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Virginia Tech football: A chat with Card Chronicle previewing the Hokies and Louisville

Card Chronicle is our sister site here at SB Nation covering the Louisville Cardinals.

Louisville v Virginia Tech
Marcus Vick against Louisville all the way back in Jan. 2006

The Virginia Tech Hokies meet the Louisville Cardinals this weekend for the first time since the 2006 Gator Bowl, which the Hokies won 35-24. That game is best remembered for Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick stomping on Louisville defensive end Elvis Dumervil’s leg.

That would essentially end the competitive portion of Vick’s football career after a promising season that fall.

This is the first meeting between the two schools on the gridiron since Louisville entered the ACC back in 2014.

We’ll have our complete preview tomorrow, but we sat down with Card Chronicle — our sister site here at SB Nation — to preview this game from Louisville’s perspective. It is an outstanding look at the Cardinals and what Virginia Tech fans should expect this weekend.

What is the strength of this Louisville team?

Like my weight during the winter months, it seems to fluctuate from one thing to another, sometimes in game. There is no arguing that the strength of this team SHOULD be on the offensive side of the ball that returned 8/9 starters including four of their top 5 weapons at wideout and their top two running backs in addition to a QB who was getting pre-season Heisman odds in Malik Cunningham. They have the horses (Kentucky pun alert) to compete with anyone not named Clemson in the ACC but have struggled at times getting in sync both on the field and on the sidelines with some questionable play calling by Satterfield.

After losing three straight contests where they didn’t crack 28 points (including a 7 spot against ND) the boys woke up against FSU last week and dropped forty eight, something fans were expecting to see a few times this season with the weapons they have in place. I’ll touch on some of the those guys below (ohhhh….cliffhanger).

From the outside, it seems like an up-and-down season for Louisville. Lose to Georgia Tech? Almost beat Notre Dame? Tell us about the Notre Dame game; was ND that bad or did Louisville’s defense really play that well?

I can’t believe I’m going to say this after the effort we saw the two weeks prior but….Louisville’s defense played really well. They got pressure on Ian Book (4 sacks), and when he got the ball out they played really well in coverage (4 PBUs). They also contained the run very well getting 6 tackles for loss and holding the ground game to 232 yards, which still seems like a lot but was nearly 40 yards less than they were averaging heading into that game. Louisville’s defense only let Notre Dame get into the endzone one time all day and it wasn’t until under four minutes left in the third quarter. Touchdown Jesus was getting bored.

I will say that Notre Dame shocked me early trying to test the Cards secondary which in and of itself may not have been a bad strategy but on paper it looked like they would just try and pound the ball down their throats all day without much resistance. Once they shifted to the run they never really got going and credit again Louisville’s plan to apply pressure and not get beat on the big play. Easily the best defensive performance from them in my mind this season.

Virginia Tech’s running game is outstanding, as of now we will call last week an outlier. So, how is Louisville’s run defense?

If we’re throwing out outliers then we can toss out Notre Dame and Florida State and I can tell you no one has rushed for over 200 yards on them all year. But, if I toss those out I’m throwing out a five point loss to the #4 team in the country and a game they won by 30+…so let’s just keep those in.

Stop me if you’ve heard this but, six games in I still don’t know what to expect. They seemed to contain the run pretty well, and then give up big chunk plays for 40 yards. The Co-DC Bryan Brown absolutely wants to get pressure in the backfield but that can lead to disaster if you have undisciplined defenders, (SPOILER ALERT) the Cards had undisciplined defenders. While I have seen improved play using my own two eyes the stats don’t necessarily bare that out the last couple games. I think VT will have some success on the ground without question, but I wouldn’t anticipate that they drop their nearly 300yd/g average against a front seven that is showing signs of improvement.

Where would you attack the Cardinals’ defense?

I hate to give you a Bill Walsh textbook football answer, but I really do think you have to balance your attack. The teams that tried to only due predominantly one thing either lost (WKU) or came very close to losing (ND). Does that guarantee a win? Of course not, as part of that is making throws that translate to easy conversions or setting up a down and distance that allows your back some space to work. Last week FSU ran the ball forty times and attempted forty one passes, which looks good on paper, but they only completed fourteen of those forty attempts (34%) and were constantly behind the chains. A good gameplan is one thing, executing it is another.

To be a bit more specific, I’d look for mid-range throws and attack the field side with misdirection to test their backside help and assignment awareness. Let your backs work and pick up some tough yards and then hit them with some 15-20 yards routes to make sure they’re not asleep on the corners. Stick with the running game even if limited early as depth can be a concern….I’ll send the VT staff a bill for my services.

Who are some defenders to watch out for?

Monty Montgomery (LB) is probably one of my favorite players on that side of the ball because he seems to always be in the backfield and rarely am I yelling at him for a blown assignment. I think DC Bryan Brown lets him loose more than other guys because he has good size to brush off uninspired blocks and really good speed for a backer. At the time of this post he is 13th nationally with 4 sacks and 15th nationally with 7.5 TFL. My man has a TV and a recliner set up in the backfield.

His partner in crime at linebacker is veteran Dorian Etheridge who has been a starter all four years and is currently 6th in the nation with 9 TFL. Throw in a couple sacks and a forced fumble and these guys cause chaos behind the line of scrimmage.

There was a lot of hype around Malik Cunningham entering the season. How would you assess his performance thus far in 2020?

After last week, where he seemed to be back in sync with his wideouts and made some really nice throws, I’d probably give him a B- on the season thus far. The four losses aren’t squarely on his shoulders but the lack of offense at times didn’t help as obviously they could have used a few more points on the ol’ scoreboard, but it also kept the defense on the field much longer than they should have been. I think he has the talent to be the third best QB in the ACC behind Lawrence and Howell, but he hasn’t shown it week in and week out.

The ACC is full of talented running backs, how good is Javian Hawkins?

Really good. I could drop some adverbs on ya but we could likely save ourselves some time and just have you go to YouTube and type in his name. Outside of a couple uncharacteristic fumbles earlier this year ‘Playstation’ continues to put up solid numbers in an offense that is actually passing the ball more in 2020 than they did last year. Through six games he has 697 yards and is averaging nearly 6yd/att with 6 touchdowns on the season. That’s after playing against ND and a stout Pittsburgh D-line. He’s small in stature but can take a hit and as we saw last week on a long run has some burners he can light in open field. I like what I’ve seen of Herbert this year, but I’m not trading Hawkins for anyone in the ACC right now.