards and is playing smashmouth football in every phase.
That poses a huge challenge for Virginia (2-7, 1-4), which is coming off a 45-17 loss at Georgia Tech. The defeat is an outlier in a season of close calls, especially in ACC play. The Cavaliers’ three other league losses have come by three points each, including 29-26 in overtime at Miami.
They are sixth in ACC passing efficiency (132.26) and have the No. 7 offense (241.7 yards per game). Virginia is also pretty solid defending it (215.1 yards allowed per game) and has shown it’s not afraid of ranked teams.
“We’ve been here before, so there shouldn’t be any pressure,” second-year Virginia coach Tony Elliott said. “It’s something that you’re capable of doing, so don’t put any more added pressure on yourself. We’re chasing playing a complete game, but playing our best game, more importantly.”
Jawhar Jordan has keyed Louisville’s rushing game with 881 yards, but Isaac Guerendo’s breakout performance against Tech has created another option. The Wisconsin transfer had career highs of 146 yards and three touchdowns on just 11 carries, exploding through huge holes like they were rings of fire. With Jordan bothered by a nagging hamstring, Guerendo and Maurice Turner offer alternatives.
Virginia lost three key players to injuries in the first half against Georgia Tech: quarterback Tony Muskett (ankle) on the opening series, tailback Mike Hollins (neck) and linebacker Kam Robinson (knee). Muskett and Robinson are questionable for Thursday, but Hollins should be available. Also, tight end Sackett Wood is expected back after missing two games with multiple injuries. If Muskett isn’t available, true freshman Anthony Colandrea will take snaps for the Wahoos.
Brohm still loves high-octane passing, but injuries to other offensive players have forced a more conservative approach. It has worked with 231 and 235 yards rushing respectively the past two weeks, overshadowing Jack Plummer’s passing accuracy. The senior quarterback has completed 22 of 27 attempts for 258 yards and a score, including 11-of-12 passing against the Hokies that tied a school single-game mark.
“I think it’s a credit to coach understanding what we’re good at and what we’re doing,” Plummer said of the run emphasis. “He’s not one of those guys that says, ‘This is what we’re gonna do, and this is how we’re gonna do it.’ He’s gonna adapt to his players and what’s been going well for us this year. Obviously, we’ve been running the ball really well.”
NOT DONE YET
Virginia was eliminated from bowl consideration with the Georgia Tech loss, but coach Elliott insists there is more at stake. “The biggest thing is we’re playing for pride,” he Elliott said. “My message for the guys post-practice (Monday) is, we’ve got to decide. We’ve got three games left, and we want to decide that going forward this is what the standard is going to be.” The Cavs close the season with home games against Duke and Virginia Tech.
Both teams have played multiple weeknight games this season. This will mark Louisville’s second Thursday night appearance in addition to beating Georgia Tech and North Carolina State on Friday nights. Virginia will play its first Thursday game after facing Maryland and N.C. State on consecutive Friday nights in September.
AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz Jr. in Virginia contributed to this report.
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