The Virginia Tech Hokies (3-2) return to action on Saturday as they head west for a meeting with the Louisville Cardinals (2-4).
This is the first meeting between these two schools since Jan. 2, 2006 and the first time as conference rivals.
Virginia Tech joined the ACC in 2004, while Louisville came along in 2014.
At first glance, these two teams appear quite similar, especially on offense. Both are led by dynamic dual-threat passers in Hendon Hooker for Virginia Tech and Malik Cunningham for Louisville. The two schools have two of the top-five rushers in college football in Javian Hawkins and Khalil Herbert.
Entering this game, Louisville is certainly the team coming in with the momentum, having defeated the Florida State Seminoles 48-16 to snap a four-game losing streak. The week before, the Cardinals fell to Notre Dame 12-7.
Last week went much differently for the Hokies. Tech, which was ranked No. 19, struggled offensively in the 23-16 loss at Wake Forest. The Hokies were careless with the football and uncharacteristically undisciplined on both sides of the ball in defeat.
When: Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020
Time: 4:00 p.m. ET
Where: Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, Ky.
TV: ACC Network
Online: fuboTV (free trial, regional restrictions may apply)
Odds: Virginia Tech is three-point favorites, per BetMGM
There isn’t a rich history between these two schools on the gridiron. When you first think of Louisville and Virginia Tech, the old Metro Conference comes to mind when the two schools were basketball rivals.
Virginia Tech and Louisville have met seven times, with the Hokies winning five of those meetings. The last time the two schools met was on Jan. 2, 2006 in the Gator Bowl, which the Hokies won 35-24.
The most memorable moment from that game was Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick stomping the leg of Louisville defensive end Elvis Dumervil. That cost Vick his college career.
The two teams first met back in 1979.
When Virginia Tech has the ball
The Hokies should be able to move the ball with ease against the Cardinals. This isn’t to knock Louisville’s defense, the Cardinals have some good players on that side, especially at linebacker. But Virginia Tech has moved the ball all season until last week’s failures at Wake Forest.
Hooker had the worst game of his career with three interceptions. While he did rush for 98 yards and a score, he never seemed comfortable in the passing game. He missed high on several of his throws and forced the ball into coverage on multiple occasions. That’s highly unusual for Hooker, who is generally safe with the football.
Louisville’s defense has played well in the last two weeks. Has the unit improved or did Notre Dame have an off day two weeks ago? The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle. In four of its six games, the Cardinals have been solid against the run. The Hokies have ran wild on everyone except last week. Even with those struggles last week, the Hokies still ran the ball effectively.
Khalil Herbert only had 16 touches on offense last week. He needs more. Offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen must find ways to get him over 20 touches, while also keeping Hooker and Raheem Blackshear involved. Blackshear could be a dynamic weapon in the passing game, which would help the Hokies separation issues at wide receiver. At this point it’s almost malpractice for Cornelsen not to devise ways to get Blacksear in space against linebackers.
Tight end James Mitchell continues to find the end zone for the Hokies. I would expect him to make some big plays in the passing game again this week. He is a matchup nightmare. The Hokies need Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson to make plays in the deep passing game.
The Cardinals are solid against the pass, so the Hokies need more from their wide receivers this week.
Senior linebacker Dorian Etheridge is quietly one of the better linebackers in the ACC.
When Louisville has the ball
The Hokies have faced some good running backs this year. UNC’s tandem of Carter and Williams is one of the best in the country, NC State has a good group and Wake Forest does as well. As good as some of those backs are, Virginia Tech has yet to face one the quality of Louisville’s Javian Hawkins.
Hawkins is No. 3 in college football in rushing yards, just ahead of Herbert. He is a big play waiting to happen and will exploit Virginia Tech over and over if the tackling does not improve. Hawkins is a smaller back with speed, but he has excellent power in his lower body and will give defenders fits.
Cunningham was expected to be one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC in 2020. He had a bit of a slow start to the season, but if last week was any indication, Cunningham may be figuring things out. He is accurate in the intermediate game and his legs make him dangerous once he gets out of the pocket.
Louisville’s top receiver is 5-foot-9 junior Tutu Atwell. Atwell has 32 receptions and five touchdowns on the season. Virginia Tech’s secondary has had its share of issues and Atwell is the type of receiver to catch a short pass and take it to the house.
Senior tight end Ean Pfeifer doesn’t get a lot of catches, but he is a sneaky red-zone weapon for Cunningham.
The Hokies need to get pressure on Cunningham this week. On the season, he has been sacked 15 times. If Tech wants to disrupt some of Louisville’s offensive rhythm getting pressure on Cunningham is essential.
Defensive end Amare Barno is emerging as Virginia Tech’s top pass rusher.
This game has a chance to be a shootout. Louisville has had its share of ups and downs on offense this season. Last week, things appeared to have come together and with players like Cunningham and Hawkins, the Cardinals are going to be dangerous.
I do believe Hooker gets back on track this week. He uses his legs to create opportunities in the passing game outside of the pocket, meaning more plays for Mitchell. The Hokies have a good day on the ground and take care of the football this week, too.
While I do believe Louisville will move the ball and score on the Hokies, I think Virginia Tech’s offense is better and gets back on track with a critical win.
Virginia Tech 38 Louisville 27